Irma Blank

Irma Blank talks about her solo exhibition in London

View of “Irma Blank: To Be,” 2014. Photo: Michael Brzezinski.

Irma Blank was born in Germany in 1934 and has lived in Italy since the 1960s. Her latest exhibition, “Irma Blank: To Be,” is a concise retrospective of her major works—from her earliest script-like transmissions in the Eigenschriften (Self Writings), ca. 1965–72, to the most recent hand-drawn chain-mail of fragmented letters in the pencil on paper Global Writings, ca. 2000–14. The show is on view at London’s Alison Jacques Gallery from October 17 to November 15, 2014.

THE WORD is deceptive. Since the literary critiques of the 1960s, faith in the word has been largely lost. We see it still today: words, words, words that say nothing. The word is emptied of its meaning. I try to retrieve the space of silence, the unsaid.

The pieces in this show go back to the beginning. I work in cycles of about ten years. I have to go back to the primordial sign, back before it became language. In Eigenschriften, I decide to write for myself; those works are directed to myself. When I was done with the Eigenschfriten, I wanted to speak to others. Our depths are part of the collective depths. When one looks introspectively, it is not only individual introspection but also collective.

The space I use in the Eigenschriften is limited—twenty-seven by twenty inches—and intense. I wanted to enlarge it. For Trascrizione, transcriptions of pages of existing books and newspapers, I declare more overtly that this writing is a script. I had a lot of success with this series, but I was sure I couldn’t continue working in that way, because I was exhausted. I said all I had to say. I did not make concessions to the demands of the market. In that moment, I tried several things and understood that only the brush could give me the sign I wanted to have. With Radical Writings, I decided to use a brush and I began extending the mark, making it longer and longer. In that period, you were not supposed to take up the brush, because everyone wanted conceptual research. Yet I found the brush is conceptual too. At that time it was not understood.

For the small works on paper in the ongoing series Avant-testo, I work with ballpoint pens. In smaller works, there is only room for one hand. In larger works I work with both hands full of pens, swirling both left and right arms. It is a rhythm. It’s a beautiful work to do. You lose yourself. You give yourself to it. When you start, you know nothing. I never know how a work will end. It grows; it defines itself in my hands.

In the Global Writings you see only fragments. The language is smashed. I still try to read the world as writing; writing is my tool for understanding the world.