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In this review for the journal Imagen (Number 34, Caracas, October 1-15, 1968) the Venezuelan poet, painter and art critic Juan Calzadilla discusses the work of Chilean mail artist Dámaso Ogaz. Calzadilla reviews Ogaz’s volume of poetry Imaginary Methods and Desertions (1963), arguing that while the artist has experienced little critical attention, his “antipoetic methods” are revolutionary in scope. Calzadilla describes Ogaz’s artistic practice as sub-altern and searingly incisive; his perspective, Calzadilla says, “is at the level of rats” and has no place in the slick “salutations of cocktail parties”. The essay takes on themes of singularity, isolation, and anti-poetics in Ogaz’s work, which Calzadilla ties to Ogaz’s status as a neglected “southern” writer (for Calzadilla this is both the source and the result of Ogaz’s complicated style). Calzadilla employs many post- and sub-human metaphors, comparing Ogaz’s methods to a human body that has been emptied of its innards and re-filled with complicated cogs and transformers. Overall, the essay focuses on otherness and alienation, and how poets might learn from Ogaz’s distancing from the mainstream of literary life.
Juan Calzadilla (b. 1931) met Dámaso Ogaz in the early 1960s and appreciated his unvarnished, occasionally abrasive style of mail art. Ogaz explored themes of the common and the marginal, which was attractive to the existing leadership of El Techo de la Ballena. The group was taking a populist direction at this moment, endeavoring to separate themselves both from European art movements and from bourgeois culture in Caracas. In this essay Calzadilla recalls the gatherings at Café Iruña held in 1958, and in the spirit of those gatherings, he reports having reached for Ogaz’s book Imaginary Methods and Desertions. By Calzadilla’s account, Ogaz’s work had attracted the attention of Henry Miller primarily because of its sense of immediacy—Ogaz is “not an airelibrista poet who advocates harmony between man and [his surrounding] landscape”; instead, “the landscape is seen from inside the skin”; the text issues from the body like air escapes from the ribcage. Calzadilla’s essay not only increased Ogaz’s visibility within Caracas’ artistic and literary circles, but also affirmed Calzadilla’s (and, by extensión, El Techo de la Ballena’s) commitment to sub-altern and quotidian subjects.
Juan Calzadilla co-founded the Venezuelan avant-garde group El Techo de Ballena (Caracas, 1961-68) and was heavily involved in the emerging ecosystem of avant-garde galleries in Caracas, including the influential gallery Sala Mendoza. [For more essays by Calzadilla on artists he considered influential, see “Manuel Quintana Castillo: anotaciones para los fragmentos de un muro escrito” [ICAA digital archive (doc. no.1156168)], “La pintura de Armando Barrios” (doc. no.1163238), and “La pintura de Carlos Contramaestre” (doc. no. 868632)].
Damaso Ogaz (1924-1990) was born in Santiago de Chile and died in Caracas, Venezuela. His artistic practice encompassed painting, literature, poetry, and theater. Ogaz was a central proponent of Mail Art, and an international pioner of this movement in Venezuela and Chile. He was also associated with El Techo de la Ballena in Caracas, whose other members inlcuded Carlos Contramaestre, Juan Calzadilla, Adriano González León, Salvador Garmendia, Efraín Hurtado, Perán Erminy, Francisco Pérez Perdomo, Caupolicán Ovalles, and Edmundo Aray. Other essays by Ogaz in the ICAA’s archive include the catalog essay "Texto introductorio Exposición Sala Libertad" (doc. no. 750426).