It is not often that well-known international artists visit St. Petersburg themselves, accompanying exhibitions of their work. Visit, a collection of paintings, drawings and photographs by Uruguayan-Spanish artist Yamandú Canosa, will open Saturday at the Dali Museum.
It is an extraordinary installation that takes up every inch of the Hough Gallery on the third level. Canosa has been in town for three weeks building the installation with Dali’s curator William Jeffett.
Thursday morning, the artist was there in the gallery and agreed to cross Visit with a journalist.
The title Visit refers to Port Lligat, Spain, where Salvador Dali lived and worked all his life. Canosa, whose works frequently explore the subconscious through metaphor, perspective, color and texture, went to Port Lligat as an exercise in interpretation.
“It’s very simple,” he says. “It’s a dialogue between contemporary art and surrealism. Investigate the legacy of surrealism in contemporary art. I am a contemporary artist, and I visited to find out which part of my work belonged to the legacy of surrealism.
“Because surrealism was not an aesthetic movement, but a language movement. You can find artists – Joan Miro, Dali, Marcel Duchamp – these three artists had absolutely different aesthetics, but all three belonged to the same idea and the same hope that surrealism gives us.
In other words, he wanted to see what Dali saw.
Jeffett offered: “The work of Yamadú Canosa is a contemporary exploration of the continuing significance of Surrealism…the work is significant in today’s world as it explores the intersection of global culture ranging from Europe to Latin America.”
Visit is vast – in the largest exhibition room, one wall is dominated by an image of Dali’s house and studio. On the opposite wall – in the distance – is a rendition of the stone island resting at the end of the bay, depicted in many of Dali’s paintings of the location. “En la Cueva (In the Cave)” is presented as a positive/negative in bright red, depicting the entrance to a cave from both the inside and the outside. It is, says Canosa, like the suggestive mirror images used in the Rorschach psychological test.
And the expanse of black soil between represents water.
“I need space, because I’m a landscape designer,” he explains. “And I always do an installation around the space.” The whole landscape is linked, he specifies, with a horizon line that runs the width of the room, on each wall. It is at the average human eye level. “It’s the key to the gaze,” he says. “When you see the horizon line, you enter the landscape.”
The images, he added, “are in their place” on either side of the “horizon”. Around the massive gallery space there are objects in the sky – a star, a constellation, the wind, a cloud, the sun (filled with the abstract nets of the village fishermen).
Some images are buried “underground”, signifying death, or perhaps a dream state. Dreams, of course, have always played a major role in surrealism.
“It’s not exactly a script,” Canosa said. “It’s more like a story. Like poetry. But more important is the relationship that each image has with the other. And we begin to cultivate not a story, but an atmosphere. Here is an atmosphere.
Some sequences along the timeline are dark, some are not. He highlighted what he called the happiest atmosphere of the timeline trip: One painting is the silhouette of a woman playing the violin. She has the head of a cricket. A very small woman removes the pebbles from a piano keyboard, “to bring back the music”, according to the artist. A character sings into a microphone while a giant bird extracts an insect from a tree.
Everything, explains the artist, is linked. “The idea is that they all belong to the same atmosphere. And they explain this atmosphere in different aspects; then you begin to have a scent and an aroma for the mood.
Canosa said the north wind, called Tramontane, is like a character in this part of Spain. “Everyone says this wind drives you crazy. It is said to be the wind of surrealism.
He tested his own subconscious with Blind Drawings, presented as a series of sketches of a small spindly tree (this is also part of the exhibition). He drew them all without ever looking at the white papers.
The designs are fascinating, in that they are similar and they all look like the item, but no two are exactly alike. “I tried to do my best,” smiled Canosa.