The current importance of Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein’s 1914 poetic experiment, should come as no surprise. Its publication was revolutionary and pushed many of the boundaries of traditional literary grammar. Despite this, during the years after its initial publication, it was not well received and was quite misunderstood by literary critics. Today, more than 100 years after it came to light, and following several commemorative re-editions, the book’s vision of modernity and its experimental approach seem absolutely relevant to our times, even beyond the field of literature. Proof of this can be found in the collective exhibition we present at Proyecto Paralelo, which is openly inspired by Stein’s work.
Throughout the process of preparing the exhibition, it was interesting to confirm how far and wide Stein’s work has resonated. We discovered that Tender Buttons has echoed in the minds of different artists and curators (both involved in the project and not). Perhaps the most surprising example was that of the pair of Brazilian artists Detanico Lain who were invited to participate in the exhibition. We had no way of knowing it, but they were already working on a series based on Stein’s texts. Another interesting coincidence came when we discovered that a New York gallery was also working on an exhibition based on Tender Buttons at the same time as we were.
OBJECTSFOODROOMS takes these serendipitous events as homage to the repetition and insistency that were characteristics of Stein’s work. In one of her texts, Stein questions the paradigm of identity of things and the endless possibilities of interpretation:
“Are two things the same when they are what one thing is? And how am I to apply what the one thing shows me to the case of two things?”
She then gathers that repeating the same action makes it different. This exhibition offers another perspective, a repetition of a known action that is already different.
Gertrude Stein constructs her texts by eliminating any emphasis on the meanings and references that words provide. Instead, she highlights the importance of sound, rhythm and movement; her objective is to deconstruct the core parts of each of these elements. This is what makes her an Avant-garde artist, and also what inspired us to base our work on hers. Tender Buttons resists norms of conventional grammar. The form through which Stein subverts the structure of the ordinary sentence creates a possibility for open, ever-changing, multi-dimensional sentences. Critics and academics that have studied Tender Buttons seem to agree that Stein replicates the proposals of the Cubist painters of her time and introduces them into literature. What she is attempting to portray are objects that may help us better understand the materiality, visibility and sound of media, and how perspective is a subjective matter.
Just like the book, the exhibition is divided into three parts: objects, food and rooms. In the book, each section includes a series of texts/portraits that allow us a glimpse into the domestic world, an interior world full of common objects and scenes of everyday life. In this same vein, each section of the exhibition has recurring themes such as the re-signification of language and the deconstruction of linguistic units. The selection of these works not only allows us to highlight the transcendence of Stein’s ideas, but also to build bridges and discover the common grounds shared by key artists of the early 20th century and contemporary artists that exist in radically different spatial-temporary contexts.
In OBJECTSFOODROOMS, the works of past artists such as Juan Gris, Sonia Delaunay and Alexander Calder not only help contextualize Stein’s work within the Avant-garde movement, but also sustain a dialogue with contemporary works that have been inspired directly by the text. Such is the case of the piece by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, composed of tracings of text boxes from the pages of the first edition of Tender Buttons. The resulting figures are transformed into the faces of a polyhedron, an abstract construction that reflects upon the concept of box/room, which in turn converts the writing into a space and a surface. Detanico Lain present two pieces from the series 27 rue Fleurus; these pieces use a typography derived from the fragmentation of the faces of a cube. This, in turn, creates the alphabet used to transcribe two texts from the “Objects” chapter of the book, which are then colored using a color pallet derived from the cubist paintings found in Stein’s private collection of art, in Paris. The Celosías Insulares (Insular Lattices) of Javier Hinojosa take on the idea of fragmentation and borrow from architecture, particularly the studio house of architect Luis Barragán. In this same vein, of details often omitted, we have the work of Lake Verea, which offers us glimpses at objects and corners of the rooms of Phillip Johnson’s house. Slightly closer to the idea of repetition found in Stein’s works are the pieces by Miguel Monroy who, in a show of tautology, present a continuously looping video in which the exhibition is endlessly installed and uninstalled. Finally, and in relation to the Food section, we have the pieces by Melanie Smith, Ana Navas, and Chantal Peñalosa, the last of whom dedicates herself to a repetition and classification exercise that is borderline obsessive. This obsessive classification is also present in Miguel Fernández de Castro’s collection of hinges. In his work, this otherwise forgotten everyday object is converted, by the grace of repeating its function over and over, into an axis of daily life, an axis that, in every window and every door of every house, rests in an unchartered territory of sorts that separates the inside from the outside.
Paola Jasso and Violeta Solís Horcasitas