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Gego in her studio, ca. 1978., Photo: Ricardo Goldman, Courtesy Archivo Fundación Gego

Gego. Weaving the Space In Between.

Mónica Amor —

In 1994 the late art critic and curator Lourdes Blanco wrote that “one day it will be determined with precision how Gertrude Goldschmidt assumed its magic conversion in Gego and how from within the method and discipline that design and the making of furniture requires, an audacious immigrant was able to forge in Venezuela one of the most original bodies of contemporary sculpture.”[1] “Gego: Weaving the Space in Between” is a response to Lourdes through an exploration of the network of cultural, material, and affective relations that facilitated Gego’s furniture workshop, her teaching at the school of architecture, her craft-like techniques of un-making sculpture, and her experiential design pedagogy. 

This “weaving” of fields and metal nets (architectural, sculptural, and drawings in space), is echoed in my account of modernity in the Global South. Predicated on diasporic displacements and transnational dialogues, as well as attentive to indigenous grammars, Venezuelan modernity was a foil to the heterogeneous interventions of artists and cultural producers. In a mapping of trajectories that takes me from Hamburg (where Gego attended one of the first public schools for girls) to Stuttgart, to Caracas, to Tarma, to New York and L.A (where she was a fellow at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop),  I attend to urban, human, and environmental agencies and not just to art with capital A. Indeed, before Gego  blossomed as an artist, she studied architecture at the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart and after her arrival in Caracas in 1939  she managed a small workshop of furniture and lamps. She also taught at the schools of fine arts and architecture, and later helped develop the first institute of design. All of this informed a practice perhaps best exemplified in the image of the net. The latter happens to define the structure of the Reticulárea, 1969—Gego’s best known work—and advances its anti-hierarchical demeanor, diffusive structure, and participatory demands (viewers are supposed to enter and circulate this environment of metal meshes). There is no doubt that this enveloping and buoyant work defies clear categories and is central to rethinking narratives of postwar abstraction. 

Gego, Reticulárea, 1969, Museo de Bellas Artes, Caracas. Steel, iron, bronze, lead, aluminum, paint, and fabric approx. 11 ft. 12 in. x 27 ft. x 114 ft. 5 in. (approx. 3.50 x 8.24 x 4.40 m), Fundación Museos Nacionales – Galería de Arte Nacional, Caracas, Photo: Paolo Gasparini, Courtesy Archivo Fundación Gego

I have borrowed for my title the term weaving, both as technique and artifact, to refer to the knotting and linking of triangular modules made of various metals that takes place in the reticuláreas, but also to define a recursive relationality that is distinctive of Gego’s work. Weaving allowed Gego to use alternative imaginaries, to produce an aesthetics and knowledge of affects and the everyday, to unravel the possibilities of mediums, disciplines, institutions, and materials. The study of such interactions defines the way the book is structured. Readers will see that I pay as much attention to architecture and the metal screens designed by Gego and her colleague Alejandro Otero, to the magazine covers designed  by her peers, to the urban landscape of the city, to exhibition design, as to the artists’ various bodies of work: her Dibujos sin Papel (Drawings Without Paper), her works on paper (drawings and prints), her public sculpture Cuerdas de Parque Central and her late Tejeduras (Weavings). As Gego’s advanced age made the demanding handling of metal difficult, she began to focus more on malleable filaments and also paper. In a 1990 letter to her family, she lamented an episode of sciatica that forced her to remain in bed and led to the intensification of a last series of works she had initiated two years before and was titled Tejeduras (Weavings). 

Gego in her studio, ca. 1978., Photo: Ricardo Goldman, Courtesy Archivo Fundación Gego

The curtailed motion of the body intensified the action of the hands—Gego manipulated strips made of discarded prints, photographs, catalogues, book covers, magazines, and the golden and silky wrapping threads of the numerous boxes of cigars she had consumed over the years—to create an intricate and abstract crisscrossing of warp-like (longitudinal) and weft-like (horizontal) elements inserted recursively.The works that ensued finally realized the weaving technique that had been latent in the metal nets of the reticuláreas, bringing thickness to the airiness of the meshes and the see-through frames of the Dibujos sin Papel. A few early Tejeduras weave paper strips around a photograph of an intricate reticulárea that was used by the Museo de Bellas Arts to produce a catalogue/card that briefly introduced the exhibition of the architectural ensemble of nets when it was first shown in 1969. The piece photographed for the card includes on one side a distinctive three-dimensional triangular latticework protrusion held stable by a string of bullet weights. These were used throughout the 1969 installation to adjust the gravitational pull of the pieces.In Tejedura 88.8 the matrix of warp (constituted by the white background of the photograph) and weft (made of pink and red stripes of paper) is organized around this singular element, as if juxtaposing one modality of weaving to the other. 

The allusions to weaving that Gego’s work put into place in this later phase of her career sustained an exploration of mark making that she had initiated in her drawings on paper and her prints. Not only was photography freely incorporated, mobilizing reproducibility in ways different from printmaking, but she borrowed from various sources lines, dots, twirls, stars, and other patterns that she integrated into the weaving. This is the case with Tejedura 90/43, which used colored and printed paper to create the weave while starlike, ink-traced lines (radiating around an empty center) made on acetate structure the central vector of the composition. But weaving was much more than the title of this last series of works. Weaving the space in-between had been a lifetime of interventions in the expanded space of design that the emergent and incipient culture of postwar Venezuela demanded of Gego. She endeavored to redraw boundaries, a network set in motion through the power of connections between forms and methods belonging to the different disciplines that Gego’s life-work traversed. 

If, as Henry Staten observes, “different subjects occupy different locations in design space, and from each location a different set of lines of force in design space becomes available,” we might see the errant subject Gego was, relentlessly negotiating bodies of knowledge according to positionality.[2] Of course, that subject had a body herself, and Gego’s soma was at the center of her work with hands, her hearing problems and nondiscursive choices (with a preference for the agency of materials), and later the intimacy that the residual Tejeduras offered. These were works that marshaled affective imaginaries lodged in the aging body and the remainders of the workshop. And in these images of formal disintegration entangled with rigorous modularity, the everyday and “ad-hocism” (a neologism coined by Gego) continued to be the ground of perplexing associations as well as the foundation of an aesthetics, a form of labor, a way of life.

Mónica Amor is professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She is the author of Theories of the Nonobject: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, 1944–1969.

[1] Lourdes Blanco, “Gego: Libre y abstracta,” Economia Hoy, September 22, 1994; repr. in Tres cortos sobre Gertrudis Goldschmidt (Caracas: Ediciones Loma Verde, 2012). Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine.

[2] Staten, Techne Theory, 191.

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