As part of the current events promoted in Matera, the European Capital of Culture in 2019, there are a series of initiatives dedicated to the master of surrealism, Salvador Dalí.
Three enormous works by the Catalan master are placed around the city’s historical centre and the “Sassi” rock-dwelling district. and an exhibition, Salvador Dalí, “The Persistence of Opposites”, has been prepared in the rock complex of the Madonna delle Virtù church and San Nicola dei Greci, inside the city of “Sassi” [the Rocks], a Unesco Heritage Site. There are about 200 sculptures, illustrations, furniture, books, glass works and “multimedia exhibits” on display, making the visit a much more in-depth multisensory experience than a traditional exhibition. The event sees the contribution of the Dalí Universe, a private foundation that is home to one of the world’s leading Dalí collections.
The curators have highlighted the dualism present in the works of the artist, who was one of the most interesting exponents of Surrealism, the last of the avant-garde art, born in 1924 when Breton published his Manifesto. The movement was based on Freud’s theories that had revealed how man was much more complex than what appeared, and that the truth of being was based within the depths of the psyche.The surrealists, when referring to these theories, believed precisely that art should bring this profound reality to the surface. Therefore, it was necessary to silence reason, free oneself from external appearance and make the unconscious clearly manifest, by representing it visually.
In order to effectively illustrate the complexity of Dalí’s art, the event was organized around four themes: Time, Casings (shells), Religion and Metamorphosis.
Shells and casings.
This section explains a fundamental duplicity in Dalí’s artistic conception and approach. On the one hand there is the external appearance with which the individual shows himself to the world, which is the protective armour, the hard shell with which the individual defends himself. On the other hand, the real essence of man is found in his interiority, which is soft due to the murky agitation of the unconscious. This duplicity of vision is at the basis of a personal system to represent the unconscious that Dalí himself calls the paranoiac-critical method. That is, what the artist paints is the fruit of the dark impulses that stir in the soft womb of the unconscious (paranoia); ghowever, these can be brought onto the canvas only through hardening, that is, the rationalization of the unconscious (critical moment).
Another fundamental aspect, for Dalí time is a fluid, impregnable and out of every rational perception. The perfect icon is his famous soft clocks, liquid shapes that, when they melt, become deformed. Einstein had shown at the beginning of the century that it was not possible to measure time objectively. Along these lines, he breaks down the shape of his clocks, alluding to the dilation of time, and the impossibility of measuring it. A monumental bronze liquid clock is located in Matera in via Madonna della Virtù. Examples of what has been said is the 1931 canvas of The persistence of memory, where in addition to three soft clocks we find one not deformed, but rather covered with ants.
In the 1930s, after his break with Breton, Dalí distanced himself from Surrealism and increasingly began to take an interest in religion, and his work on these themes would stay with him until his death. In 1942, he wrote that no discovery denies religion. However, in this approach there is a sort of yearning, since his religiousness lacks a fundamental component: faith. He says he believes in God but does not have faith and, in his own words, is afraid of “…having to die without heaven”.
His approach to the sacred themes would paradoxically lead him to go more in-depth in the other opposite pole: Science. References to nuclear physics often appear in religious paintings. In a book published in 1974, he wrote in his Ten recipes of immortality “…I am a Catholic without faith and I walk the paths of science to reach dogma”.
This aspect sums up his art. It springs fundamentally from the encounter of Opposites that arise beyond any logical relationship. His works continually oscillate between reality and dream. This crossroads between incongruous realities fused together give rise to Surrealism. In Dali’s universe, everything is transformed and the recognisability of the image – that assumes forms, sometimes monstrous, sometimes marvellous, but always different and exasperated – is continually altered.
In Matera, throughout 2019, you will have the chance to observe something that is in the depths of all of us when we silence reason. We are met with delusional associations, constantly changing visions, and the delirium of the psyche.
Anna Maria Calabretta