In a transportative path

Joachim Neugroschel


M Library 2008

Extensions – nº 8

  • p. 26
  • p. 27

Aloisio Magalhães

In 1965, Rio de Janeiro celebrated its fourth centennial. Five hundred applicants took part in a public contest to create a sign that would be practicable for all events. The choice of my project evoked a strongly negative response from many people, who claimed that the populace would be unable to grasp and acknowledge an abstract sign devoid of immediate significance. The authorities even considered replacing it with a different, more conventional sign. My idea was that a sign while constituting a convention, need not contain an obvious significance; however, if it is a legible and readable sign, then it is potentially capable of acquiring through usage the significance that it represents.

In a lively and imaginative society like ours, a simple and lucid sign has an extraordinary variety of uses. In order to let the sign be expressive in accordance with its many different contexts, I worked it out in three basic forms: the linear sign, the colors of the Brazilian flag, the three-dimensional object.

The results are partially documented here. The people acknowledged the sign and, enriching the original structure, made a broad use of it.

  • p.28

Max Bense

1. a sign is not an object but a connection between objects. A connection that sets up a relation between the sign itself, the object it designates, and the interpretant for which it has a significance. This triadic relation implies that signs create contacts between people and things or situations. They carry the names, perception, understanding, description, explanation, values, judgments, communication— in short, all the data, all the information, that are the essence of human intelligence. Signs, by serving such mediation, must operate along the path of mediation. Wherever they appear, they are bound to mediation-schemata, to communication-channels.

Every city, being an inhabitable, urban system, is always a communicative  space for semiotic mediation, a system of communication-channels through which all kinds of data and information flow between a source and a recipient. Traffic signs, advertising signs, street names, house designations, telephone numbers, letters, decorations, shop windows, etc. All function in specific communication-channels that turn a city into an urban system. Furthermore, creation, communication, and transmitability are the essence of the manipulability of signs, and this triadic possibility makes up what we call the path of a sign. Since we are dealing with a highly developed entity of human conscious activity, and since the higher categories of being are, as we know, the more susceptible and more delicate ones, the path of a sign is also the path of its alteration. Every communication-channel exposes the sign to interference.

  • p. 29

The original sign-medium may be worn away materially, just asthe original referent may be clarified or disguised and the original meaning changed or depleted. The creative process of its generation already contains the beginning of its degeneration, in which the idea and the reality of the sign may split apart. The communication and transmission of a sign all too easily imply the gradation of a degradation. The path of a sign always goesthrough human and urban systems that reveal both its complex and its fragile use.

2. in viewing the sign that Aloisio Magalhães created in 1965 for the fourth centennial of Rio de Janeiro, we must (as we do with any othersign) distinguish between the creative, the communicative, and the transportative path.

The creative path is the path of the idea from a material repertoire to a constructive reality. This constructive provenience of a sign shows its finite, selective, and hence aesthetic character. The repertoire encompasses elementary geometric forms, points, straight lines, planes, i. e., simplexes that can be composed into a complex, a configuration, semiotically raised to aform, until in the shape of four triangles growing from the corners of a square, they iconically represent the four hundred years of the city. The physical variant of this construction of the icon is: four tetrahedrons joined at one corner. Until this moment of the creative path, the sign could still be a purely intelligible sign, expressible in a symbolical formula-language of mathematics; but in so far as the triangular planes of the sign attain a richer optical quality through the national colors of Brazil, the formal iconicity achieves a material indexicality that terminates the creative path and lets the communicative path begin.

The communicative path is a visual one. The sign becomes a means of visual communication. A communication-sign and an advertising sign. Communicating an historical situation and advertising for the city and its celebration at the same time, it turned out that no matter how abstract, how constructive, how singular the sign at first appeared, it nevertheless was ubiquitously understood and, like a written sign, it became universal. Since, moreover, it linked pragmatic with aesthetic communication, the communicative path of this sign continued in a transportative path. The placeless, intelligible sign became a.

  • p. 30

The placeless, intelligible sign became a place-bound, material signal that could, in principle, occur anywhere as communication, advertising, and decoration.

Aloisio Magalhães has followed the transportative path of his sign through all phases of the communicative path, from the phases of extreme singularity to the phase of structural repetition and the phase of its retreat into the chaogenic condition of the original repertoire.

It looks to me as if the kite, rising all alone from the beach in the Copacabana and completely reduced to the constructive configuration of this sign, constitutes the utmost that it could attain in reality and materially as a singular super-sign. A total convergence of the placelessness of the sign and the place-variability of the signal. Complete visual and technical communication, combined with total transportability. Both an advertising sign, a communication-sign, and a decoration.

A kinetic index. An index which, on a sidewalk, loses transportability and visuality although not as yet singularity. On the windows of a high-rise, it enters into the infinite rapport of an ornamental decoration. The configuration turns into structure. On a car door in the streets of rio, the sign appears once again as a singular entity, but the weakened visual momentum reinforces its communication by verbally repeating it in the words “Rio 400 anos” (Rio 400 years). In the window of the shoestore, it completely degenerates into an advertising sign. On the women’s bikinis, it recurs as decoration, ornament, on the drums and constumes of the mardi gras, as an aesthetic communication, rickling away completely in the momentary aesthetic communication-channel. On the fences, on the walls, in the sand, a syntactic dissolution begins to accompany the semantic one, what Hegel called the degradation of signs; the contours lose their sharpness, the characteristics of constructivity vanish, tachiste beauty becomes visible, japanese features, until everything stops, non-figurative and ludic, in a jumble of lines and strokes. A splendid example of the genesis, life, and demise of a sign within the multiple human and urban communication-channels of a tropical metropole.