Miriam LondoƱo

Drawing emptiness

José M. Springer


The work of Miriam Londoño is the result of research probing into the nature of drawing, as well as into visual poetry. With her drawing, Miriam Londoño has managed to express her journey through life, creating a logbook that traces her feelings about the world.


The letters she writes or transcribes, her sketches of cities, the handwritten books she crafts, and her renditions of the human figure all have something in common: they are sources of memory, rounding off the fragments of a personal and intimate diary. The reason for their existence is the artist’s need to unravel the drama of life, make contact with senseless pain, and capture the gaps of silence that frame the course of our existence.  Drawing emptiness is her goal.


When we stand before the curtains made of letters, words and sentences, which the artist pours onto the walls of an abandoned house, or a church, the following questions spring to mind: How is it possible that so much life has become trapped in these nets of words? What kind of material does the artist use to make words float by themselves in space? And how does she ever manage to draw in the air?


For the past ten years Londoño’s artistic work has focussed on a type of drawing derived from hand-made paper techniques. Using damp paper pulp she draws figures on a fine mesh, stretched taut on a frame. As the pulp dries the drawings can be peeled off from the mesh.


This technique has a rare sculptural and textile quality, which has inspired the artist to develop new ways of working. She began writing words on the mesh fascinated by the visual aspect of the graphic signs that the pulp’s liquid track produced. Further down the road, she decided to work with poetic texts and thus made the leap to using images taken from newspapers and books as a basis for her works, mainly guided by her use of drawing as a tool to establish her position in relation to the world.


Londoño is interested in what cannot be translated about language: its visual appearance. She concentrates on writing as drawn fragments, which, when added together, form a comprehensible whole. The lines of her writings and drawings capture what is indispensable to perceive about life, but for her, that suffices to capture what is essential. Hers is not a detailed description of things; the logos and praxis of her works revolve around the traces left in our minds by images and words.


Shifting continuously between languages and cultures, identified with Spanish, her native tongue, but impelled by the need to adapt to living as a foreigner in contrasting countries and idiosyncrasies, Miriam Londoño has developed the ability to interpret people’s histories, finding a way to bridge the gap between the other’s and her own self.


To my mind, the most innovative nucleus of Londoño’s artistic proposal is her work with language. Her deepest thoughts are entrenched in her personal, intimate correspondence. These handwritten letters express her desire to connect with the past, with her family and origins. When transcribing the letters from other women, i.e.: a revolutionary or the victim of abduction, she gets into the heart of their lives by highlighting the key lines that marked their fate.


The transitions Miriam Londoño makes from letter to word, and from word to phrase, remind us of how humans apprehended the world: first through images and then by learning speech. Thousands of years ago, images were the sole representation of experience. With time hieroglyphics emerged, forming chains of images. The written language modified the nature of hieroglyphic drawings, converting them into a sequence of interchangeable and separable pictographs, which, when drawn by hand, carry in them the mark of the person who created them. It is revealing that some of Miriam Londoño’s works are based on people’s names, which look like autographs. They are the signatures of those men and women who have disappeared, victims of a violence who have had their lives cut short.


Just like images evolved into words and words became symbols, Londoño’s work suggests the ambiguity between what a written word signifies and what it represents. The deliberate alteration of the calligraphy has a purely expressive purpose, portraying the aesthetic side of language, which is so evident in her work.


At first glance, the letters drawn seem to be a cascade of moving words, a constant flow of signs stripped of their precise meaning. Between layers and layers of words, one realises that this is a way of using calligraphic signs and arabesques, to decipher an untranslatable representation: the emptiness of words, when one faces an unknown language, in which the reader can only gather intuitively a mood or a state of mind.


Just like graffiti on the wall, the letters that Londoño transcribes and the personal testimonies gathered in her visual poems, are symbols, ambiguous and uncertain as far as reading them is concerned. Some writings stick out among the rest. Letters or words overlap the grammatical sense of a phrase. I see visual music in them, a printed cadence and a rhythm, the colours, and even the texture, of the paper they are made of.  


The paradox is that the writings and drawings are made of paper, so that the drawing protrudes from the wall, allowing the public to glimpse lines and volumes. A drawing that is free of support is like a sculpture floating in space. The drawings made by Londoño are filigrees of criss-crossing lines: a spider’s web drawn between two shores made of air.


A transformation has been decisive in the understanding of the poetic value of this work. From a text floating in the air, the artist has moved to the text object: the artist book, a format which Londoño has devoted a very significant part of her work. The structure of her books can be described as a net of folios that trigger meanings in the mind: what makes a book? Is it the words or the pages, or both? Seen as a sieve of ideas, the books stop being page-by page compilations, to be transformed, in Miriam’s hands, into fragile nets catching language’s essentials metaphors.


The poetry of various authors, from Saint Theresa to Pablo Neruda, has been woven into these books, joining together lines and leaving gaps between them. Words here are like living fabric, and the lines running across them form a weft, similar to the notes in a music score. Miriam’s books are a visual mesh in which it is only possible to approach their contents through imagination.


The city for this artist is a kind of open book. The architectonic labyrinth has been an object of the artistic imagination ever since art saw the natural landscape change into the urban landscapes of the nineteenth century. Miriam Londoño interprets the city like a kind of writing made of structures and spaces in perspective. A tower, a door or a staircase opens the city’s horizon towards the private worlds that windows and curtains only allow us to glimpse.


City landscape drawings are like the streets of Babel, the place in which languages divide and the differences between human beings flare up. The lines that constitute the urban reticula are like the lines in the palm of the hand, marks of a destiny.  The houses and towers, canals and narrow streets, reveal the fates of their inhabitants. Their sinuous and fragmented contours give way to the moving landscape. Cities are living organisms, bodies that lodge life in their veins, everything is in flux.


Miriam Londoño began to draw human bodies, inspired by images found in newspapers and books. Certain compositions allowed her to see a significant tension emanating from the non-verbal language of bodies overlapping, thus creating either dramatic or playful situations. At first the torsos she drew reminded one of classical sculptures: straight and frontal. Slowly she began to fragment the bodies into more organic pieces, following the body’s movements. Gradually groups began to emerge, looking like clouds of people emerging from the wall and approaching the viewer, in which bodies dissolve into other bodies, inspiring identity and sensual connotations. 


With time, guided by a sense of chance, the artist has become more and more seduced by the combination and montage of her images, as if they were a comic strip. The ensembles of men and women, in casual clothing, walking down the street, chasing their shadows, constitute an example of that Diaspora of immigrants carrying only the clothes they have on their backs, guided by destiny. Theirs is a path made of shadows and voids in between border lines. 


Three links exist between writing, life and art for Miriam Londoño: the first has to do with using drawn words as a way to reveal life’s stories inhabiting the intimate world; the second is related with the urban scenario that creates a context for the identification of those inhabiting the social milieu, and the third, the contrasting relationship between the baroque forms of visual poetry and the wealth of meanings of language, together they connect people’s lives and communities.


One can see how objects and bodies are interwoven by the lines conducting the infinite number of life histories that shape the heart of the matter constituting Miriam Londoño’s world. 


The Hague, August, 2009