En el ojo de Bambi is a curatorial short story. Mudanza, a written performance. Conjunto vacío, a novel that loses its contours. Los hablantes, an exhibition stripped of its display. Palabras migrantes, the zigzagging speech of a life between borders.
All are works by Verónica Gerber Bicecci. All constructed as exhibitions, books, buildings not limited by a unique medium. From their interchangeable formats, it is possible to plunge into them or to modify them. They have the hypnotic capacity to trap us and the dynamite necessary to shake us.
At some point, they behave like mirrors that do not always reflect images to our liking. They “were” art and literature, because in a remote past they inhabited one or the other territory. But later they jumped to a different magnitude that already refers us to “something else.”
If in the Manifiesto del tercer paisaje, Gilles Clément celebrates ditches, ambiguous corners or perimeters that are neither urban nor rural as spaces out of control, in Gerber Bicecci we can speak of a “third language.” Which is visual image and writing, but which has already taken care of tearing down the walls between these compartments. And not so much due to the sum that her knowledge of the two worlds brings her, but for the subtraction that this wisdom allows her. By the possibility of removing instead of adding, of throwing overboard–in writing and in art–the ballast that paralyzes these two environments.
Since Montaigne defined the essay as the act of “painting oneself,” he underpinned the connection between the foundation of modern literature and art. And if not with art, at least with portraiture. And if not with portraiture, at least with self-portraiture.
From there, the possibility opened up of a collection that did not need museums signed by star architects or exhibitions plotted by prestigious curators. An imaginary museum whose walls can hang The Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, and Composition No. 1, by Marc Saporta. A gallery made of words where we come across G. K. Chesterton or Guy Davenport or Aldous Huxley. And with Chekhov and Henry James and David Markson and Orhan Pamuk and Don DeLillo and Patrick McGrath and Michel Houellebecq and Donna Tartt and Siri Hustvedt…
In Ibero-American terms, this road has not been devoid of hurdles. Let’s say that, for a long time, novelists in these landscapes did not have as fluid a relationship with the art of their contemporaries as Octavio Paz’s essay had with Marcel Duchamp. This is not to say that Guillermo Cabrera Infante had not incorporated cinema and cabaret; Severo Sarduy, the tinsel of carnival; Carlos Monsiváis, soap operas; Pedro Lemebel, his anticipations of queer aesthetics…
But these luminous exceptions should not blind us. The so-called “great Latin American literature,” at least until the boom, seemed quite comfortable establishing its artistic parallels with the paisa Gothic of a Botero or the revered cubism of a Picasso.
In recent times, however, things have changed at full speed. The names of Enrique Vila-Matas, Julián Ríos, Ignacio Vidal-Folch, Álvaro Enrique, Agustín Fernández Mallo, Juan Francisco Ferré or María Gaínza are enough to attest to this tide. Or that of César Aira, who just by himself have managed to build one of the most unusual museums in the world (and which includes both real and imaginary pieces or artists).
It has not stopped there.
Recently, a major twist has taken place in all this. Beyond description, we have entered fully into the production of something that is not literature talking about art, but is art and literature at the same time. That has been the commission of several women writers who combine literature with drawing, photography, video art or performance. Thus Valerie Mrjen, Chris Krauss, Alicia Kopf, Irene Solà, Dara Scully or Martica Minipunto.
In this symbiosis shines, outstanding and a pioneer, Verónica Gerber Bicecci. She highlights an evidence rather than a tendency, from a work that advances a new language that erodes and modifies each shore. And that takes to the limit the demarcations of contemporary art to the point of assuming it, directly, as a literary genre.
If there is one book that will help us to understand this operation, it is Conjunto vacío. A narrative that reconstructs the fragmentary legacy of an absence for which no explanation can be found. A “methodology of oblivion” –doesn’t the bolero say that absence means oblivion?– in which art behaves as an anguish that leads us to prefer the bad unknown rather than the good to be known. A drawing in real time of that school of art that runs parallel to the school of life. And in which the question resounds again and again about what only an artist could do in this era in which we all perform her tasks. That is: to draw, to take pictures, in short, to produce images.
We are, then, before an art that is not always exhibited (in the museum sense), but that is always exposed (in the sense of taking risks). And before a literature that is not content with narrating that art (anyone could more or less do that), but that agrees to invent it.
If Verónica Gerber Bicecci is going to be one of the most important writers of this decade that is just starting, it will be because she is an artist. And if she is going to be one of its most relevant artists, it will be because she is a writer.
Let us consider, if not, her work with Susan Sontag’s aesthetics of silence, where she visualizes zones of written language that are not perceived in oral speech: passages dug by punctuation marks or pauses, and which are as defining as they are mute. Communicating tunnels that follow the lines of the maps drawn by Blanchot, Sontag herself, Harold Bloom or Don Delillo. What if Ulysses and Homer were one and the same presence? What if part of the Bible had been written by a woman? What if the infinite anguish of Sarajevo needed Beckett and his Godot to define itself? What if Thelonious Monk, Glenn Gould and Thomas Bernhard shared, staggering, a common territory that caused their respective works and misfortunes?
In this vein, Gerber Bicecci composes a theory about the language of the future that can come out of “photographs, e-mails and maps.” Or of placing –contrary to what activism or the rhetoric of commitment do– the individual in the answers and the common in the questions. Or of suspecting a politics in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. Or of rescuing the autobiographical, “at a thousand percent,” going beyond autofiction. Or of the urgency to dynamite the bunker that protects art or literature as the only way to open another window to the language of this time. Or to upset the place of who writes and who reads, from a stunned novel “that wants to run out of words.” Or of not equating silence to that which is not heard, but to that which is not seen.
Verónica Gerber Bicecci activates a verbal language that, in all its power, starts to crumble along her crossings between art and literature; right “at the center of the intersection between both universes.”
In the vortex of this clash, sparks fly, illuminating a language that just arrives.
* This text was originally published in CCCB LAB.