Apollinaire’s Misspell and Other Calligrams

It’s raining women’s voices as if they had died even in memory. This is the first sentence of the poem Il pleut (It's Raining) by Apollinaire. One of the famous Calligrams which dynamited the form and typography of poetry at the beginning of the 20th century. This poem has always intrigued Jorge Méndez Blak, who explores the intimacy of world literature in his work. The Mexican artist questions both the language and the structure of a work, from its foundations to its rafters. The exhibition Apollinaire’s Misspell and Other Calligrams pays tribute to the singularity of the poems written by Apollinaire right in the middle of the First World War.

Visitors will discover in the left-hand room a large pencil drawing with an identical reproduction - but on a completely different scale - of the original cover of Apollinaire's collection of poetry published by Gallimard. By deleting the date of 1916 and replacing it with 2016, Méndez Blake creates a time shift which assumes meaning once you read that the sub-title of the Calligrams is Poems of Peace and War. What could be more topical? The large drawing of the architectural labyrinth shows a complexity of form which adopts the structure of the calligram Lettre-océan. In this poem dedicated to his brother who was living in Mexico, Apollinaire makes two spelling mistakes in (Mexican) Spanish, which Méndez Blake picks up on. He omitted an h in "cingada" and writes a c instead of a j in "pendeco". These mistakes - in two vulgar, insulting words - are the starting point for several works. The artist is playing mischievously, as we can see in the minimalist work lying on the floor Word/Window II, consisting of turned-over Scrabble letters or in this very subtle drawing of a cave in Yucatan, a nod to certain passages in Lettre-océan.

The exhibition is arranged in such a way that the works echo each other, as if bouncing of the walls of a cave. The highlighting of the sonority of the poems is clear in the large painting in the right-hand room where the word chingada is stretched out in a langorous sh-sound while a burst of works on paper covers two walls. These works with exploded words - with a playful page layout - are comparisons with occurrences of the word war and other words such as love, peace, book or Paris which appear in Apollinaire's collection. It is literally raining words. A minimalist black sculpture heralds the large installation in the rear space consisting of hundreds of titles of poems by different authors all connected with rain. Il pleut (It's raining) by Apollinaire is probably one of the most beautiful visual poems, and its occupation of the space here assumes a different scale. Méndez Blake conveys Apollinaire's visual approach to literature, and enjoys giving a new visual dimension to the written word.

Besides the fact that this exhibition is a reflection of an intellectual proximity between two artists a century apart (the centenary of Apollinaire's death will be commemorated in 2018), it also expresses the complexity of two eras, their ambiguity, and the relevance - or otherwise - of thinking about aesthetic progress in a world embroiled in profound turmoil. Are the umbrellas bearing the monogram G.A. metaphors reminding us that creative work affords protection from storms?