Arrigo Lora Totino

Foto © Amedeo Benestante.

Arrigo Lora Totino is one of the most iconic performers of the international Concrete Poetry movement. The term Concrete Poetry refers to an area of extremely extensive experimentation that first developed in Brazil and Switzerland in the late fifties. This international current, which soon spread to Europe, Japan and the United States, was rooted in experiments related to the historical avant-garde which, beginning in the early twentieth century, included words and sounds in the context of their visual research.
The Concrete poets shifted their focus from the meanings of words to their forms, elaborating the “concrete material” of language broken down into its ultimate units – syllables, letters, phonemes – and reassembled as “literary material” in accordance with new forms and rules. The visual element of lettering and the instruments of typography, as well as the conscious use of plain paper, are the principal instruments of Concrete Poetry. Many of the artists involved in this international movement have extended their experiments with verbal language to the production of sound and the media that transmit it. They have also made numerous forays into musical performance and musical research.
Arrigo Lora Totino first became interested in Concrete Poetry in the late fifties. In the mid-sixties he combined experiments in sound with his strictly visual and typographic works. In 1966 he founded the Studio di Informazione Estetica together with the electronic musician Enore Zaffiri and the painter Sandro De Alexandris. In the same year he also launched the journal “Modulo,” which published an anthology of concrete poetry that presented the leading international members of the movement, so becoming one of the principal instruments for promoting this strand of research in Italy.
Totino’s work explores the instruments of typography and collage, using devices such as repetition, superim- position, and the reversal of words and phrases. Even the sound element is the subject of experiments, developed in his “poetry gymnastics” projects, “liquid poetry” and “mime-declamations”, performances in which language is explored through its sound and gestural elements. What seems to attract Totino’s interest in the various forms of research is the communicative potential of the structure of language as image, gesture and sound, rather than as a vehicle for content.
The four works presented here use the technique of collage to assemble newspaper fragments. The printed word is reduced almost exclusively to its status as a visual element and treated as a material to be processed. The four compositions are constructed through combinations of colors, the texture of the paper and the rhythmic succession of blocks of text. The use of fragments of articles as the principal element of the composition draws on the special allure of the daily paper, which is by definition bound up with the mass media and their political implications.
Totino’s Concrete Poetry is constructed on visual impact, the physical consistency of words, in a way that critically reverses the way the printed word is normally used in the context of advertising and the culture of the mass media in general, as they were established in the boom years of the fifties and sixties.