●Edition 2: Learning From

The Poetry of Design

A search for multidimensional languages between Brazilian and German modernists

In the 1950s and 1960s, intense debates and exchanges took place between Brazilians and Germans working in the fields of design, art, and their various manifestations—from architecture and painting to music and poetry. These intertwined lines are identifiable in myriad events: journeys, meetings, exchanges of letters, exhibitions, lectures, courses, and publications. Common modes of production emerged out of these different encounters where, more than relations of influence, one can observe how entangled realities led to a questioning of the directionality of the flow between center and periphery.

Along these intertwining lines one can follow a constant concern with creating non-discursive languages, particularly in the fields of design and Concrete poetry, a concern also encompassing the question of the materiality of discourse within “technological civilization.” In this context design became a tool to mediate the relationship between human, machine, and environment, with Concrete poetry serving as a general project of aesthetic information: “in everyday language and in ‘visuality’ Concrete poetry appears,”1 in advertising copy, newspapers headlines, book layouts, television slogans, and bossa nova lyrics. Paths of exchange were, however, never straightforward. With further investigation, important specificities pertaining to the Brazilian participants in this trans-continental cultural discussion emerge, expressed in concepts such as “sensible rationalism” and “tropical consciousness.” The idea of a “critical nationalism” arose from anthropophagic reasoning, a way to rethink the poetic function.

From Object to System

Max Bill’s exhibition at the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and first place award for Tripartite Unit in the sculpture prize of the first São Paulo Biennial in 1951 had a significant impact on the formation of the Brazilian Concrete movement. This was a starting point for contact between Brazilian and German artists and designers that would deepen over the next two decades.

The Concrete movement arose simultaneously in São 
Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Based on principles of rationality, geometry, and mathematics, its goal was to stand against expressionist figurative painting and the abstract tendency in general by elaborating a self-referential vocabulary of purely plastic materiality—that is, lines, planes, and colors. For its exponents, the essential aspects of visual art were matter, space-time, and movement,2 with a re-signification of pictorial space’s two-dimensionality at its core. Art was considered as a form of knowledge, and the artwork as a real and autonomous object. That is to say, the Concrete movement denied the symbolic and subjective dimension of art, privileging instead the idea that art objects conveyed a visible idea. (Fig. 1)

To discuss modern plastic language, the movement defended a universal art that through collaboration with industry and the mass media would reach the sphere of the everyday, unifying art and life. Design played a fundamental and inseparable role in this conception of art.

Fig. 1. Waldemar Cordeiro, Visible idea, 1956.

While the Concrete movement was gaining practitioners in Brazil, in Germany Inge Scholl, Hans Werner Richter, and Otl Aicher—together with Max Bill—were founding, the Hochschule für Gestaltung-Ulm (HfG-Ulm) as part of the war recovery effort. The school adopted an anti-fascist political approach, with one primary goal being to “reconcile what they perceived as the fateful historical antagonism of technical civilization and German Kultur.”3 Under the direction of Max Bill, HfG-Ulm’s first phase was unique for including in its curriculum both general media studies (politics, sociology, journalism, radio and film) and art studies (photography, advertising, painting, industrial design and architecture). It was also notably influenced by the Bauhaus, Constructivism, and other European avant-garde movements. Design was considered part of the broader field of art; a constant pursuit of “Die gute Form,” through which Bill intended to achieve harmony between “the form of the object and its use,”4 thus transforming the relationship between producer and consumer. The beauty of industrially produced objects would result from their “reflection of function at the level of form.”5 This discourse, dominant during Bill’s years at the School, was re-appropriated by Brazil’s Concrete movement,6 inaugurating a specific language based on structural thinking, with a deep perception of the materiality of design. During the 1950s, discussions involving Bill were held around the possibility of creating a design school at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ), for which the Argentinian artist and designer Tomás Maldonado, a professor at Ulm, was assigned to write a curriculum proposal. Although the school never came into being, courses and lectures did take place at MAM, including a visual communication course co-taught by Maldonado and Aicher.

However, as early as 1956, a shift from Bill’s “Die gute Form” notion of design to an idea of design-as-science began to occur at Ulm, championed by Maldonado. This new notion of design, described as “scientific operationalism,”7 evolved from an object-based emphasis to one that was process-based, with the focus turning towards information, communication, processes, and systems. (Figs. 3 and 4)

Fig. 3. Ulm Journal 8/9, 1963.

Fig. 4. Ulm Journal 8/9, “Alphabet” of the new symbol system for Electronic Data Processing Machines
 ELEA 9003 (1960/1961), 1963.

In the early 1960s, an Industrial Design School (ESDI) was founded in Rio de Janeiro. Its first curriculum referred to the Maldonado plan for the proposed MAM school and adopted the scientific approach then prevailing in Ulm.8 At ESDI, exchanges between Brazil and Germany were constant: former HfG-Ulm student Gui Bonsiepe worked there as a guest instructor; German philosopher Max Bense taught several courses; and the Brazilian Concrete poet Décio Pignatari worked there as a professor of information theory.

The attempt begun at HfG-Ulm to further elaborate and define design’s scientific domain had several consequences. In order to understand and act upon so-called “technological civilization,” practitioners of “scientific operationalism” sought to distinguish design from art, pointing to the ways design deviates from art’s language and the fact that design is often considered a language in itself. The posterior systematization of a “designerly way of thinking and communicating,”9 an approach possessing a specific stance towards knowledge, or of design’s undergoing an “iconic turn”10 suggestive of the visual plane’s capacity to act as a cognitive domain, are theoretical results of this new approach to design that stand in contrast to a supposed discursive supremacy. Design began to be thought of as a cognitive process with the potential to bridge different languages (in a search for its own), overcoming the long logocentric tradition.

Language as Design

Concomitant with developments in the field of visual arts and design at the beginning of the 1950s, interactions between Brazil and Germany quickly expanded to other spheres, leading to the exchange of experiences and elaboration of shared theoretical positions between poets and theorists from the two countries. As in the field of design, poetry was based on the resumption of a constructive corpus that revolved around the European avant-garde, mainly the De Stijl movement and Bauhaus school.11 This found expression in poets’ incorporation of a structural and materialist framework—characterized by specific technical procedures, as we shall see—and the defense and use of the mass media, which granted poetry a social character. No longer produced for the individual, the Concrete poets considered themselves as producers for the collective. In 1952, Pignatari and two other Brazilian poets, brothers Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, had created the Noigandres12 group, decreeing an end to the historical cycle of verse and a taking over of the domain of the page on a new basis. As a poetic practice, the distribution of words and letters in the concrete graphical space of the page led to tighter relationships with contemporary experimentation in other fields such as music, painting, architecture, and design.

The suggestion to attribute the name “Concrete poetry” to an anthology planned in conjunction with the Bolivian-Swiss poet Eugen Gomringer came from the Noigandres group,13 and with this decision the movement began to gain an international dimension. Gomringer, Max Bill’s assistant at HfG-Ulm, had first met Pignatari while the latter was visiting Brazilian students at the School. This meeting led to an intense exchange of letters, based on shared affinities between the work of Gomringer and the Brazilian poets.

In the manifesto “From line to constellation” (1954), Gomringer claimed the “constellation” as the simplest poetic structure based on words. For Brazilian poets, the verse would similarly be replaced by the “ideogram”14 (spatial-temporal structure), emphasizing relationships between words rather than their discursive juxtaposition. Moreover, Gomringer’s manifesto emphasizes that “each constellation is a reality in itself and not a poem about something or other,”15 in the same way that Brazilian poets at the time considered the poem as an autonomous system that should explore its own materials: words, syllables, letters. (Fig. 5)

Contemporary German poets’ fascination with Concrete poetry could be explained by its aim of making poetry available for everyone—functional, usable, universal—a process whereby poetry gained a social responsibility; the same tendency observed in the design field. As the Brazilian researcher Amélia Paes Vieira Reis argues: “… the center of poetry is displaced from the ‘self’ to the universal, from the subjective to the objective, replacing the muse by the method. This emphasis on the method could be analyzed as a consequence of the Concrete incubation that happened, to a large extent, at the HfG-Ulm, which was instrumental in the development of a design methodology.”16

Concrete poetry emerged in a context characterized by a culture defined as “visual,” placed under the “sign of nonverbal communication.”17 In its search for a non-discursive language, it revealed the capacity of language-as-design, with the poet assuming the role of a designer of languages, capable of perceiving or creating new relationships and sign structures. As Pignatari asserts:

Our century is the century of planning, of design and designers: industrial design and architecture are studied and projected as messages and as languages; writers, poets, journalists, advertisers, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, radio and television producers, painters and sculptors are beginning to become aware of designers, forgers of new languages.18

A Verbivocovisual Language

The cooperation between Décio Pignatari and Eugen Gomringer unfolded in several
 ways. One of these was the encounter between the Brazilian Concrete poets and German theoretician Max Bense. Bense, whose work focused on the relationship between aesthetics and technology, had developed a rational aesthetic, defining the components of the text, be it utilitarian or literary, as a repertoire of statistical language built according to information measurements as opposed to semantics. In this excerpt from the experimental curriculum for HfG-Ulm’s Information Department, where Bense worked as a guest professor, an approximation between his theories and those of the Concrete poets regarding the treatment of language in relation to new technologies is evident in the procedures he proposed:

Conversion of natural languages and artificial languages into precise languages.

Experiments on grid systems, shortening techniques and montage techniques.

Concentration and dispersion of form and topics.

Syntactic and semantic shortening, compression, distortion, lengthening, alienation.

Accidental and attributive descriptions, phenomenological reduction and deflation of meaning.19

Likewise, for Brazilian Concrete poets the word was a purely objective thing, free from redundancies and inaccuracies, with the poem perceived as an experimental search for clarity and integrity in language—concepts borrowed from theories of communication, information, and cybernetics. The Brazilian manifesto “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry,” published in 1958, states:

renouncing the struggle for “absolute,” concrete poetry remains in the magnetic field of perennial relativeness. chronomicro-metering of hazard. control. cybernetics. the poem as a mechanism regulating itself: feed-back. faster communication (problems of functionality and structure implied) endows the poem with a positive value and guides its own making.20

The word in its spatial-graph, acoustical/oral, and semantics dimensions is here considered as a “thing-word,” organized by direct juxtaposition, proximity, or resemblance upon the physical space of the page—an analogical rather than logico-discursive entity. In order to replace the linear syntax of verse with structure-content, the ideogram was proposed: “tension of things-words in space-time.” Poetry emerges as a “verbivocovisual”21 system, denoting the interweaving of three dimensions of language in poetic creation, defined here as “a specific linguistic area which shares the advantages of nonverbal communication, without giving up word’s virtualities. ... coincidence, and simultaneity of verbal and nonverbal communication.”22 (Fig. 6)

Fig. 5. Eugen Gomringer, Fliegt, 1951. From: Konkrete Poesie: Anthologie von Eugen Gomringer, Phillipe Reclam, Stuttgart 1983.

Fig. 6. Augusto de Campos, Lygia Fingers, Poetamenos series, 1953. From: Noigandres, n. 2, 1955. Mindlin Library, São Paulo.

Similarly, Bense attested that “the word is not used as a carrier of intentional meaning, but rather as an element of material design, in such a way that meaning and design (Gestaltung) mutually condition and express one another.”23 Bense’s idea that there is “no substance without form” at the same time that there is “no ideality without matter” aimed at combining several dimensions of language, searching for a close relation between sensitivity and rationality.

Haroldo de Campos24 introduced himself to Bense as Gomringer’s friend in a letter from 1959. Six months later, an exhibition on the Noigandres group production opened at Studiengalerie Stuttgart, attesting to the warm reception Bense gave the Brazilians. In the 1960s, Bense and his colleague (later his wife), the semiotician, publisher, and translator Elisabeth Walther,25 organized a number of exhibitions and publications in Stuttgart, including several editions of the rot series devoted to Brazilian artists, designers, and poets. (Fig. 7) These disparate activities helped to develop the dialogue between the theories of Bense and Walther and the Brazilians’ artistic/poetic production.26 In 1965, as a result of this close interaction and his five visits to Brazil, Bense wrote the philosophical travel report, “Brasilianische Intelligenz: Eine cartesianische Reflexion.”

Words and Worlds

According to Bense, Brazil was characterized by an absence of history in the sense of an absence of traditions, making its people predisposed to forms of “history-creation”27 that projected into the future rather than being tied to the past. In “Brasilianische Intelligenz…” Bense suggested that in Brazil “the idea of design emerges as the dialectical substitute for what in Europe we call historical consciousness.”28 Design appears here as a synonym for “history-creation,” an essential concept within his interpretation of the tropics. The researcher Nathaniel Wolfson emphasizes that, for Bense, Europe’s historicism contrasts with the post-historic and uninhibited potential of the Brazilian future, manifested in general by concrete aesthetics. Bense recognized in Brazil a “tropical temporality, defined by a constructed existence outside (European) history,”29 the suggestion being that in the tropics there existed a different way of perceiving modernity, expressed by the union of two poles: technical rationality and poeticism.

In an attempt to define this “tropical consciousness” characterizing Brazilian culture, Bense identified apparently contradictory elements: improvisation and spirituality on the one hand, and concreteness and a predisposition for a Cartesian mindset on the other. These existed in a dialectical relationship that would come to form the essence of this tropical reality, constituted by the idea of tension:

The tropical state of consciousness, which includes abundance as a virtual system of creative capacity and delights in the parade of ideas, images, and words, pours insights as ones. So dreams are more real than facts, the desire more real than its purpose and the cruel advantage of power finally lies in the fact that it almost always ends up in counter-revolution that which began as revolution.30

This same characterization can be observed in the field of Concrete poetry, where one can observe how this dialectical relationship between opposites projects poetry beyond purely rational and Cartesian thinking, approximating it to what might be a point of balance between the rational and the sensitive, between words and worlds.

While adopting a constructive, rationalist framework asserting a position contrary to a “subjective and hedonistic poetry of expression,” or advocating the shift from a “phenomenology of composition” to the “mathematics of composition,” one can observe in the Noigandres group’s output a recognition of the sign as a materially sensitive being. The word-object is seen as a complete organism or a living cell, “with psycho-physical-chemical properties, tactile antennae of circulation heart: alive.”31 (Fig. 8)

Fig. 7. Max Bense, Rot series 6, Modelle, 1962. Image courtesy Heike Werner

Fig. 8. Décio Pignatari, Organism, 1960. From: Invenção, n. 5, 1966. Mindlin Library, São Paulo.

On several occasions, Brazilian Concrete poets explored the sensitive character of language. Décio Pignatari in 1956 referred to a “sensitive language” and an “idea-emotion,” presenting the poem as
 a being: “the poem is.”32 In 1957, Haroldo de Campos invoked a script of constructive rationalism, yet emphasized that this rationalism would be “sensitive, not scientific,” where a “geometry of the eye” would work with sensitivity data.33 As the researcher Adam Joseph Shellhorse attests, “the concrete word becomes a sensory synthetic ensemble that explores its dynamic structure as a being of language.”34

Augusto de Campos, in 1956, published a text on this topic that may guide us through a possible trajectory elucidating this issue:

Functions-relations graphic-phonetic (“factors of proximity and similarity”) and the substantive use of space as an element of composition entertain a simultaneous dialectic of eye and breath, which, combined with the ideographic synthesis of meaning, creates a sensible “verbivocovisual” totality, so as to juxtapose words and experience in a narrow phenomenological attachment, previously impossible.35

At this point, when asked about the possible duality contained in Concrete poetry, Augusto presented it as a result not only of a deductive and rationalized operation, but also of intuition and sensitivity, a juxtaposition he described as “sensitive rationalism.”36

Could this phenomenological attachment be the point of difference on which Brazilian Concrete poetry in particular and Brazilian modernity in general are based? In 1981, Haroldo de Campos addressed the necessity to think the national in its dialogical relationship with the universal, defending Anthropophagy as the main way to do so—particularly in “From anthropophagic reason: dialogue of difference in Brazilian culture.” Here he also offered us some useful guideposts for thinking about specifically Brazilian artistic production.

First developed in 1928 by Oswald de Andrade in
 the “Anthropophagic Manifesto,” the concept of Anthropophagy embodied the mode of reasoning of indigenous societies whereby otherness, through the practice of cannibalism, is affirmed and embraced as a power. Andrade advocated a “technized natural man,” proposing an “anthropophagic conception of the world based on the dialectic synthesis or tension between the savage and the ‘civilized’ world, the popular and the erudite, freedom and technique.”37 For Haroldo, Anthropophagy constituted the “procedure of critically devouring the universal legacy, not from a perspective of the ‘good savage’ but from the viewpoint of the ‘bad savage,’ white-eater, cannibal.” In this sense, Anthropophagy would be “a process of transculturation, a critical view of history as a negative function.”38

Based on anthropophagic procedure, Concrete poetry engaged in a process of “transcreation,”39 “transversalized nationalist totemisms, placing Brazilian art in a polyglot and multi-vocal aesthetic field, without previous or extrinsic hierarchies.”40 Anthropophagic reason would deconstruct “logocentrism”41 along the discursive modes of argumentation inherited from Western culture. As a proposition, critical nationalism arose as a dialogical movement of difference: contradicting the supposed dominant logic of the metropolis-colony flow. The idea of influence ceased to exist, and a new process began, whereby supposedly peripheral actors “suddenly appropriated the total code, claimed as their own patrimony, in order to re-cannibalize a poetics.”42

Recognizing other sensory dimensions (visual/vocal) as possible cognitive domains, both design and poetry—aesthetic practices of technological civilization—stood against discursive primacy in the domain of cognition. A discussion of non-discursive languages reaching a balance between the rational and the sensitive suggests the potentialities of knowledge development through encounters between design, poetry, and technology.

In the 1950s and 1960s, with European reconstruction and the rapid growth of Brazilian industry well under way, there was an impulse within poetry and design movements to act effectively in the daily life of technological civilization, this being one principal aspect of the process of reconstructing modernity. By turning design into science, HfG-Ulm sought to create an understanding
 of design as a cognitive domain mediating a 
new relationship between human, machine, and environment. The appearance of the first computers had a fundamental role in this process, the possibility arising that mathematical, topological, or permutative procedures might become the basis for artistic and design creation. The technological scenario of the mass media places Concrete poetry within the scope of everyday language production, as a useful and consumable poetic form. Poets strove to create an economic structure, analogous to the speed of modern communication and technology, prefiguring for the poem its reintegration into everyday life—similar to how the Bauhaus approached the visual arts—either as a vehicle for commercial advertising (newspapers, posters, TV, cinema, etc.) or an object of pure enjoyment (architectural works or music, for example). In either case, the aim was to approach the word, in an elementary sense, as if it were being heard for the first time.

In these constellations, as if springing from the materials presented, the possibility of multidimensional languages arises, as proposed by the Brazilian Concrete poets— evoking a synesthetic character of discourse, collaborating in how we transform the way we relate in/with the world. The suggested encounter between word, world, and user/reader, although first occurring in specific places and for a specific time period, could inform us on our way.

  • 1 Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos & Décio Pignatari: Teoria da Poesia Concreta: textos críticos e manifestos 1950 – 1960, Ateliê Editorial, São Paulo 2006, p. 7. All translations by Ilana Tschiptschin, unless otherwise noted.
  • 2 Waldemar Cordeiro: “Manifesto Ruptura,” in Aracy Amaral (ed.): Projeto Construtivo Brasileiro na arte: 1950–1962, Museu de Arte Moderna and Pinacoteca do Estado, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, 1977, 69–72. The manifesto—written by Waldemar Cordeiro and signed by Geraldo de Barros, Lothar Charoux, Csaba Fejér, Leopold Haar, Luis Sacilotto and Anatol Wladyslaw—was first published on the occasion of the group’s opening exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo, in December 1952.
  • 3 Paul Betts: “Science, Semiotics and Society: The Ulm Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Retrospect,” Design Issues, Vol. 14, no. 2 (Summer, 1998), p. 68.
  • 4 Max Bill in an interview with Kathryn Hiesinger from 1983. Accessed May 02, 2020, blog/15161005
  • 5 See Peter Kapos: “Art
 and Design: The Ulm Model.” Accessed 20 May, 2019,
  • 6 The interactions between the Brazilian Concretists and the Ulm school intensified after artists and designers such as Almir Mavigner, Mary Vieira, Alexandre Wollner, and Yedda Pitanguy began studying at the School.
  • 7 Tomás Maldonado: “New Developments in Industry and the Training of the Designer,” Ulm Journal 2, (October 1958), p. 27.
  • 8 See Anastassakis: Triunfos e Impasses, Lamparina, Rio de Janeiro 2014, pp. 120–146.
  • 9 Bruce Archer: “Design as a discipline,” Design Studies, Vol. 1, no. 1 (July 1979), p. 20.
  • 10 Gui Bonsiepe: “The Uneasy Relationship between Design and Design Research,” in: R. Michel (ed.): Design Research Now, Board of International Research in Design, Basel 2007, pp. 25–38.
  • 11 See Gonzalo Aguilar: Poesia concreta Brasileira: as vanguardas na encruzilhada modernista. Edusp, São Paulo 2005, p. 39. The group also referred to a paideuma, a cast of authors whose ideas served to renew the tradition. Included were Ezra Pound, James Joyce, E.E Cummings, Stéphane Mallarmé, and the Brazilians João Guimarães Rosa, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Oswald de Andrade.
  • 12 The term “Noigandres” was taken from Ezra Pound’s Cantos XX, as “a synonym
 of poetry in progress, as a motto of experimentation and 
poetic research collaboratively.” Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos, & Décio Pignatari: “Sinopse do movimento de poesia Concreta,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 193.
  • 13 See de Campos, de Campos & Pignatari: “Sinopse do movimento de poesia concreta,” p.194.
  • 14 The concept, extracted from Ezra Pound’s “ideogrammic method,” was based on his study of The Characters of the Chinese Language as a Medium for Poetry by the American orientalist and art critic Ernest Fenollosa. In this process of composition, two things combined do not produce a third, suggesting, rather, a fundamental relationship between both. By doing so, the Chinese ideogram brings language close to things. See Haroldo de Campos: “Aspectos da Poesia Concreta,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 138.
  • 15 Eugen Gomringer: “From Line to Constellation,” in: Concrete Poetry: A World View, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1968. Accessed July 20, 2019,
  • 16 Amélia Paes Vieira Reis: “Design concretista: um estudo das relações entre o design gráfico, a poesia e as artes plásticas concretistas no Brasil, de 1950 a 1964.” Dissertação de mestrado, PUC-Rio, 2005, p. 52.
  • 17 Décio Pignatari: Informação, Linguagem, Comunicação, Cultrix, São Paulo 1981, p. 76.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 15.
  • 19 Max Bense: Texte und Zeichen als Information, in: A. Andersch (ed.) Texte und Zeichen: Eine literarische Zeitschrift, 2 (4), 1956, pp. 437–440. Cited in: David Oswald, “The Information Department at the Ulm School of Design,” 8th Conference of the International Committee for Design History & Design Studies, São Paulo, p. 4.
  • 20 Haroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos & Décio Pignatari: “Plano Piloto para Poesia Concreta,” Noigandres 4, 1958, n.p.
  • 21 The term “verbivocovisual” is a neologism coined by James Joyce. As appropriated by the Concrete poets, it indicates the interweaving of the visual, vocal, and verbal dimensions of language in poetic creation. For them, the vocal dimension refers to the spoken word, or its sound, while the verbal dimension refers to the written word and its semantic aspect (meaning).
  • 22 de Campos, de Campos & Pignatari: “Plano Piloto para Poesia Concreta,” n.p.
  • 23 Max Bense: “Konkrete Poesie,” Rot 21, Stuttgart, May 1965. On this issue see also Elisabeth Walther: “Max Bense’s Informational and Semiotical Aesthetics.” Accessed May 3, 2019, The search for a relation between sensitivity
 and rationality is what motivated Bense’s attention to Brazilian modernity, explored further in his book: Brazilian Intelligence. a Cartesian reflection, Limes Verlag, Wiesbaden 1965.
  • 24 Max Bense, Elisabeth Walther, and Haroldo de Campos continued to correspond until Bense’s death in 1990. An in-depth study of these letters would be of great value for understanding the intellectual and theoretical exchange that occurred within the two-way path between Brazil and Germany during this period. For an overview on the subject see: Nathaniel Wolfson: “A Correspondência entre Haroldo de Campos, Max Bense e Elizabeth Walther: Uma primeira leitura,” Circuladô, Vol. 2, no. 2, October 2014, pp. 79–94.
  • 25 The German theoretician Elisabeth Walther was a member of the Stuttgart group alongside Bense, and other writers and theorists. She taught at HfG-Ulm, the University of Stuttgart, and ESDI in Rio de Janeiro. She edited the magazine Augenblick from 1955 to 1960, Semiosis, the international journal of semiotics and aesthetics, from 1976 to 1990, and co-edited the series edition rot from 1960 to 1990.
  • 26 In 1961 Max Bense visited Brazil for the first time; in 1962 he and Elizabeth Walther published the “Noigandres / Konkrete Texte” anthology; in 1963 Júlio Medaglia organized the exhibition “Konkrete Dichtung aus Brasilien,” at the University of Freiburg and Max Bense promoted a new exhibition of Concrete Brazilian poetry in the Eggert Bookstore in Stuttgart. Bense also organized several exhibitions of Brazilian artists in the Studiengalerie Stuttgart, such as Almir Mavigner (1957), Concrete poetry (1959), Bruno Giorgi (1962, 1966), Alfredo Volpi (1963), Lygia Clark (1964), Aloísio Magalhães (1965), Mira Schendel (1967), and Fonseca, Azevedo, Torres e Ianelli (1968), almost all accompanied by an edition of rot series.
  • 27 See Max Bense: “Sôbre Brasília,” Invenção, no. 2, 1962, 64–67.
  • 28 Max Bense: Inteligência Brasileira: uma Reflexão Cartesiana, Cosac Naify, São Paulo 2006, p. 30.
  • 29 Nathaniel Wolfson: “Brazil After History, or Two German Accounts of Postwar Brazilian Literature,” The Germanic Review 93, 2018, p. 84.
  • 30 Bense: Inteligência Brasileira: uma Reflexão Cartesiana, p. 90.
  • 31 Augusto de Campos: “Poesia Concreta,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 44.
  • 32 Décio Pignatari: “Nova Poesia: Concreta,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 41–43.
  • 33 See Haroldo de Campos: “Da Fenomenologia da Composição à Matemática da Composição,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 95.
  • 34 Adam Joseph Shellhorse: “Subversions of the Sensible: The poetics of Antropofagia
in Brazilian Concrete Poetry,” in: Anti-Literature: The Politics and Limits of Representation in Modern Brazil and Argentina, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh 2017, n.p.
  • 35 Augusto de Campos: “Poesia Concreta,” in: Teoria da Poesia Concreta, p. 44.
  • 36 Augusto de Campos: “Racionalismo sensível,” interview by Ilana S. Tschiptschin, unpublished, 23 July 2019.
  • 37 Renato Sztutman (ed.): Encontros Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Beco do Azougue, Rio de Janeiro 2008, p. 12.
  • 38 Haroldo de Campos: “Da Razão Antropofágica: Diálogo e Diferença na Cultura Brasileira,” in: Metalinguagens & Outras Metas, Perspectiva, São Paulo 1992, p. 234.
  • 39 The art of transcreation (or critical-creative translation) arises from the need to adapt a translated text to a new reality. According to Haroldo de Campos, “in the translation of 
a poem, the essential is not the reconstitution of the message, but the reconstitution of the sign system in which this message is incorporated, of aesthetic information, not merely semantic information.” See Haroldo de Campos: A arte no horizonte do provável.
  • 40 Viveiros de Castro: “Temos que criar um outro conceito de criação,” in: Encontros Viveiros de Castro, p. 169.
  • 41 The term “logocentrism,” coined by Jacques Derrida
 in “Of Grammatology,” refers 
to the tradition of Western civilization that considers words and language as a fundamental expression of an external reality, privileging the linguistic sign over meaning. It holds the logos as epistemologically superior, the ideal representation. For Derrida, logocentrism is born with the Greek alphabet, which established Greek metaphysics as the foundation of philosophy and science. The age of logos begins the era of binary oppositions. See: blogs/mediatheory/keywords/ logocentrism/ and https://knoow. net/ciencsociaishuman/ loso a/ logocentrismo/ Accessed August 8, 2019.
  • 42 Campos: “Da Razão Antropofágica,” p. 246.
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Für die Entwicklung seiner abstrakten Bildsprache und seines Bauhaus-Unterrichtes bediente sich Paul Klee unterschiedlicher Quellen, die er im Alltag, auf seinen Reisen oder in Büchern entdeckte. Das Studium nicht-europäischen Designs von Gebäuden und Stoffen, die Fantasiearchitektur der aus Tunesien mitgebrachten Aquarelle oder die auf Papier entworfenen Stoffmuster der Weberinnen bildeten die Grundlage für Werke wie Teppich, 1927, 48. → more

Weltkunstbücher der 1920er-Jahre — Zur Ambivalenz eines publizistischen Aufbruchs

Um 1900 erschienen die ersten Kompendien und Handbücher über sogenannte Weltkunst. Nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg explodierte dann die Anzahl der Publikationen über außereuropäische Künste. Diese fanden auch sogleich Eingang in die 1919 neu etablierte Bauhaus-Bibliothek. Diese Buchreihen lassen erkennen, unter welchen Bedingungen nichteuropäische Kunst in den 1920er-Jahren rezipiert wurde: als Inspirationsmaterial, als Ausdruck der Kanonkritik an einer europäischen Hochkunst und als Plädoyer für die Aufhebung zwischen Kunst und Kunsthandwerk, aber vor allem auch welches Verständnis von „Welt“ hier reproduziert wurde. → more

Dry Time — Anni Albers Weaving the Threads of the Past

When the Bauhaus was formed it was meant to be the reversed image of contemporary history and society. If the outside world was a field where opposing forces, in the form of class and national struggles, raged, the Bauhaus aimed to extricate itself from these conflicts in order to establish an alternative primordial community. In this essay, Maria Stavrinaki comments on what seems to be Anni Albers’s problematic relationship to the past in general and to history in particular. Anni Albers is not a unique case though, but rather a case study, which despite its particularities, can be considered as analogical to the Bauhaus in general. → more

Working From Where We Are — Anni Albers’ and Alex Reed’s Jewelry Collection

Not by nature acquisitive and certainly not art collectors, Josef and Anni Albers began in 1936 to collect Mexican figurines and other artifacts unearthed from that land’s memory. They described the country, which they first visited in 1935, as “the promised land of abstract art.” Returning to Black Mountain College Anni Albers and Alexander Reed began experimenting with everyday articles to create a strange and beautiful collection of objects of personal adornment inspired by their visit to Mexico. → more

Andean Weaving and the Appropriation of the Ancient Past in Modern Fiber Art

Ancient and Indigenous textile cultures of the Americas played a critical role in the development of the work of fiber artists who came of age in the U.S. in the late 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who has studied fiber art of this period, myself included, knows this well. They openly professed an admiration for traditions ranging from Navaho weaving, to the use of the backstrap loom in Mexico and Central America, to the ancient weaving techniques of Peru. → more

Anni Albers and Ancient American Textiles

At the time Anni Albers wrote On Weaving in 1965, few discussions of Andean textiles “as art” had appeared in weaving textbooks, but there were numerous publications, many of which were German books published between 1880 and 1929, that documented and described their visual and technical properties. Albers almost single-handedly introduced weaving students to this ancient textile art through her writing and her artistic work.  → more

Josef Albers and the Pre-Columbian Artisan

In his inaugural manifesto for the Staatliche Bauhaus, Walter Gropius proposed a new artistic agenda and pedagogical practice based on craft and artisanal principles. This article analyzes how prominent Bauhaus teacher and artist Josef Albers, entered into dialogue with a very specific kind of artisanal aesthetic: the pre-Columbian crafts he encountered on his many trips to Mexico. Revisiting his lecture “Truthfulness in Art” delivered in 1937, after his third trip to the country, the article studies the way in which Albers learned from the abstract tradition of pre-Columbian artisans, incorporating their knowledge into his own artistic and pedagogical practice. → more

“Every Moment Is a Moment of Learning“ — Lenore Tawney. New Bauhaus and Amerindian Impulses

“I felt as if I had made a step and maybe a new form. These evolved from a study of Peruvian techniques, out of twining and twisting. Out of that came my new way of working, of dividing and separating the piece.” Lenore Tawney’s “Woven Forms” are not purpose-built in a (Western) crafts sense; they move beyond traditional European rules of weaving and attempt to approach an indigenous attitude towards craft and technique. This essay shows how Tawney charted her own unique path in fiber art by linking Amerindian impulses with Taoist concepts of space and Bauhaus ideas. → more

Questions about Lenore Tawney — An Interview with Kathleen Nugent Mangan, Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation

The search for the spiritual characterized Lenore Tawney’s long life, and was reflected in both the iconography and materials she used in her work. She was a regular diarist and her journals provide valuable insight into this deeply personal search. bauhaus imaginista researcher Erin Freedman interviews Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, about Tawney’s approach and work. → more

kNOT a QUIPU — An Interview with Cecilia Vicuña

In this recorded interview, Vicuña describes how after she first learned about quipu, she immediately integrated the system into her life. Quipu, the Spanish transliteration of the word for “knot” in Cusco Quechua, is a system of colored, spun and plied or waxed threads or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. They were used by the Inca people for a variety of administrative purposes, mainly record-keeping, and also for other ends that have now been lost to history.  → more

Diagonal. Pointé. Carré — Goodbye Bauhaus? Otti Berger’s Designs for Wohnbedarf AG Zurich

Gunta Stölzl. Anni Albers. These are the most prominent names today when one thinks of actors in the Bauhaus textile workshop. Both had been involved in the textile workshop since Weimar times, shaping it through their understanding of textiles and their teaching. Otti Berger did not join the workshop until Dessau. Stölzl and Albers succeeded in leaving Germany in 1931–32. And they succeeded in continuing to work as textile designers and artists. Berger succeeded in doing this, too, but accompanied by an ongoing struggle for recognition and fair remuneration. → more

The World in the Province from the Province to the World — Bauhaus Ceramics in an International Context

In this article Hans-Peter Jakobson presents the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. Based on the life paths, inspirations and influences of the few ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg, he traces possible worldwide developments in ceramics to the present day. → more

Reading Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture in North America, 1957

In the 1960s, the interest in a regional and vernacular architecture evolved into a sort of counterculture against the prevailing modernism in the USA. Sybil Moholy-Nagy’s book is an early document of this movement and today a classic of architecture history. It features buildings and construction techniques that emerge from social practices and whose builders remain anonymous. They include Amerindian settlement forms, Mexican pueblos and churches, as well as barns and houses of the first European settlers. → more

Vernacular Architecture and the Uses of the Past

In sending out the manuscript of Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture to a publisher, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy added a note on the “Genesis of the manuscript,” which is quite revealing about the intellectual trajectory that gave rise to it. She positioned herself as first and foremost a traveling observer, learning from direct contact with artefacts and buildings, curious about their histories and willing to interpret material evidence and local narratives. → more

The “Workshop for Popular Graphic Art” in Mexico — Bauhaus Travels to America

The global developments that led in 1942 to the appointment of Hannes Meyer, second Bauhaus director, as head of the workshop for popular graphic art, Taller de Gráfica Popular (henceforth referred to as the TGP), made it a focal point for migrating Europeans in flight from fascism. This essay aims to shed light on how the TGP was influenced by Europeans granted asylum by Mexico before and during World War Two, and, conversely, to explore the degree to which these exiled visual artists, writers, and architects’ ideas came to be influenced by their contact with artists active in the TGP. → more

Lena Bergner — From the Bauhaus to Mexico

The story of Lena Bergner is relevant to the history of architecture and design on account of her career passing through different ideological and cultural contexts. Here we will discuss her life and work, focusing on her training in the Bauhaus, her time in the USSR and her time in Mexico, where, along with her husband the architect Hannes Meyer, over a ten-year period she undertook cultural projects of great importance. → more

Of Art and Politics — Hannes Meyer and the Workshop of Popular Graphics

The Mexico of President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a fertile ground for the development of ideological questions, especially those originating from the left. The expropriation of oil fields, mining and large estates in 1938, the refuge granted Spanish republicans and members of the International Brigades in 1939, and the accord of mutual support between the government and syndicalist organizations all favored the formation of artistic and cultural groups willing to take part in the consolidation of revolutionary ideals which, until that point, had made little progress. Among these organizations was the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the Workshop of Popular Graphics. → more

bauhaus imaginista — and the importance of transculturality

What bauhaus imaginista has documented thus relates to a particular historical phase, one that opened a path to the renewal of the art situation in Morocco. And yet, although more recent generations of Moroccan art historians and critics often mentioned the period as a formative and unavoidable reference point, they never really deepened study of that period. It somehow remained in the shadows of other phases and realities. But cultural memory has its rhythms, and the moment arose when the years of the Casablanca Group called for attention, demanding its artistic accomplishments be better understood. In this regard, the bauhaus imaginista project came at the right moment and has had important repercussions. → more


I was sixteen years old when I undertook my first journey into finding a professional vocation, first in Asilah, then in Fez followed by Tétouan. 1952. Tangiers was, to me, an open book, a window on the world. The freedom of seeing, of discovering and of feeling, of weaving the narratives of my dreams. → more

The Bauhaus and Morocco

In the years when Western nations were committed in new projects of partnership, with what was then called the “Third World”, young artists and students from the Maghreb had grown up in the passionate climate of the struggle for independence, were talented, open to modernity, and eager to connect with twentieth-century international art movements, which were different in production and spirit from colonial ideology and culture. → more

École des Beaux-Arts de Casablanca (1964–1970) — Fonctions de l’Image et Facteurs Temporels

Utopie culturelle vécue, posture éthique et préfiguration de la modernité artistique et culturelle marocaine, l’École des Beaux-arts de Casablanca est, de 1964 à 1970, le lieu de cristallisations d’aspirations sociales et artistiques portées par un groupe d’artistes et enseignants responsables d’une restructuration des bases pédagogiques. → more

Les Intégrations: Faraoui and Mazières. 1966–1982 — From the Time of Art to the Time of Life

Les Intégrations exemplified a specific conceptual motif, one that acted not within a single field but rather implied a relationship of interdependence between different media (visual arts and architecture) and techniques (those of graphic arts and architecture). They thus allowed for the emergence of disciplines that were not static in formation but evolving in relation to one another. The intermedial relationship they created between art and architecture raises the question of what lies “between” these disciplines: how do they communicate with each other? What are the elements of language common to this “spirit of the times,” to the particular atmosphere of the late 1960s? → more

Chabâa’s Concept of the “3 As”

“Architecture is one expression of the fine arts” (Mohamed Chabâa, in: Alam Attarbia, No. 1, p. 36, 2001.)

Mohamed Chabâa’s consciousness of his national heritage and his interest in architecture both emerged at a young age. His concept of the “3 A’s”—art, architecture and the arts and crafts—grew out of his discovery both of the Italian Renaissance and the Bauhaus School during a period of study in Rome in the early 1960s. From then on, bringing together the “3 A’s” would become a central interest, a concept Chabâa would apply in various ways and fiercely defend throughout his long and varied career. → more

Don’t Breathe Normal: Read Souffles! — On Decolonizing Culture

The need for a synthesis of the arts and, with this, a change of pedagogical principles, was not only present at the beginning of the twentieth century (forces that prompted the Bauhaus’s foundation), but after WWII as well, during the “Short Century” of decolonization. This second modern movement and its relation to modernism and the vernacular, the hand made, and the everyday was vividly expressed through texts and art works published in the Moroccan quarterly magazine Souffles, published beginning in the mid-1960s by a group of writers and artists in Rabat, Casablanca and Paris. → more

A Bauhaus Domesticated in São Paulo

In March 1950, Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP, which opened in 1947), wrote to several American educational institutions requesting their curricula as an aid to developing the first design course in Brazil—the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC), which was to be run as a part of the museum and would also be the country’s first design school. Despite being brief and objective, his missives did not fail to mention the “spirit of the Bauhaus,” explicitly linking the institute he hoped to found with a pedagogical lineage whose objectives and approach he aimed to share. → more

In the Footsteps of the Bauhaus — Its Reception and Impact on Brazilian Modernity

Through the strong German-speaking minority and its active work in the creation and mediation of culture in the spirit of modernity, the application of Bauhaus formal language, especially in the first phase of Brazilian modernity, has played a considerable role. It was only with the equation of German culture with National Socialism and the ensuing intolerance of German protagonists that these architectural and cultural activities were severely disrupted. In Brazil during this period, a style of modernism based on the principles of Le Corbusier finally gained acceptance. The impulses of the Bauhaus, however, which were not perceived for many years, were also reinterpreted and further developed within Brazil, although they remained occulted in comparison to the public reception of Corbusier. → more

Ivan Serpa, Lygia Clark, and the Bauhaus in Brazil

The art school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro was established in 1952, led by Ivan Serpa, who gave classes for both children and adults—including artists who would go on to form the Grupo Frente (1954–56) and later the neo-concrete movement (1959–61). Writer and critic Mário Pedrosa described the “experimental” character of these classes, but the fact this experimentation was structured through study of color, materials, technique and composition has encouraged art historian Adele Nelson to claim Serpa’s teaching method was substantially based on the Bauhaus preliminary course. → more

Walking on a Möbius Strip — The Inside/Outside of Art in Brazil

This text investigates how the topological figure of the Möbius strip, famously propagated by Bauhaus proponent Max Bill, was used in Brazil within dissident artistic practices of the 1960s and 1970s as a tool for reflection on the subject, alterity and public space. The Möbius strip is revisited in this essay as a conduit for thinking critically about possible subversions of Eurocentric forms, as well as various appropriations of traditional popular culture by modern and contemporary art in Brazil. → more

The Latent Forces of Popular Culture — Lina Bo Bardi’s Museum of Popular Art and the School of Industrial Design and Crafts in Bahia, Brazil

This text deals with the experience of the Museum of Popular Art (MAP) and the School of Industrial Design and Handicraft, designed by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, in Salvador (capital of the state of Bahia), Brazil. Such a “school-museum” is based on the capture and transformation of latent forces that exist in Brazilian popular culture. → more

Teko Porã — On Art and Life

Cristine Takuá is an Indigenous philosopher, educator, and artisan who lives in the village of Rio Silveira, state of São Paulo, Brazil. She was invited to present a contemporary perspective on questions and tensions raised by interactions between the Indigenous communities and the mainstream art system, as well as to address Brazil’s specific social and political context. → more

Times of Rudeness — Design at an Impasse

In 1980, Lina Bo Bardi began working on a book concerning her time in the northeastern part of Brazil. With the help of Isa Grinspum Ferraz, she captioned the illustrations, revised her contributions to the book and drafted the layout and contents. The latter also included texts by her collaborators who, in a truly collective effort, had tried to envision the project of a true Brazil—an unfettered and free country with no remnant remaining of the colonial inferiority complex which had plagued the country earlier in its history. Bo Bardi discontinued her work in 1981. In 1994, the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi published this project as Times of Rudeness: Design at an Impasse. → more

Connecting the Dots — Sharing the Space between Indigenous and Modernist Visual Spatial Languages

Ever increasing numbers of design institutes note the merits of cultural diversity within their pedagogy and practice. Rather quixotically, however, Eurocentric modernist ideals remain dominant within design curricula. This ambiguity results in non-Western social, cultural and creative practice, remaining side-lined, albeit while still being lauded as of great value. Critical of this duplicity, this paper introduces three Indigenous visual spatial languages, identifying a number of correlations and contradictions these offer to the establishment and implementation of Bauhaus pedagogy and subsequent examples of modernism adopted beyond Europe. → more

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