Her life imprinted by a number of overwhelming shifts and transformations, Irma Blank has found her way with words with her own meaning.
Words: Soraia Martins / Photography: Vera Marmelo
“Blank” is the name of the exhibition held at Culturgest, the first venue that accepted this prolific, retrospective collection of Blank’s work through the course of 60 years divided into seven rooms.
“It is an honour to be here at Culturgest, the first institution to say yes to this crazy project”, says Joana Neves, one of the curators, who alongside Johana Carrier (also curator) and Delfim Sardo (visual arts consultant at Culturgest) took us on a journey of discovery, intuition, resilience and inner release.
Born in the 1930s in Germany, Irma met a man, who would later become her husband, in Hamburg, and ended up moving to Sicily, in Italy, with him in the 50s. “This was quite disruptive for her because she embraced a whole new culture, not only at home but also the place where she lived”.
“This was quite disruptive for her because she embraced a whole new culture, not only at home but also the place where she lived”.
She was not only a painter, but a writer, a lover of literature, and her passion for language opened passage to this “friction with another language”, which produced new meanings that didn’t exist in German, an inner conflict, I you will. No doubt a visual poet, Blank taught herself a new means of conveying her deepest struggles and complex feelings, a “universal language in the form of her writing which lead to her “Eigenschriften” (meaning self-writing) series in the late 60s.
For her, drawing is almost like an out-of-body experience, and it goes through what she calls a “sensorial cycle”: touching the paper, the sound on writing on the paper, all of these dimensions are part of the exhibition, and that is why she recorded the sound of her drawing — you can actually hear it in the exhibition.
"As you can see throughout the exhibition, Irma works in cycles, some of which are pretty long".
"It is an honour to be here at Culturgest, the first institution to say yes to this crazy project".
“As you can see throughout the exhibition, Irma works in cycles, some of which are pretty long”, Johana Carrier tells us. Leading us into the next room, Johana points to a wall with what seemed like a whole book fragmented into standalone pages.
“This one was a series she worked on for five years, between 1973 and 1979, called “Trascrizioni” (meaning transcription). This was when the family moved from Sicily to Milan, from a very rural area to a big city. With “Eigenschriften” she was writing to herself, but “Trascrizioni” opens her up to the outside world.
As the curators stated they weren’t showcasing her body of work chronologically, we now stepped into another room with books she started hand making in 1968. In total, there are probably more than 100 books, but the exhibition only brought a few that prove her love for the physical matter of words, and the endlessness imbedded in books.
Blank’s power over her body and mind through writing and language can overcome the most adverse obstacle, as her most recent series would show. “Gehen, Second life” are the result of her having to learn how to write with her left hand after a health issue left her right side paralysed. “Radical Writings” (1983-1996), “Avant-testo” (1998-2006) and “Global Writings” (2000-2016) are rightfully present in this exhibition as well, which you can visit in Lisbon until 8 September. After that, you can visit it at seven other venues scattered through Europe.
"For her, drawing is almost like an out-of-body experience, and it goes through what she calls a sensorial cycle".