Roda Lume

Ernesto de Melo e Castro



In 1962, The Times Literary Supplement published a text by the experimental poet and textile engineer Ernesto de Melo e Castro. The article focused on the most innovative word experiments that were being made on the other side of the Atlantic. For poets such as Dom Sylvester Houédard and Ian Hamilton Finlay this was the first contact with the Brazilian avant-garde and its concrete poetry movement, but above all it provided much needed motivation for the formation of a germane branch in the UK.

Seven years later our textile engineer and renown experimental poet took a second radical step towards the dissemination of concrete poetry in Europe. When invited onto a poetry show on Portuguese national television, Melo e Castro used the occasion to release what is considered the first video-poem. Roda Lume, which loosely translates as "Wheel of Fire", “Circle of Light” or “Spin Flame”, was a short animation, depicting a synchronised succession of geometric lines, words and improvised vocalisations towards a new "liberated syntax".

In 1969, two million monitors hosted Roda Lume as a stage for an embryonic language in continuous mutation. The broadcast poem appeared as a UFO, invisible to the fascist censorship radars that allowed its transmission unaware that it contained a transversal radicalness; the video acted as a wheel of fire against social and artistic conformism, and in this context as a call for a later revolution. Unfortunately Roda Lume was lost or might even have been destroyed by that same national TV station. In 1986, Melo e Castro attempted to reconstruct the poem based on photograms and a precise score. The version presented at M HKA is Roda Lume Fogo, in which the poet added the word "Fire" to the title to distinguish it from the original. 

Similarly to Alexandre Estrela’s work, Roda Lume Fogo creates a different notion of time and space. The viewers’ perception influences the reading of the images and text. Words and images are set in motion in a closed circuit, seeking liberation from the burden of communication and the laws of Nature. Both artists create systems where energy is never lost and as in Sator Arepo, the acrostic roman poem, the rule is to maintain the moment in the work.

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