It isn’t often that renowned international artists visit St. Petersburg themselves, accompanying exhibitions of their work. The Visit, a collection of paintings, drawings and photographs by Uruguayan-Spanish artist Yamandú Canosa, will open Saturday at the Dali Museum.
It’s an extraordinary installation taking up every inch of the third-level Hough Gallery. Canosa has been in the city for three weeks, building the installation along with Dali curator William Jeffett.
Thursday morning, the artist was right there in the gallery and agreed to walk through The Visit with a reporter.
The title The Visit refers to Port Lligat, Spain, where Salvador Dali lived and worked throughout his lifetime. Canosa, whose works frequently explore the subconscious through metaphor, perspective, color and texture, went to Port Lligat as an interpretive exercise.
‘It’s very simple,” he said. “It’s a dialogue between contemporary art and Surrealism. To investigate the legacy of Surrealism in contemporary art. I’m a contemporary artist, and I visited to find out what part of my work belonged to the legacy of Surrealism.
“Because Surrealism was not an aesthetic movement, but a movement about languages. You can find artists – Joan Miro, Dali, Marcel Duchamp – these three artists’ aesthetics were absolutely different, but the three belonged to the same idea and the same hope that Surrealism gives to us.”
In other words, he wanted to see what Dali saw.
Offered Jeffett: “Yamandú Canosa’s work is a contemporary exploration of the continued significance of Surrealism … the work is significant in today’s world because it explores the intersection of global culture ranging from Europe to Latin America.”
The Visit is expansive – in the largest exhibition room, one wall is dominated by an image of Dali’s home and studio. On the opposite wall – far away – is an interpretation of the stone island resting at the far end of the bay, depicted in many of Dali’s paintings from 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, Canosa said, like the suggestive mirror images used in the Rorschach psychological test.
And the expanse of black floor between represents water.
“I need space, because I am a landscaper,” he explained. “And I always make an installation around space.” All the landscape is linked, he points out, with a horizon line that runs the width of the room, on every wall. It’s at average human eye level. “It’s the key of the gaze,” he said. “When you see the horizon line, you enter in the landscape.”
The images, he added, “are where they belong” 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 in with the abstract nets of village fishermen).
Some images are buried “under the ground,” signifying death, or perhaps a dream state. Dreams, of course, have always played a major role in Surrealism.
“It’s not exactly a storyline,” Canosa said. “It’s more like a narrative. Like poetry. But more important is the relation that each image has to the other. And we start to grow not a history, but at atmosphere. Here is an atmosphere.”
Some sequences along the timeline are dark, some are not so. He pointed out what he called the “happiest” atmosphere on the timeline journey: One painting is the silhouette of a woman playing a violin. She has the head of a cricket. A tiny woman removes stones from a piano keyboard, “to let the music come back,” according to the artist. A figure sings into a microphone as a giant bird extracts an insect from a tree.
Everything, the artist explained, is related. “The idea is that they all belong to the same atmosphere. And they explain this atmosphere from different aspects; then you start to have a perfume, and aroma for the mood.”
Canosa said the North Wind, called Tramontana, is like a character in this part of Spain. “Everybody says that this wind gives you madness. They say it is the wind of Surrealism.”
He tested his own subconscious with Blind Drawings, presented as a series of sketches of a small, spindly tree (it’s part of the exhibit, too). He drew them all without ever looking at the white papers.
The drawings are fascinating, in that they are similar and they all resemble the object, but no two are exactly the same. “I tried to do my best,” Canosa smiled.