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Synopsis

In this text, Ángel Rama analyzes and assesses the importance of El Techo de la Ballena, an avant-garde group that emerged in Venezuela in the early sixties. He reproduces a selection of what he considers the group’s most important writings, commenting on an early approach marked by violence, provocation, and an anarchic spirit. In Rama’s view, the group aggressively undermined the cultural values prevalent in the country at the time. Its artistic and sociopolitical vision was influenced by Dada, Surrealism, and North American beat poetry. In relation to art, the group embraced Informalism in patent opposition to geometric abstraction, social realism, and traditional landscape painting. Rama argues that, due to “terrorist” artistic strategies based on disconcerting provocation that rebelled against power structures, El Techo de la Ballena was the artistic equivalent of the armed violence that riddled Venezuela at the time. As examples, Rama points to the book of poems ¿Duerme usted, señor presidente? and to the exhibition Homenaje a la necrofilia.

Annotations

 

Uruguayan essayist, educator, editor, and critic Ángel Rama (1926?83) lived in Venezuela from 1972 to 1979. He was a professor at the Escuela de Letras of the Universidad Central de Venezuela and the founder of the ambitious publishing house Biblioteca Ayacucho, as well as its literary director. In 1977, he became a Venezuelan citizen. In 1964, long before he arrived in Venezuela, Rama had published a brief article on El Techo de la Ballena in the Montevideo-based magazine Marcha. He was able to further his study of that group and the phenomenon it represented during his stay in Venezuela and to compile the texts published in this anthology. In the book’s introduction, Rama explains that he had selected the writings as early as 1974 but he could not find an editor. For that reason, he published the text that serves as the prologue to the volume independently in Mexico City in the seventies. The anthology, which is based on the material left in his archives in Venezuela, was not published until 1987, after Rama’s death.  

 

Rama knew a great deal about Venezuelan poetry and literature. This text analyzes El Techo de la Ballena as a socio-cultural phenomenon, that is, in relation to the socio-political context that determined its emergence. He considers El Techo de la Ballena a response in the spheres of literature and the visual arts to a specific context. It is from that perspective that he addresses in general terms the formal aspects of the group’s aesthetic, especially in relation to its artistic sources. Rama focuses mainly on the group’s literary component. He believes that the writers in El Techo were responsible for a subsequent renovation of Venezuelan literature. In his prologue, Rama analyzes only those texts that, regardless of literary value, made an impact and sparked often heated debate in Venezuelan society. 

 

The texts are classified by author, though some paradigmatic foundational texts and texts written for exhibition catalogues are included as well. Some of the texts are not reproduced in their entirety and some of the dates are incorrect—errors that can be attributed to the failure of the editors to do a final revision.

 

[For other texts written by members of El Techo de la Ballena, see in the ICAA digital archive Adriano González León’s “Homenaje a la necrofilia” (doc. no. 1097543), which introduces the work by Carlos Contramaestre exhibited at Homenaje a la necrofilia in 1962; also by González León “Tercer manifiesto: ¿Por qué la ballena?” (doc. no. 1097576); Juan Calzadilla and Contramaestre’s “Los tumorales I y II” (doc. no. 1097559), which introduces the 1963 show by Contramaestre entitled Los Tumorales; and Francisco Pérez Perdomo’s untitled text [“Hay ciertos rostros de la ciudad…”] (doc. no. 1060288). See as well the following texts signed by El Techo de la Ballena: untitled [“Establecer una frontera entre lo cursi y lo pavoso…”] (doc. no. 1059586); “Para la restitución del magma” (doc. no. 1060710); “Las ‘Instituciones de cultura’ nos roban el oxígeno, afirman” (doc. no. 1060199); Rayado sobre el Techo No. 1 (doc. no. 1142155); Rayado sobre el Techo No. 2, editorial, Cambiar la vida, transformar la sociedad (doc. no. 1060254); and “Segundo Manifiesto” (doc. no. 1057677)].

 

Researcher
Josefina Manrique
Team
Fundación Mercantil, Caracas, Venezuela
Location
Biblioteca Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas, Plaza de Los Museos, Parque los Caobos, Caracas 1010, República Bolivariana de Venezuela