Reality, Representation, and the Search for Meaning: Argentine Artist Mirtha Dermisache’s Invented Graphic Languages
By Maria Popova
“Is language the adequate expression of all realities?” Nietzsche asked in contemplating how we use language to both reveal and conceal reality.
A century after Nietzsche, the Argentine artist Mirtha Dermisache (February 21, 1940–January 5, 2012) set out to probe the limits and possibilities of language by filling countless notebooks, letters, and postcards with text. None of it was legible.
In the 1970s, Dermisache invented an array of graphic languages, each with a distinct syntactic texture and a visual rhythm that inclines toward meaning, or the longing for meaning. The lines she composed in them — so purposeful, so fluid, evocative of a script in a foreign tongue or a cardiograph or birdsong notation — become a Rorschach test, beckoning the mind to wrest from them a message, a meaning, a representation of some private reality of thought and feeling.
These exquisite and enticing graphical texts, now collected in Mirtha Dermisache: Selected Writings (public library), radiate a poetic reminder that language itself is an invention — a net woven of abstraction in which we try to hold reality, only to watch it all too often slip through uncaught.
Mirtha Dermisache: Selected Writings comes from the visionary Siglio Press, which also gave us Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan and Everything Sings — Denis Wood’s imaginative maps for a narrative atlas of a neighborhood. Complement it with a visual history of language, then revisit Codex Seraphinianus — history’s strangest and most beautiful encyclopedia of imaginary things, written in a code language.
Published May 9, 2018