Words in Action: Rimma and Valery Gerlovins’ Visual and Linguistic Experimentation

Tatiana Nazarenko, University of Manitoba

Rimma Gerlovina, a “three-dimensional” poet, and Valerij Gerlovin, a sculptor and painter, began their visual experimentation in the late 1970s, before their immigration from Russia to the USA. The Gerlovins’ first projects exploring words in action included the 1977 work, Semantika vozmožnyx mirov [Possible Multi-World Semantics]. This project was followed by the production of wooden sets of bricks, engraved with syllables from which various words could be created with changeable meanings. The Gerlovins’ innovative projects also include a “human-poem” (poèma-chelovek), which presents a human figure made of letter cubes, which can be arbitrary manipulated by the reader in order to produce his/her own meaning. More recent projects comprise the mixed-media art-forms defined as “photems” (produced in collaboration with the photographer Mark Berghash), “photoglyphs,” and other visual and linguistic experimentation.

The proposed paper discusses the juxtaposition of visual and textual relationships in the Gerlovins’ earlier and most recent works with the specific emphasis on various ways and levels of meaning creation. The analysis of the visual-verbal rapport of the Gerlovins’ compositions is accompanied by the examination of their metaphorical and metonymical connotations, in most cases achieved by the implication of the model “verbal tenor --> visual vehicle.” In the course of analysis, the Gerlovins’ experimentations are briefly compared to literary and artistic works utilizing the similar principles of approaching the linguistic material or employing comparable techniques such as Erte’s alphabet and numeral cycles, and concepts such as the Illustrated Man, the walking billboard, etc.

The paper proposes to prove that the majority of Gerlovins’ mixed-media compositions in fact meet the generic requirements of the genre of visual poetry, especially as understood in Sergej Sigej’s definition of the genre as being performance pieces/happenings (Sigej and Ryklin, 1990: 29-30). According to Sigej, the most important thing in contemporary visual poetry is the method of creative visualization, which turns the poet into a visual performer.

The paper also examines the Gerlovins’ product in terms of the conceits and stylisation of both, high and pop culture.


Сигей, Сергей. «Краткая история визуальной поэзии в России». Экспериментальная поэзия. Избранные статьи. Ред. Дмитрий Булатов. Köninsburg-Malbork: Simplitsii, 1996, 60-67.

Сигей, Сергей и Михаил Рихлин. «О природе визуальной поэзии». Черновик 3 (1990): 22-32.