This entry was written in collaboration with the PO.EX. Digital Archive of Portuguese Experimental Literature.
António Aragão was one of the creators of the magazine Poesia Experimental and one of the pioneers of experimental and visual poetry in Portugal. In Electrografia 1 (1990), Aragão presents “O Elogio da Loura do Ergasmo Nu Atlânticu” [an ode to the blonde of the ergasm on/the naked atlantic(ass)] (1983). In this work, Aragão uses a photocopier to manipulate images and words on the surface of a blank page. By appropriating texts and images from newspapers or magazines, this author creates absurd combinations which compromise the production of any stable meaning. In this piece, a sardonic sociological and political critique is enmeshed with an experiment with the possibilities of the medium. Challenging the status quo is thus equated with defying literary codes and norms. In fact, Portuguese experimental poetry is deeply involved in a struggle against “the standardization and normalization of creative power” (Torres, 2014: 11). Agglutination of words and distortion of images produce the nonsense that characterize Aragão’s works. Both are taken out of its initial context and subjected to a process of “visual fusion” (Aragão, 1985: 186). In so doing, meaning is continually relocated and reconfigured. The normative aesthetics (187) is replaced with scientific experimentation, giving rise to countless possibilities of signification. New strata of meaning are catalyzed by the intersection of appropriated words and images and, simultaneously, by the combination of human agency and machine mediation.
Electrografia 1 [Electrography 1] or o elogio da loura de Ergasmu nu Atlânticu [Eulogy of the Blonde of Ergasmu in the Atlantic] is a book that belongs to the wide production of copy art elaborated by António Aragão in the 1980s. The author uses strategies of electrographic manipulation in the construction of visual texts with the help of the photocopier machine. Published in 1990 in Vala Comum, a publishing house directed by Aragão himself, the texts of Electrografia 1 were created in 1985, according to the date attributed by the author. This volume is the first of a series of three books published in 1990 by his publishing house: Electrografia 2 or merdade my son, composed in 1985; and Electrografia 3 or céu ou cara dente por dente [sky or face tooth for a tooth], created in 1987.
Discovered by Pál Selényi in the 20th century and later developed by Chestor Carlson, the electrophotocopying method was massified due to the commercialization of photocopiers in the 1960s. At the same time that photocopiers began to be used in offices and business establishments, artists like Barbara Smith, Esta Nesbitt, Bruno Munari, Joseph Beuys, and Sonia Landy Sheridan made the first aesthetic experiments using the new technology. This artistic practice, mainly known as copy art or electrography, but also named as xerography or photocopy art, would be developed by many visual artists, graphic designers and visual poets, mainly between 1960 and 1990.
In Portugal, António Aragão is one of the pioneers in the experimentation of the expressive potentialities of copy art. The earlier works documented were published in Poemografias: Perpectivas da Poesia Visual Portuguesa [Poemographies: Perspectives of the Portuguese Visual Poetry], a book printed in 1985 in which eleven visual and experimental poets present essays with proposals for future paths for Portuguese experimentalism. Along with those critical texts, the book presents a group of creative works authored by the same artists. That is the case of some early experiences in copy art by Aragão (pp. 189-200), which would only be fully published five years later.
In Electrografia 1 we stumble upon three original photographic images that morph themselves through manipulation occurring during the photocopying process. In Aragão's compositions, we can identify a set of copy art features, like copy motion, an effect of motion generated by the displacement of the original material during the copying process; and degeneration, an iterative procedure of copying the copy that leads to the image disintegration. The image has an erased look, due to the high contrast between shapes and the respective loss of intermediary matrix tones. In his work, Aragão also uses strategies of superposition, deformation, repetition, amplification and reduction, in tune with Christian Rigal's argument that copy art is the antithesis of copy, since “all electrographic techniques […] are techniques of transformation” (Rigal, 2005: 61).
To the manipulated images, Aragão adds verbal fragments written in cursive form. The sentences that in Electrografia 1 merge with the images are also embedded in the aesthetic distortion of the discourse. This leads to the implosion of meaning in a process of recursive desemanticization which, by means of nonsense, pursues the destruction of instituted rhetorical discourses. Image and word could not be understood separately here. Addressing the peculiar aesthetics of copy art, Aragão states, in his essay “A escrita do olhar” [“The writing of sight”], that word and image “are not conceived as two isolated components in the text but as an articulated visualization always between image and word” (Aragão, 1985: 186).
Electrografia 1 has the unity that characterizes works developed as a series: the thirty-eight pages of the book were generated from three matrix-images. This is important because it puts forward the genetic process of the work without any romantic obstructions, and, secondly, it exposes the book as an object with a narrative structure that is not necessarily linear.
Also of great importance is the fact that Aragão asserts that he does not use the photocopier as a tool for creation only. Assuming that technology participates in the very act of structuring the work, being an active element in the human-machine interaction process, he argues that: “both «subjects» work in a throbbing symbiosis like they were merged in only one entity, that is, it is like if there is only one systematic existence in which both participate equally combined” (Aragão, 1987: 150). Artistic works like Aragão's copy art pieces were already preparing and anticipating the digital age.
With his copy art practice, Aragão influenced a group of other visual poets that, belonging to a circle of personal and aesthetic affinities, actively collaborated in related experiences. That's the case of an artist group that, in the 1980s, in Madeira Island, gathered around the photocopier (António Aragão, António Dantas, and António Nelos). Furthermore, other Portuguese experimental poets such as César Figueiredo worked hard with this medium. Works by these visual poets would be disseminated during the 1980s and 1990s in national and international exhibits. Most of all, it was their activity in the international network of mail art that rendered the circulation of these works possible. Portuguese copy art was marginalized in publishing and critical Portuguese sectors, and like experimentalism in general, was left out of the commercial distribution circuits.
Aragão, António. “A escrita do olhar.” In Aguiar, Fernando e Silvestre Pestana (org.). Poemografias. Perspectiva da Poesia Visual Portuguesa. Lisboa: Ulmeiro, 1985. Pp. 175-178. http://po-ex.net/taxonomia/transtextualidades/metatextualidades-alografa...
Aragão, António. “Tecnologia, arte e sociedade | Technology, Art and Society.” In Aguiar, Fernando (org.). 1º Festival Internacional de Poesia Viva. Figueira da Foz: Museu Municipal Dr. Santos Rocha, 1987. Pp. 145-151. http://po-ex.net/taxonomia/transtextualidades/metatextualidades-autograf...
Rigal, Christian. “Le point sur l’electrographie.” (1992) In DARDAI, Zsuzsa (org.). Árnyékkötők: copy art, fax art, computer art. Budapest: Árnyékkötők Foundation, 2005. Pp. 61-65.