Poet, essayist, art critic, opinion columnist, editor of journals specialising in the arts and letters and a cultural agitator.
We enter the Space of Dreams in the dark. Alert of eye, we are inside a darkened room as if inside a brain, in which the importance is made visible to us, via remarkable works of art, of the dream as a building block of artistic language in the twentieth century when it comes to exploring visual awareness of the unconscious and to replicating the empire of realism as the customary set of values in the practical perception of the so-called real world.
We do not know how long human beings have dreamed, but it must be ever since language, as well as instrumental reality, turns into an “other reality,” with the symbolic and the imaginary occupying a space in the communication of what is representable, even though it might not be visible. In fact, the images in dreams are real but are not so in either their logic or their syntax. To show the underworld and the manifestations of evil through the monstrous and the terrifying has been one of the ways of creating a Manichaean divide beneficial to upright moral behaviour.
Without distinction in both the visual and textual codes, a multitude of fantastic animals, together with the figures of the ancient scriptures and the dogmas that constitute religions, soon dwelled within the interactive screens of the churches scattered among the mountains and in small communities in the valleys. An iconographic repertoire of animals born of the most delirious fantasy and of ferocious snakes that with unsatisfactory violence, on the brink of self-mortification if unable to attack another animal, terrorized the rural world and the superstitious behaviour that deviated from the prevailing order. Double images that were viewable from the heavens and from the earth, and in a single plane in the dream. But have we always dreamed the same or does each individual and each generation dream of what is personal to it?
Beside an exceptional medieval capital with an animal carved in stone, from the twelfth century, with predominant fangs, tentacular beard, and bulging eyes, telescopic and illumined, there appear a mass of texts and images compiled by André Breton in Trajectoire du rêve (1938). On the customary blank extra pages at the beginning of the book, on the point of being printed, Breton states that he has just heard of the arrest in Vienna of Sigmund Freud, at the age of 88, a luminous spirit who seeks after human emancipation and ends up being detained by the Nazis. In the same block of text, on the following day and at the time, he refutes the news but warns of the state of surveillance to which the father of psychoanalysis and author, at the beginning of the twentieth century, of The Interpretation of Dreams, is subjected. Surrealism was indebted to his works about the royal road to the unconscious, as dreams are described by means of his scientific method, and about the free association that gives rise to the practice of automatic writing. The mad (out of their minds), the insane (who talked too much, with divine madness) and the Illuminati (capable of seeing beyond the visible), who wandered the margins, beyond the control of reason and the positive norm, inspired the disruptions of exploratory poets and artists and investigators of drives to do with death, sexuality and language. Without proposing to interpret the method of interpreting dreams and their healing capacity, above and beyond their scientific truth or even their aesthetic verisimilitude, the surrealist school in Paris sought to attain total moral, revolutionary freedom. They subverted the values and were inspired by old and at the same time prohibited images; or rather they created completely new images.
“The dream is not yet poetry,” claims Albert Béguin in the preamble to the publication, in search of a more authentic type of perception, and introduces Paracelsus (1493-1541), the physician, alchemist and astrologer who, placing the body in a relationship with the heavenly bodies and minerals, was able to distinguish between natural dreams, deriving from human obsessions, and supernatural dreams or dreams dictated by revelation. Among others, the compilation brings together dreams written by Leiris, Péret and Éluard, and dreams painted by De Chirico, Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray and Dalí. For Breton the dream was revolutionary and, as Hugnet claimed, it was necessary to “Live poetry like the dream lives its sleeper.”
A few years before, as Franco’s reactionary forces were rising up in Spain against the Republic with a view to imposing order under the effigy of castle and cross, the poems and photocollages of Hugnet were published with the significant title of La Septième Face du dé (The Seventh Face of the Dice, 1936), an obvious reference to the visual opening up of textual space represented by Mallarmé’s book Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A Roll of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, 1895). On the Duchamp cover the base of the letters includes the names of such crucial authors as Sade, Freud, Rimbaud, Ducasse, Paracelsus, Roussel, Jarry, Chaplin, etc. And standing out in low-relief is the Man Ray photograph of the readymade Why Not Sneeze Rose Sélavy? (1921), a birdcage containing 152 marble “sugar cubes,” a thermometer and a cuttlebone. The binding of this example is “à la cigarette.” The enigma, mystery, humour, verbal play and the bloodless “conceptual” violence are in opposition to the cruel war machinery of confrontational political systems.
A century ago now, in 1916, an anti-artistic system was created which rejected the established system of order that had dispatched millions of young Europeans to the Great War. Dada, born on the barricades of dissident art, in cabaret, in the popular and grotesque underworld, confronted the norms of respectability with violence and arbitrary playfulness. The syntax of the visual and the literary was blown apart, as had occurred with the young men whose bodies were mutilated in the trenches. A wounded art. Truncated words came out of the type case while collage bound and mended the resulting fragments of the unit of hacked-about, cropped images. Never more would represented reality be harmonious, or misleading; and art, sceptical of great values, defected from the academy and the canon. It was necessary to change models, referents. Art, disparaged for being popular and obscene, and the art of provocation participated as an exchange currency. The invisible became visible: hell had risen to the surface.
A new art, unprecedented in its explorations, would be born of nihilism, mistrust and a wariness towards positive moral values. The dream became a deep well from which to subjectively experience another kind of reality, a radically individual and group adventure that participated in the exploration of the inner world and awakened, with poetry sourced in the irrational and the instincts, and science that studies myth, a revolt against harmony and idealism. The forms and the method of dream were mined. We were entering the realm of subreality [sub-realidad] or superreality [sobre-realidad]. From the Dada pamphlet to a pragmatic ism: The Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). Imagination, freedom, madness and an aesthetic revolution that seeks to be moral and social: “Le rêve est continu et porte traces de organisation. (…) À quand les logiciens, les philosophes dormants?” [Dreams give every evidence of being continuous and show signs of organization. (…) When will we have sleeping logicians, sleeping philosophers?]
A fervent and febrile reader of Freud since his youth, in the period of formation Dalí was perhaps the most lucid interpreter of the shift from the scientific method of experimental reason to the scientific method of the aesthetic irrational, in which anything goes. Transubstantiating the theory and curative analysis of the subconscious in his subjective experiences and reconverting them into dynamic objective images, Dalí, a practitioner of all kinds of dreams, from hypnagogic dreams to daydreams, from visions to hallucination, from obsessions to construction, went from being one of the main figures in the group to the expellee, to the loner of Cap de Creus, even.
The ex-libris that Dalí—the thinking machine, the great reader and writer—creates for Breton, a peruser of ancient books, in the years of their intense friendship at the beginning of the 1930s, is a demonstration of the complementarity between them both. Dalí lends him his great masturbator, which he draws with hair, whence the name he writes for him in the border: “André Breton le tamanoir” [André Breton, the great anteater]. If Dalí’s masturbator is inactive and dreamy, and sustains himself on the tip of his nose, the form of the hairy cranium of Breton’s makes the intellectual onanism of the sucker more obvious. It has the same eyelids as Dalí’s, with long, dormant eyelashes, but coming from the mouth there is a phrase which spins forth and coils around the neck, strangling it, before the tip of the tongue penetrates it through a hole—“by the famous boil which seethes with ants”—that has been made in it on the other side of the Adam’s apple. The hole, a nest of swarming ants of the kind that terrorize Dalí, obsessively so, is the spot through which the umbilical cord enters. From the closed mouth to the anal eye. Eroticism is everywhere, in autophagy and in the cannibalism of objects, in onanism and in sodomization and in metamorphosis; in short, in the conquest of the Irrational. Likewise, the dream dissolves reality into liquid, hard into soft, or ink with water in the art of the wash drawing in Dalí’s Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship.
Does she sleep or is she dead? Or did she die while sleeping? A suicide? Many questions were posed about the relationship between life and death and Eros and Thanatos, as expressed by the Yvonne Chevalier image. L’Inconnue dans la Seine (The Unknown Woman in the Seine, 1929) is the title of the photograph. For J. V. Foix, the poet, friend and publicist of Miró and Dalí, “la Desconeguda,” the Unknown Woman, also represents death.
It was J. V. Foix who maintained that “he who is not a sleepwalker is not a poet,” who grasped that Miró was not acting for fun but out of necessity: “Miró modifies reality and frees himself, with astral opulence, from the siege of obsessions.” Early on, in 1932, after getting to know his oneiric phantasms, aesthetic automatisms and diurnal fantasies, he dubbed him the “astral Nativity-maker.” The two of them, the poet of words and the poet of signs, investigators in the dream line, do not participate in favour of mystery so much as in that of the space of the marvellous, a space for simultaneities without the obscurantism of reason. Of the intrepid Dalí, on the other hand, the poet managed to see that he was given to deformations when in the grip of delirium. In the first he encountered the offer of an aesthetic, and in the second, of a morality; Miró pertains to ethnography and folklore, Dalí to pictorial anthropology.
Similarly, via his journal, Foix propagated a nuanced Surrealism: he distanced himself from a strictly Freudian position by abstracting an inversion from the method of healing through intellection: “To adore what one wanted to free oneself from.” They’re the ones who, instead of symptoms, transform dreams into artistic creations. And he noted how, from Freud onwards, the dream is asocial and communicates nothing, while the mind is the social activity of the psychic. During wakefulness we are still spectators; and when asleep, actors. He concluded that as well as a synthesis of modern art, Surrealism adduces automatism, spiritualism, decomposition and the marvellous; but Parisian Surrealism is still not the Superreality—overly illogical—which is revealed, on the other hand, in the waking dream of Miró and of Dalí, in the Superreal [Sobrereal].
In Trajectoire du rêve, the compiler himself, André Breton, put his name to his article “Accomplissement onirique et genèse d’un tableau animé” [The Oneiric Accomplishment and Genesis of an Animated Painting], deriving from the progress of different paintings while he was observing his friend Oscar Domínguez painting. At times awake, at times asleep, the different states of the observing consciousness or of the constructing unconscious describe the work. The article, in effect, is divided into various parts that are clearly differentiated according to the stage: from the description of the dream written from within to the end of the recorded dream, in order to go on with the analysis of the provocative elements. On that occasion Breton had fallen asleep earlier than usual, due to external poisoning caused by the bad state of the vent pipe from his stove—a concrete fact that can now be clearly reinterpreted, just as will be fitting, even, in one of Duchamp’s last works with the Cadaqués-style corner fireplace. Of the fabric of the dream, Breton highlights the open variation of interpretations, and elucidates and distinguishes two model of reading: when the elements do the duty of desire or when they do the duty of knowledge. Thus, he who paints the dream in the picture is the painter Domínguez, a native of the Canary Islands, from an enchanting and magical valley, where, as occurs in Breton’s extraordinary novel, L’Amour fou, the symmetry of the design is discovered in the shadows of trees. Substitutions, associations and illuminations form part of the process of poetic and artistic creation within Surrealism. In the painting Personajes surrealistas (Surrealist Personages, 1937), the hard and the evanescent, the human figures and the machines wrapped in the folds of the clothing, the still life composed of covered figurines in the middle of a landscape made grey by the vents of a volcano and stuck in the earth of tectonic plates, smooth as the lids of a grand piano in movement, are besieged by the fury of the local animals… an oneiric landscape. The stage-like picture, like the unwound and animated painting of Dalí, partakes, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, of aspects of sexuality and enigmatic latent violence.
Dehumanization, however, had no limits: in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the second Great World War (1939-1945) more than fifty million people died. Picasso, espousing all the isms, turns his personal, family and historical biography into a stylistic militancy in a state of permanent mutation. From Paris, loyal to the Republic, he took possession before the world of the position of Director of the Prado Museum. It was necessary to defend, rather than destroy; and he accepted the realization of a wall painting for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris: Guernica, an allusion to the Basque town bombed by the Fascist alliance.
Months before painting the huge picture, at the height of the war, he embarked on fourteen of the eighteen drawings on the pair of plates of what would be the two etchings with aquatint containing many vignettes in the style of ballads or blind man’s songs, or the strip cartoons of antifascist propaganda tossed from aeroplanes at the front. Image and text. To begin with, the idea was mooted to cut the etchings up and turn them into postcards of each picture, to sell them and so raise money for the resistance, but in the end they were brought together in a portfolio with a poem of a baroque surrealism, nocturnal and boisterous, full of rural wordplay, written by the artist. The title, Dream and Lie of Franco, refers to the popular Castilian literary tradition of the Golden Age, amid the fall of the Spanish Empire, that of “dreams, are only dreams,” from the much performed play in verse, Life Is a Dream, by the culturalist Calderón, full of existential pessimism, and of the black vision of the dreams of Goya, whose Dream of Lying and Inconstancy must be cited. Dream, then, understood in a satirical and grotesque manner, as that which does not have its feet on the ground. The Hispanic delusions of grandeur of a moustachioed monster, a horseman and kinglet with a phallus, a soldier who destroys the classical beauty of a young Republic, an obsequious Christian soldier kneeling in worship to gold, who is confronted by the bull, him, the minotaur, in a framework of animals flattened and giving birth to snakes in the bullfight of history. The last four frames are already related to Gernika, post-bombing: the crying woman, the lament of the mother with her dead child in her arms, and the cry directed at the heavens.
The Spanish dictatorship and the exile of the Spanish Republicans will endure. On the other hand, following the victory against Nazism the European exiles and deserters returned, and a lasting peace prevailed in Cold War Europe, with two political and cultural systems in confrontation. Opposing itself to the imposed model of Soviet realism—truthful, historically concrete representation—and the education of the masses, which penalizes the old avant-gardes for being dissident, in order to impose the basic needs of social reality, existential informalism and abstraction displayed the moral impossibility of being able to speak, of being able to see. Reconstruction prevailed and the aesthetic utopia of Surrealism receded and underwent a change. Chagall, who’d fled from Communist Russia and the requirement of associating art with political commitment, subsisted in the flow of imagination, a state of joyous insomnia. Picasso, who’d been made a member of the Communist Party, lives in exile in peace and triumph, and on the coast, near the sea. The classical mythology of the Mediterranean, with the figure of the repopulating faun who sings in the fields, will be one of the iconographic emblems on his ceramic plates, and acts as if he were a new rustic religion of peace and paganism. The military man on the horse, or on a pig, of wartime will now become an equestrian, solar faun. Also surviving in Chagall are the mythologies of the symbolic real and Judaic and Russian cultural roots in the poetic and pictorial unconscious: the Crucified without pain, in bliss, among flowers and watery colours; and the lovers, in Paradise.
Miró had discreetly returned to Palma and Barcelona in the middle of the great war and in 1941 exhibits in MoMa in New York, with Dalí, the art coming out of Europe, without going there physically. The war over, Breton and Duchamp, two dissimilar spirits, organize the exhibition Le Surréalisme en 1947 at the Galerie Maeght in Paris. From 1940 to 1948 a very active Dalí resides in New York, writing, illustrating and participating in the modern life of the masses, contributing, among others, the dream sequences for Hitchcock’s film Spellbound, de Hitchcock. In 1949 he returns to Spain, a bastion of anti-Communism during the Cold War, in which he publicizes, artistically and indirectly, the coupling of the most dogmatic and anti-Darwinist Catholicism with the implantation of nuclear power stations in a rural environment.
The combative, joyous idealism foregrounded by Miró and Calder has a reverse angle in the work of Dalí, all three of them remote from dialectical materialism. The textual and oneiric spatialism of mathematics, music and poetry contrasts with the visual researches into physics united with traditional religion that Dalí is involved in: the mystical atom creates a visual space of new microscopic and cosmic-comic-teleological dimensions that does not disdain the oneiric and imaginative paradox that illustrated and derived from encyclopaedic knowledge. The pictorial rules of tradition in the visual world went on to become visual games in the epic dogmas of the atomic revolution. What visual and mental playfulness on the part of Dalí in Rhinoceros in Disintegration (1950)!: dream and microscopy, Eros and zero, geology and geometry, angels and rhinoceros, plus symbols, transfigurations and disintegration in a reconfiguration of the part in the Whole. Multiple spaces and time. From Durer to Dante to Maldoror, and from the lecture hall to the zoo. In the Sorbonne in Paris he compared the logarithmic curves of the Fibonacci spiral to the horns of the rhinoceros.
And yet, from the paranoia-critical method to the implosion of classical materialism and the visual ecstasy of reading asleep, with open eyes. From the educated, surprising quote, based on Lautréamont’s Maldoror, in the cinema. From the juxtaposed real, with the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table, to the interpretation of the interpretation—in the reinterpreted symbolic—with the meeting of a fully active and mobile sexual machine and a paralysed phallic object. Or in the acceleration of cinema, which enables images to be set in motion, the umbrellas to open and the clouds to disburse their contents on the landscape, while the needle falls rhythmically on the artist lying in the ultra-local, native landscape, in the middle of a delirious attack.
With innocence lost, sheltered in inner exile, in the suspended earth as in the calm sky, one learnt that behind the appearance of harmony and balance that came after catastrophe, the universe—like language—continued in permanently reinstated activity. Miró, who had learnt in the revolt of Rue Blomet, in Paris, that the mind can manifest itself differently from the prose of the real as a language of inner and hitherto unheard-of explorations, that of poetry and the dream, pressed on with his investigations, turning this way and that, forward and backward, inside and outside, in a zigzag and on many planes. From the first, the Paris Surrealists had unanimously endorsed the interpretations of the more (or less) surrealist of them all. Paired with his friend Calder, just as the techno-hermetic Duchamp had been with the photographer of solarizations, Man Ray, and with a shared vocalic alphabet of colours and an abridged dictionary of lyrical and mystic terms, saved from destruction, the two of them raise the syntax of the quiescent dream to the heights. Several experiments in visual language transcribed to an unknown plane, an art and a number of mobiles without a stand. The night moves like writing full of ideograms. The sky was converted into the parchment in which to conjoin and equate, in the cosmic mirror, the earth with its natural systems of permanent creation that overflow with dead and barren soil. Constellations and germinations, a vegetal system equal to a neurological one. The art of inner language equal to the music of the spheres. The blue, in the gouache Bagatelles végétales (Plant Trifles) 1956, takes the place of the colour of my dreams, and sets the tone for a brief musical composition for the glossary of the ethnologist and poet Michel Leiris, a wood of adventurous language full of mental and verbal leaps.
To provoke a rebellion of the mind that would invert the political order at the same time as the order of visual language, art, in alliance with new forms of knowledge of the mind, had fostered, throughout the century, the liberation of the primary forms and dark areas repressed by extreme rationalism and social rationality, which had become alienated with mechanization and repetition. The gratuitousness and maybe also the uselessness of dreams even confounded the associations they give rise to and was of assistance in searches favourable to the unwonted and the unknown, the imagination. Yonder. Still, the systematization of rebellion ended up being collective in the final exhibition self-organized by Surrealism, thanks to Breton and Duchamp, in 1947, understood as a school and an opening up. [había dos exposiciones más organizados por los surrealistas de Paris, en 1960 y en 1965, mientras Breton vivía] (Dolors à Altaió diu que final és ok, va ser la darrera Expo Internacional)
In Catalonia, however, where the nation and the culture had been subjugated by the dictatorship of weapons and the cross, unlike the triumph of democracy in the West, and in the midst of a fraudulent decorative painting, a group of young men came together in the magazine Dau al set (1948-56), heir to the spirit of the early avant-garde. In the presence of the real, subversion from the darkness.
Tàpies once confessed to me that he often drew the designs for his canvases at night, in the grip of insomnia. I can bear witness to having seen sheets of paper with sketches and annotations at the entrance door to the studio. Illumination, then, between the eyes, the act of painting in space, like a gesture from the inner cell. Before the artist was recognized for his original and personal, anonymous and universal writing-cum-painting, as terrific and polysemic as it is timelessly beautiful and demanding in vigilant awareness, he excelled in works of literary painting. Hours of insomnia and of acceptance, anxiety, contemplation and reading that uncovered the flagstones of amnesia on which one fights death. An apostate in the face of dogma, he filled the dead time of the war with the heartbeat of books. Afterwards, due to a lung condition, while resting, almost immobile, we know he became interested in the occult world and in heterodoxy, he delved into the yogis, the Illuminati, the Gnostics, oriental pantheism and mystical intuition. The realm of the self in opposition to the hubbub of the world and avant-garde art and the surrealists. Two extraordinary original works display the psychic energy of Tàpies prior to making the parchments illegible, contrary to literalism. He’d still not reached thirty.
It was not long before Tàpies, alongside his self-portraits and nocturnal landscapes, painted the illumined pictures here. Els ulls del fullatge (The Eyes of the Foliage, 1949) belongs to a group of oil paintings of imaginary gardens, a witness to magical exploration. Superimposed in the picture are three phases emerging from the silence of the night: a remote constellation of calligraphic signs; the darker shadow of a phantasmagoric, black hairy mass and an ensuing being; and a foreground plane in which a calligraphy of dots unites and forms a cobweb of arborescent flora. The dynamism of the different areas and the confusion of double images create an uncertainty as to the presences that they befuddle. Clearly surréalisant in evocation and in keeping with the evocations in the dreams of Klee, the suspension of darkness gives eyes to the silence that looks at us from beyond time and visible space. Microscopy dwells in the irradiation of an incandescent light.
Abandoning the gloom, in El monument (The Monument, 1951), painted during his stay in Paris, the space of spaces in the visual time of the window-canvas accentuated by the cleared spaces in which ancient architectures, towers and lofty trees are set out, as well as the Chinese shadow of a warrior; in the middle, the agitation of a horse with a contorted face and, below, the efforts of a man loading wood. In the daring interpretation, the half-hidden shadow of a man with scissors and a rose fill the work with more enigmas in a dream puzzle. The eye of the horse is the buttonhole making it possible to compose a painting that is at once oneiric and realist in style, the breath of the dream and the strength of the work. The picture (picture? No seria millor work?) was shown (at the Bienial of Venice 1952 first, and then at the Martha Jackson Gallery, at a time when Tàpies had already distanced himself from fantasy and was moving towards an awareness of scorched earth and an informal, desert-like bareness. Art with closed eyes and silent words.
The earliest works of Joan Ponç are full of hallucinations and revelations of the self at great risk, of secrets and signs of exacerbated sexuality concerning anticlerical and blasphemous icons, of transformation and transmutation in magic landscapes in a state of wakefulness. Like primitive magic, this art reveals a fantastic, hidden and demoniac world, yet one that is also colourful and primitive, frontal like Romanesque altarpieces. The Miró-Dalí scission between celestial and nocturnal did not affect him, neither did he deviate from his personal language, foregoing the step his generation and his fellow group members took towards Informalism. Ponç went on purifying the language of the loner in nocturnal landscapes inhabited by thought and remote from the painting dictated by the hands of others. Without processes of materic or gestural objectification, his work, in passing, was affected as soon as he arrived in Brazil in 1953, whence he’d emigrated, by the deployment of a mental and intersidereal geometric space. Ponç found the solution in a fantastic animal: the night bird, or the secret philosophy of the nocturnal eye as hope for all inner conflict.
Miró prepares dreams in his own way, on pitch black, as he does in a series of experiments during a week in November 1964, as he’d done in the process of the dream paintings and to a large extent in the preparatory drawings for paintings using collage in 1933. At which time he passed from the dependency on hallucinations to the forms suggested to him by physical elements, remnants of images from ads for machines. Miró does not copy dreams, nor does he transpose daydreams. He seeks suggestion while wandering around, or when one thing leads to another according to a suggestive arbitrary syntax, or when he receives the impact of a shock. Seeking to assassinate painting in order to get back to first origins, the artist assassinates marks of the real. Witness this fact: around summer 1964, Miró opens the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul-de-Vence and participates in Documenta III in Kassel, and is thereafter the object of a retrospective at the Tate, in London, before continuing, with engravings and parchments, potent ceramics and their atmosphere in a triple exhibition held by Catalan poets and he, the poet, with the lithographs of Barcelona 1964. On the void of blackness and silence he cuts out and glues bits of torn paper with the Documenta image. He has destroyed and eliminated the signifiers. He inverts and lays them out and turns them into a musical refrain—he even dabs a few chords—and, at the same time, a scale of great chromatic richness. Paradoxically, the doors, the little interior paintings, have an effect on the space and transfix it. What does it say? Can the concrete dream in the anonymous night of the universe be interpreted?
A revolt in learning and a wagering on the right to imagination were the slogans that the revolution of May ’68 backed, with young people from the new knowledge society taking to the streets and throughout the world. Situationism, post-structuralism, semiology and deconstruction were involved in a cultural revolution and in a struggle for civil rights. Francoism was also on its last legs. Miró, the other, took up a stance, while his art spread forth. Half a century had gone by since the Dada movement. It was a way of turning dreams into reality.
The euphoria was joyful. In the gouache of the design for El vol de l’alosa (The Flight of the Lark) (passa com amb Bagatelles Végétales, crec que no s’ha de traduïr), which was to form the cover of the book containing the Majorcan poets’ homage to Miró, a thick line emanates from the blue that is the colour of his dreams beneath the signs of the black sun and the star; the line in flight traverses the white spine and in the area of the red space of life it soars and becomes erect. The tip, the head, is crowned with laurel, and below, two big “commas” that have lent it flight and rhythm, descend to earth as testicles in the glowing, obscene red of the joke and of popular language. Miró has his feet on the ground, between points that move with a signature accentuated by a beast of the earth. It is enthralling to read the multiple meanings in Miró’s work, never codifiable, closed, fixed. The flight of the bird or the line of writing with the smudge, the effacement and the stippling. The language has something physical about it, killing even the conceptual or verbal figuration and the spatial calligraphy. In the night of art Miró creates monsters, like the dreams of reason. All is born, amid the silence of others, of the physical subconscious and all is identified with words remaining at the pre-linguistic level. He dances and does battle: “Go to it, paintbrushes and canvas!”
Neither painting. As if the poor, worn-out and disused material were the residue of our drives. For the time being Tàpies asserts himself as a realist. As a materialist. Action outweighs description. Annulment, too. Versus realist painting with a social content and versus the supremacy of advertising. Neither dogmatic state communism nor economist consumer liberalism. The paillasse, the sacks, the piled-up newspapers, the scribbled-on bits of cardboard, the tethered canvases, the knotted rags, the packing cases. Miró painted the windows of the Col·legi d’Arquitectes and wiped them clean. A committed Tàpies in favour of mankind via arte povera. Wood, cloth, wood and label with the ageing fiche of the piece of work, torn and illegible. We have ceased dreaming. Austerity attacks rhetoric. We are getting close to degree zero. Violence explodes alongside innocence.
Or innocence expressed in terms of violence. These will be years of taking a position and of tireless work for a man of more than eighty, an artist converted into the emperor of dreams. Faith pursued by yearning, by the drive within darkness become light. Miró takes the reverse side of a wooden box that had been used for sending plates or artist’s proofs of large-scale sheets, printed by their engraver, to whom he is going to dedicate the work. The back of the box, which was formerly the front, is stamped, numbered and labelled as a trunk, from Paris-Palma-Barcelona. With the nails outermost, of extreme aggressiveness, the box has been painted with military strength. In the background, some spaces with colours, the equivalent of vowels, on the wood: green, white and blue. The blue occupies the place of the colour of his dreams. Above, a big black patch assumes the shape of a figure, and a zigzag movement the black sticks out and has a point. Like a cerebral and mental representation, the large patch looks, maybe, like a night bird. The black bird that suddenly appears in the window, in the grip of delusion. In the centre, the eye and language: the bird’s mystical double eye in yellow; and the oriental sign for inside the inside in a strident red that sings, speaks. The picture has a double date, as if it had been executed at different times. And through his signature the artist asserts himself twice: at the top and the bottom. Miró goes on exploring the language of signs. A visual sign that sets verbal language, the breath, in motion. The beast paints the animal from the other side of reality, the other side of the mirror, the other side of painting. Like the position of the dream the other side of reality. I am the dreamed.
The revolution of words, cutting their dogmatic and pragmatic relationship to the signified, owes much to the grammar of dreams and to the over-meaning [sobresentido] of words outside of the normative and practical, instrumental dictionary. Dadaism pollarded words and, once they’d succombed, recomposed them through the principle of chance. Surrealism, going beyond an arbitrary principle, sought new logics and readings. Miró arranges truncated words throughout the space and renews the force of the origins that have been preserved in primitive art, the language of mad people and the language of children, as well as poetry and the dream. Dalí, through his obsessions, knows how to make good use of the paranoia-critical method for reclassifying meanings above and beyond the visible. That it is the Belgian, Magritte, a friend of poets, who would get closer to the Dalí of Cadaqués—they spent part of their holidays together in the summer of 1929; also present were Buñuel and Paul and Gala Éluard and their daughter, Cécile—is meaningful. They’d met in Paris during the filming of Un chien andalou. That autumn they exhibited together in Paris, and in December Magritte’s article “Words and Images” appears in La Révolution surrealiste. Dalí, adhering to the “Second Manifesto,” turns into a great publicist for “hand-painted collages,” as Max Ernst called them, of a technique similar to the system of transfers also employed by Àngel Planells, son of the baker’s in Cadaqués, featured in the surrealist exhibition held in London. That year Dalí ended up being thrown out of his house, his hair close-cropped and with a sea-urchin on his head.
The issue of the equality between words and images has been adecisive one in the generation of surrealist readers, authentic decanters of damaged, severed and associated non-visible images. To Duchamp we owe one of the first ways of defecting from the visual system and for breaking through the image/text relation to a hermetics of the conceptual combinatory. The sentences are phonetic and mental, and they transport us to the universe of aesthetics. They make us think as much as laugh, they cause hilarity and stupefaction, enigmatic games of intelligence. To be deciphered. It is not fortuitous in the chain of communicating vessels that Duchamp would also end up spending long periods of time—ten summers on the trot!—in Cadaqués. After him came Hamilton, the monolingual translator into written English of the serious jokes of the phonetic Duchamp and the continuer of his contrepèteries.
The Search for the Absolute, a title with a marked lyrical ambition—who knows if indebted to the enigma of the degree of perfection that is sought after in the Balzac novels La Recherche de l’absolu, Illusions perdues, Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu—must have been chosen after the painting of the picture, which could appear, furthermore, without any literary phrase. In the flat landscape, in a confusion in the open space that gradually gets darker from bottom to top and from top to bottom, between the sands and beyond the sea, the extremes coincide in the infinite with the clear sky. A background is delimited by the earth-coloured brushstrokes of the ground and by the grain of the dark wood. Within, a chance encounter between the nerves of a flat leaf that stands in for a tree, an angular, wrinkled rock and the backdrop of a theatre curtain of cardboard to the right. The verbal games traverse the space of representation, in which, without syntax, all is beyond what it is without ceasing to be. As in the dream. The same scene, with an identical title, was painted in yet more versions, depending on the movement of the light and, accordingly, the exterior landscape. The words are not alone. There is a clarity that converts the reader into an author, a communicative communion against opacity. Magritte is not Duchamp. He rescues painting and its bland, facile, innocent poetic side. A happy revolt.
Brossa, as mischievous as Miró, contrary in mood to the dormant mind, extends art to all genres of life, communication and art. For Brossa, the poet is a guerrilla fighter and a conjuror, on the periphery of norms and conventions: “Art is life and life is transformation.” He embarked on his oeuvre with the awakening of the inner world, and all his later researches have continued to know how to look, to penetrate knowledge and to subvert things. From hypnagogic investigations to straight poetry. A revolution in favour of the liberty that awakened the critical oneiric faculties of anaemic reality, based on wordplay and legerdemain, is what the poet Joan Brossa practised in the visual world and in everyday occurrence, performative action: a trap catches love and two dots make a face with a plate and a spoon. The simple use of two objects in each verse (trap/letter and plate and spoon/dot) which united perform an action, and as in poetry mean something other than what they are. The sign represents what it is: the A, first letter of the alphabet with a heart calibrates love in the highest place, the ace; just like two dots, one on the plate and the other on spoon, represent the eyes of a face. Surprise, altered language, the chance encounter, transformation, magic and the dramatic effect form part of the mechanics of the dream. If we wish to change life we have to make words and images about quotidian objects play. A thing is a thing. Having foregone the locus of the transcendental, words are.
With equal humour but with superior subtlety, Hamilton developed the interior monologue (the daydream in dormant language format) out of the verbal images arising from the experience of the characters and experimental situations in Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), applied with systems of image reproduction and with the use of semantic verbal and visual play. The chosen scene of the textual flâneurie through lowlife Dublin lasting a day and a night is the one in which the subject or main protagonist Bloom, the Homeric Odysseus, sleeps in the same bed as Molly Bloom, his Penelope. In a play of characters and of superimposed words [sobrepalabras] and overprinting [sobreimpresiones], the playful Hamilton places Rita Donagh, his wife, in bed with his assistant, representing through them the mythical couple lying in an upside-down position, their feet on the pillow. The headboard separates them and a crocheted bedspread made by Hamilton’s mother covers them. On top, a computer-created constellation made from the points of the stars indicated by their individual Greek characters. Standing out, in the heavens, the names of Ursa Major and Leo, superimposed words. Almost imperceptible, the image of a washstand water jug floats in space. The image in black and white, of a dreamed dream, is replete, as we’ve seen, with plays on words, having for a title a quote from Joyce: “The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” Language, occupying the place of the dream, dreams with overprints and superimposed language. “Heaventree” reaches to the heavens. Magritte’s leaf tree, there as a window that lets the light filter in, here in Hamilton, like a tree of stars, leads us through the night to the language of nameless images.
We ought to be able to end, at the same time as we exit into the sunlight, in the same way as Rosemarie Trockel, when she confessed in the request for dreams put to her by Francesco Bonami and Hans Ulrich Obrist on the occasion of the Venice Biennale at the turn of the twentieth century, in 1999: “My great dream is to finish with dreams, but to believe I am dreaming.” Yet twenty or so years later, in a new phase of humanity, in parallel to the deconstruction of the conceptual sort of art object, technological hyper-acceleration enables us to enter and bound through very different semantic fields in the briefest of instants. The collective intelligence of the social brain has great similarity to the hyperactivity of the individual brain and its downloads of fragments of discontinuous narrations. The era of multi-knowledge places the dream in a waking state and over time the brain has replaced the phallic prosthesis upon which some people ingenuously interpreted the mechanics of the dream. Artists, as has been seen, were its visionaries and philosophers for the interpretation of multiple systems.