Words turned Images

Encounters between the verbal and visual have a long history, going all the way back to the scripts of Antiquity, the poems of early Christianity or the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

But it was the 20th century in particular – an era characterised by an explosion of new communication and information technology – when the avant-gardes and the neo-avant-gardes further intensified their already complex relationship. With the arrival of cubism, which saw the picture abandon the function of faithfully representing the surrounding reality and gain a large degree of autonomy, the integration of words into the image begins. The cubist invention saw collage, letters, words and texts cut from newspapers combine to construct the image together with other, painted or real, pictorial elements. The words become the primary visual elements and their meaning loses its importance. The liberation of words from the rules of language and their use as visual elements gains particular momentum with the neo-avant-gardes after World War II in the formulation of visual and concrete poetry. Poets became explorers of visual structures, often migrating from poetry to visual art, and works that disrupted the neat separation of words from images emerged. Moreover, readings became spatial experiences as poems transformed into visual and tactile objects overstepping the boundaries of media such as painting and sculpture. Similarly, we as observers are transformed into active participants in the artist’s thoughts and cerebral games. Explorations into poetry continued with conceptual art, and radical practices in poetry unveiled for us the elementary processes of poetic-creation, while simultaneously turning paper, pencils and words into poetic objects. The four examples here, ranging from surrealist through the neo-avant-garde, and conceptual research on the relationship between words and images demonstrate just how very different interplay between them can be.


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