23 September 2019


Unilabor – Concrete Poetry

Text: Jörg Stürzebecher

Opelvillen Rüsselsheim 

- 12 January 2020 



Born in 1925, Eugen Gomringer, the founder of concrete poetry, was last seen in the headlines in autumn 2017. At that time, a misunderstood sense of political correctness led to his poem “avenidas” being over painted, and thereby censored in the public arena despite protests from many cultural initiatives. Gomringer and his Latin American companions have been celebrated in Rüsselsheim since the early 1950s, it amounts to a tribute on the fringe and befitting the poetry that is “designed in letters and sounds, where such media are repeatedly questioned or discovered” (Gomringer). The term “concrete” refers to the art movement of the same name with which Gomringer was and is familiar in many ways: as co-founder of the Bern avant-garde magazine Spirale, but most importantly as secretary to the first HfG Ulm principal, Max Bill. Brazilian poets who pursued similar goals to Gomringer's also visited the HfG, and from time to time there was even talk of relocating the Spirale and leaving Ulm. That was a long time ago, and Brazil, striving for both order and progress under its national flag, was at the time a place of urban utopias, artistic awakening and philosophical reflection – just think of Max Bense's book Brazilian Existence.


So it is not surprising then, that there were connections between that huge country and the tiny HfG. For example, the graphic designers and artists Almir Mavignier, Mary Vieira and Alexandre Wollner studied at the HfG, and very early on, for a very short time, Geraldo de Barros, who was associated with subjective photography. In 1954, together with friends, he founded the furniture production company Unilabor. Their products have never before been showcased on a large scale in Europe – this is pioneering work by Opelvillen. Unilabor was attempting modernism in its designs, and went far beyond the fashionable, drawing its inspiration from String or Egon Eiermann. It would be wrong, however, to see Unilabor's furniture merely as an expression of a mid-century zeitgeist. With its unique organisational and working conditions, Unilabor was moving in the direction of cooperative manufacturing and social experimentation. This is also evident in the logo de Barros designed – an intermediate step from Agitprop to the graphics of the Paris May 1968.

Both Gomringer and some Brazilian exhibition participants or their descendants have promised to come to the opening. Two publications are also planned.


Nº 284
Region of Design

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