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Joan Brossa

La clau de la clau (The Key of the Key), 1989

Object poem
8 x 20 x 20 cm

In his last years, Brossa received a considerable number of awards and commissions, also in the visual field, which encouraged him to design new poem-objects. A number of the poet’s ideas that had been left visually unresolved were materialized, together with new flights of imagination, and were presented on the art circuit, especially through the Miguel Marcos gallery.

Although not all of these late objects are easy to connect with Brossa’s earlier work, this is not the case with The Key to the Key, a piece that takes us back to some of the metalinguistic games in which so many of the poet’s literary, theatrical, visual and objectual pieces engage. In this instance the game consists in the disparity between the linguistic register and the visual register. The title of the work is no more — and no less — than a combination of alliteration and homonymy: the statement is alliterated, repeating the same words, but to emphasize that the word and its equivalents in most Western languages have different meanings​​: a key opens a door, and a key can also open other things. We might say that the physical key affords access to the knowledge needed to understand something.

Brossa had played with the meanings of the word ‘key’ in a well-known visual poem, conceived in 1971 and materialized in 1982, in which the teeth or bitings of the key are replaced by letters of the alphabet. In this case, then, the poet is suggesting that these primary particles of signification give access — open the door — to language and thus to knowledge. There seems to be a reference here to Wittgenstein and the famous phrase in the Tractatus, ‘The limits of language mean the limits of my world,’ (5.62). We should not forget that Brossa had absolute faith in the possibilities (and also the impossibilities) of verbal language.

In the 1989 piece Brossa returns to the play of meanings allowed by the word ‘key’. The object itself is a demonstration of the double articulation of language: in this case, of objectual language: a key to unlock is needed another key and so on in infinite regress. It is not absurd to suggest that the piece would have worked without a title: the image is explicit enough for the viewer to capture the visual homophony of a key that opens the lock of another key, which in turn opens another lock… But in common with other artists — Joseph Kosuth, for example — Brossa is so attached to the expressive possibilities of language — in this case, to the expressive possibilities of verbal punning — that he ends up overdetermining the image with a title that precludes any kind of distraction: the key to the key.

Joan M. Minguet


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