Hechizo del Vigía [Magic of Vigía]

by Juan Luis Hernández Milián
Rolando Estévez Jordán (designer and draftsman)
Agustina Ponce (editor)
Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Vigía, 2004
Photocopies on paper with watercolor accents and cloth
Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri (2009.31 a&b)
Gilbreath-McLorn Museum Fund

Magic of Vigía opens in three steps. The left page opens first. Printed on the back of this page is “Rolando Estévez,” the designer of this book, as well as the profile of a woman with the symbolic Vigía lamp on her head. Then the right flap folds out. One side of this triangular flap resembles ocean waves. A space has been cut out of this flap and a piece of white lace has been placed in the opening. Finally, a long paper banner, which folds up to be hidden behind the first two flaps, can be stretched out and down.

A poem written by Matanzas native Luis Hernández Milián is featured on the banner. The poem talks about the magic of the Vigía press. The unknown subject of the poem ponders what it would be like to be forgotten by others, to become merely a faded memory. But, as the speaker exclaims, “amidst the dust and paper” of Vigía, an image can be restored. In the end, a Vigía book (possibly even this book) illuminates the speaker again, returning his or her image “from the ruin.” This is the true “magic” of Vigía—the ability to breathe new life into writers and authors.

All Vigía books present authors, well-recognized writers and virtually unknown writers, in new and enchanting ways that renew their poems and stories. The interactive nature of its publications challenges our very idea of “books.” We cannot thumb through a Vigía book like we might a novel. Instead, Vigía books are intimate objects that charm viewers, inviting them to slow down, explore every component of the book, and discover for themselves the stories, poems, and images contained within the objects.

by Kim Nochi

Magic of Vigía is composed of two separate pieces: a brown paper envelope and a tri-fold booklet of white cardstock that fits inside the envelope. Opening the envelope requires lifting a top flap that features a photocopied image of a woman’s head. Upon sliding out the book, a viewer would need to lift a series of side flaps in order to get to the heart of the book: a vertical banner that can be pulled out and down. Handwritten on the banner is a poem composed by Matanzas native, Juan Luis Hernández Milián.

Written on the inside of the first front flap of the book is the inscription, “This book is a small dedication to our revered Jorge L. Hernández Milían from Ediciones Vigía in honor of our 19th anniversary.” Born in Matanzas in 1938, Milián left Cuba to study Russian translation in Moscow. He then returned to Cuba to study at the University of Havana.1 After the Revolution, many artists and writers left Cuba in search of more creative freedom abroad. Some, like Milián, returned. Those who returned to Cuba, however, were not always welcomed back by the artistic community, who regarded their leaving as abandonment. This inscription reveals that even though Milían left the island, the members of the Vigía collective who choose which authors are published, respect Milían as a writer. Not only does this book celebrate Milían’s poem, it also commemorates a momentous occasion—Vigía’s nineteenth anniversary.

Milián’s poem on the banner reads:

Your bewitched image captured in the mirror
where will its sweet shards go
no place other than to the faithful refuge of memory
once again shown in the reflection

hidden from some writer
obscure in the books of Vigía
A bewitched image … what irony
to seek a sign from your savior

amidst the dust and paper … Who will illuminate me
while I pull out, at last, the foul thorn
that silently is cut in pieces in my throat?

Your image returning from the ruin
in blessed bursts of fog
and blooming happily sings to us like a drunkard…

This poem is addressed to “you,” but who that “you” is remains uncertain. Perhaps this poem reflects a stream of consciousness. Milían could be talking to himself, expressing fears of being forgotten in his homeland as he leaves to study abroad. Another possible interpretation lies in the multiple images of the female figure who is depicted five times throughout the book. The woman appears facing forward, in profile, dressed formally, and nude. In three images she balances the emblematic Vigía lamp on her head, symbolic of the enlightening power of the mind. She emerges twice more with wild and free hair.

This same woman is featured prominently in many other Vigía works, most notably Vigía is a young woman and Walking near the light, bibliography of Ediciones Vigía, 1985-2006, which cites all of the books published by Vigía between the years indicated. Both of these directly reference the press and its books, not other writers. The careful placement of the woman in all three publications and the accompanying literature suggest that she is the personification of the Vigía press. In the poem in Magic of Vigía, the woman and what she embodies—Vigía as a publishing house—could then be understood as the “you” Milían is talking to. If this is the case, Milían is addressing all authors who have been published by Vigía and hence become part of the collective’s community. The press has returned all of their authors, including Milían, “from the ruin.”

The poem, Milián’s background, and the material qualities of Magic of Vigía all suggest that this book represents boundaries, both literal and metaphorical. The brown paper envelope, which is reminiscent of a typical mailing envelope, implies movement beyond the boundaries of a home or country. The poem, however, suggests that boundaries can be broken, and even if your image is broken into shards, it can be illuminated again. This is the true “magic of Vigía”—the ability to breathe new life into poems and stories within the pages of their carefully crafted handmade books.

by Kim Nochi