Mira Schendel

Untitled (Disks)


Original title
Sem titulo (Discos)
Transfer lettering and graphite on paper between acrylic sheets, 4 pins and nylon fishing wire
Support: 270 x 270 x 7 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2012


Untitled (Disks) is a 1972 work by the Brazilian artist Mira Schendel comprising a circular piece of thin, ivory-coloured paper, sandwiched between two acrylic sheets, on both sides of which is printed transfer lettering and graphite inscriptions. A cluster of letters and numbers covers most of the upper part of the disk-shaped piece of paper, some in black and some in a faint grey, and these have been overlaid so that in places it is unclear where one symbol ends and another begins. To the side of this is another, smaller cluster of letters and numbers that is less tightly packed, so that some symbols stray from the group. Surrounding these two clusters is a background of dispersed letters and symbols in a much smaller and more rounded typeface, and the inscription ‘Mira 1972’ appears very lightly in pencil at the bottom of the work. Four pins have been used to hold the layered form in place, positioned equidistantly at the top, bottom, left and right edges of the shape. When exhibited, Untitled (Disks) is suspended from a nylon fishing wire that is attached to the sculpture via a hole at the upper edge of its circular form, so that it dangles at roughly the viewer’s eye level with a delicate twisting movement.

Untitled (Disks) was made by Schendel in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1972 and was first exhibited in Mira Schendel: Através: Acrílicos, Linhas, Transformáveis, Toquinhos, Bordados, Fórmica, Espirais, Discos, Outros Desenhos at Galeria Ralph Camargo in São Paulo later that year. The work is part of the wider Disks series that Schendel created in 1972, which consists of flat, circular objects formed from transparent sheets of acrylic with printed paper inside, as is seen in Untitled (Disks). Schendel used Letraset printing, a type of pre-manufactured dry transfer lettering, for the larger letters and numbers in this work, while the smaller ones were rendered in graphite. Suspended in space, with the letters’ arrangement determined by their circular boundary, Schendel intended for works such as Untitled (Disks) to be experienced in-the-round in the manner of a sculpture. In an undated statement regarding her use of acrylic sheets, the artist explained that this material offered the possibility of ‘a circular reading where the lettering constitutes a fixed centre around which the viewer moves’ (Schendel in Barson and Palhares (eds.) 2013, p.197).

Although Schendel describes the experience of the work as one of ‘reading’, the jumbling of the letters and their varying sizes and tones suggest that they are marks to be looked at rather than constituents of words to be read. This is further enhanced by the way in which the artist disrupts the conventionally linear mode of two-dimensional language by placing it within a three-dimensional object that moves in space. As the aesthetic philosopher Max Bense (whom Schendel met in Stuttgart in 1967) has stated of the artist’s practice: ‘graphic reduction … suspends linguistic structure in favour of pictorial structure’ (quoted in Barson and Palhares (eds.) 2013, p.15). In accordance with this, in Untitled (Disks) Schendel breaks language up to its constituent parts to form a graphic palimpsest of linguistic symbols.

Such an approach could be attributed in part to the artist’s close friendship with Haroldo de Campos, one of the leaders of the Concrete Poetry movement in Brazil whom Schendel met in 1955 at the third Bienal de São Paulo. In an untitled poem published in 1966 on the occasion of Schendel’s exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio de Janeiro, De Campos described the artist’s approach as ‘an art of words and quasi-words / where the graphic form veils and unveils and seals and unseals’ (quoted in Barson and Palhares (eds.) 2013, p.19). The alphabet was further abstracted by Schendel in her Little Stubs series of 1973, in which individual Letraset signs, groupings of letters and numerical symbols were encased in rectangular pieces of acrylic (see Untitled 1973, private collection, reproduced in Barson and Palhares (eds.) 2013, p.144). As the critic Laura Fried has noted of Schendel’s continued interest in pictorial as opposed to semiotic elements of language, ‘the Letraset alphabet would appear again and again, not as units of signification but as drifting letters, excised from a system, inscribed as abstraction and as mute images operating apart from spoken language’ (Fried 2013, accessed 2 December 2014).

Further reading
Laura Fried, ‘Mira Schendel’, Frieze, no.157, September 2013, http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/mira-schendel/, accessed 2 December 2014.
Tanya Barson and Taisa Palhares (eds.), Mira Schendel, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2013, reproduced p.143.

Alice Butler
December 2014

Supported by Christie’s.