When Roland Barthes defined his concept of “punctum” as that element of a picture that pierces the overall composition, he did not literally mean any surfaces were punctured. This, however, is precisely what the Spanish artist Jordi Alcaraz has done in his new edition, 5 lletres. It is a provocative and playful work, as whimsically transgressive as it is amusingly surreal.
5 lletres rewards close observation. From a distance—even a short one—the print appears to depict a clean white surface pocked and cracked by rocks. Indeed, that is the image transferred onto the surface of the print, and there is a certain grace and elegance to it, as there might be to a plane of fractured glass that’s spiderwebbed but not shattered. Up close one notices the meta-game Alcaraz has played: using actual rocks that are nearly identical to the representational ones, the artist has ruptured the surface of an image of a ruptured surface.
While this may seem an unconventional print, it’s perfectly in keeping with Alcaraz’s practice. His paintings, drawings and sculpture often disrupt the boundaries between media. In this work the distinction between representational forms and the objects to which they refer is brought into sharp relief through a destructive act. Recognizing the real rocks in the print is a revelatory moment felt immediately: everything now requires a second look.
The title is a bit mystifying; it translates into “5 letters.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first five-letter word to come to English-speaking minds is “rocks.” (Alcaraz is from Catalonia, where the word for stone, “pedra,” also has five letters.) If there is a linguistic connection here, it may lie in the break between a word and its referent, or between an idea intended and the letters required to write the words that express it. Five letters don’t mean a thing until they’re arranged in a particular order with other letters.
In a similar sense it is often context that gives meaning to an action. Here, puncturing the surface of the print adds a tangible individuality to each iteration of the edition. It is the type of conceptual twist Alcaraz relishes: a destructive act that completes the creation of an artwork.