Reflections on Reflections'
FOREWORD by David Jasper
For me, the process of ‘looking at’ Guillem Ramos-Poquí’s collages turned out to be a lengthy one. My primary business is the interpretation of literary texts, and when I say, “I see” I mean something like “I understand,” in the sense of “I see what you mean.” But that can only ever be a beginning for true understanding. I began by looking closely and for a long time at all the collages and only then turned, one by one, to the texts from Guillem’s diary, written after the completion of the works. I then returned once more to the images, and so on, back and forth, between image and word. Finally I put everything away and reflected at length upon what now lay within my memory.
According to Cicero in De oratore, it was the poet Simonides of Ceos who invented the art of memory, based upon, first, the importance of order, and then the discovery that the sense of sight is the strongest of all the senses. Across the boundary of word and image, I remember by what I have seen, but, at the same time, what I see is also is provoked or even discerned by what I remember. In these collages, as a series of reflections on culture and the ephemeral, the eye rests first upon the fragments of familiar, remembered works of art and we recognize the images of, it may be, the Tower of Babel or Leda and the Swan. This, in turn takes us back to books – to the Bible, or to Greek myth, and soon I find that my desk is littered with books as I seek to make complex connections. But the collages remain insistently eclectic and irreducible, obtuse in their presentations of, and participation in, bits of this and that – dead insects, coins, wire, pens, images of Brigitte Bardot, and so on. And as I look again, their titles haunt me, drawn from art, nature, music, and the hyperreality that is Las Vegas. I begin to try to ‘read’ the collages, to perceive their narratives, even their logic. I am impelled to interpret them, even as they themselves are interpretations of worlds.
We live, suggests the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo in one of his essays, in the age of interpretation. He is, of course, looking back to Friedrich Nietzsche who famously wrote that “there are no facts, only interpretation,” a proposition that is itself, of course, ‘only’ an interpretation. And all acts of interpretation are inevitably born of a number of anxieties, for we are ever anxious both to understand and to be understood. I ask the question, “Am I understanding these collages ‘correctly’?” Should I be guided towards understanding by the artist’s notes, and if the clue is not here, how, then, should I read them? As Guillem himself says, artistic inspiration (or ‘visual creativity’) requires intuitive co-ordinations that are very different from the skills used in writing an essay. Creativity comes in many forms, and thus thinking also is manifold. Behind the written notes, as reflections, there are many figures from Husserl to Bergson, from Plato to Baudrillard. They go some way to satisfy my concern to ‘place’ things, my rage for order, but as my mind begins to assemble something like ‘meanings’, I return again to the collages themselves and new varieties and connections flood into my mind, and memory is up to its games again, trivia mixing with the profound and the scatological (perhaps) with the beautiful and the tragic. If memory is an art and may be nurtured by system, such art, as Giordano Bruno demonstrated, may also be occult and we all know only too well how memory enjoys playing tricks upon us. These collages, with their fragments of ‘distressed’ mirror that may include glimpses of the viewer in the work of art, remind us that all our reflections, our thinking and our interpretations work simultaneously at many, often conflicting levels, and each encounter with the work of art or the essay is both familiar and unique. Indeed, the words of Qohelet are never far from us – all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1: 2).
And yet there is also wisdom inasmuch as art and writing always demand disciplined attention by which the disparate is drawn together, and beauty is called forth through juxtapositions and chance encounters that are caught by the intuitive genius of the artist. I am reminded of the cautionary words of the Christian mystic and scholar, Origen (c. 185-254) in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, as he warns us that the maturity of the glorious celebration of divine love in the Song of Songs is not for those lacking the strength and discernment of adults. Texts and art are powerful things, demanding our full and mature attention.
Thus it may be with the collages of Guillem Ramos-Poquí. Works of great and sometimes haunting beauty, they also perplex, both and at once demanding and dismissing our anxious interpretative responses. In their participations in the fragmentariness of the everyday they are kenotic works, reminiscent of the willing participation of the sovereign transcendence in the stuff of common life, thereby shining a divine light upon the quotidian world (Philippians 2:7-8). Thus they glow with a sacramental quality that is indicative of the eternal that remains precisely in the ephemeral and in the interstices between different world views.
The recovery of a sense of the sensus numinis, especially in our age of cultured despisers of the Holy (I am thinking back, of course, to Schleiermacher), will never be comfortable, and it will flee the inertia of settled conclusion and definition. In these works we find ourselves invited to explore such a recovery through acts of memory (which are always at the heart of the truly religious life) and recognition that bind the past to the present, and which are metamorphosed or transfigured (perhaps a better word) in strange provocations of seeing and mysterious visual narratives that withhold their secrets even as they offer themselves to our sight. The words and commentaries are necessary for thought, yet in the inevitable word-image opposition, words will take us back to the collages which deconstruct our thinking even as they stimulate further thought.
Frances Yates in her book The Art of Memory famously suggested that in the Renaissance the ancient art of Simonides dwindled in the face of a purely humanistic tradition and by the seventeenth century had become an anachronism. In the complex and riddling collages of Guillem Ramos-Poquí we might glimpse a recovery of the art of memory as it is rooted in the sense of sight, and in its further verbalisations, a haunting presence of the divine in the midst of the contradictions and strange encounters in the world around us.
Professor of Literature and Hermeneutics, University of Glasgow
Distinguished Overseas Professor, Renmin University of China
'Mirror Spaces: Reflections on Culture and the Ephemeral'
Guillem Ramos-Poquí. Collages 2014
This project, consisting of eighteen mixed-media collages, centres around reproductions of paintings by the great masters. Initially in each case, the chosen work related to the issues in which I was interested, and was developing by means of interconnecting these with other elements in a contemporary context. The old masters remain an inspiration to contemporary artists today in their endeavour to interpret the world.
Each collage is accompanied by a text taken from my diary, written immediately after each work was finished. This was for me to keep as a personal record of the studio work, and is not meant to be didactical or imply that the work was done as a result of a pre-meditated narrative. In addition the texts were not intended in any way to pre-condition the viewer in his or her own interpretation or visual aesthetic experience of the work. Indeed, as Theodor Adorno argues in his 'Aesthetic Theory', and Susan Sontag in her essay 'Against Interpretation', written texts should not interfere with direct visual experience of any art work. As I mention in some passages, the 'genesis' of process of these collages is primarily the spontaneous result of visual intuition, what Henri Bergson describes as 'intuition' in 'The Creative Mind', a state in which we are aware of the quality and flow of inner consciousness.
Visual references to the works by the old masters (many inspired by Ovid's 'Metamorphosis') appear upside down or sideways, often as details, and are produced in black and white. They interrelate with the other elements of the composition, such as found objects, including objects such as dried flowers and leaves, insects, feathers, bottle tops and mirrors, broken clocks, pieces of embroidery, threaded paper, fragments of text or musical scores, and crystals. All these elements, as explained in my studio reflections, have intrinsic metaphorical values and, in terms of contrasts of textures, colours and formal transformations, relate to my previous work as a painter.
Ingres. Comptesse d'Haussonville, 1845
The Frick Collection
Guillem Ramos-Poquí. 'The Comptesse d'Haussonville and Aeroplane'. Collage 1968
Guillem Ramos-Poquí. 'KV-W'. Collage 1968
The use of reproductions of the old masters and ephemeral objects goes back to my 'Povera' and 'Conceptual' exhibition in London in 1968 (discussed in my PhD Fine Art Painting 1995 thesis), such as the mixed media collages 'The Comtesse d'Haussonville and Aeroplane' (which includes a reproduction by Ingres) and 'KV-W'.
Guillem Ramos-Poquí, London October 2014