quarta-feira, 6 de maio de 2020

VLADIMIR KOLOSOV | Surrealism as an instrument of knowledge

The imaginary is what tends to become real.

André Breton

Visual art always goes hand-in-hand with scientific research and discovery: from the very beginning, with the first humans’ drawings and carvings which visua-lized objects of interest and expressed day-to-day life, followed then by the first steps in science in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, ancient natives in both the Americas, and in China. Visualization became a part of scientific research because drawings better explain the gist of the results of the research and the discoveries. For this reason artists were often included in overseas expeditions.
At certain periods in our history, some artists successfully combined visual art practices with scientific research. The most known example of such a combination is Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), a polymath of the Italian Renaissance. His talents had a long reach, and spread far beyond his paintings. Another example is Russian Mikhailo Lomonosov (1711-1765), one of the brightest minds of the XVIII century.
However, these examples just prove the supporting role that visual art played in scientific research of that time. The situation changed at the beginning of the XX century when the world experienced simultaneous break-through developments in physics, mathematics, space - time theories, neuroscience, and psychology. These subjects quickly became subject to a wide array of discussions in popular publications from Europe; and as a result gave birth to new theories and concepts in philosophy and revolutionary ideas in visual arts.
Andre Breton, the founder and major brain of the Surrealist movement, wrote in 1952: “...neuroscience was, from the beginning, at the heart of Surrealism, shaping creative and critical enquiry and informing poetic response to the question that so preoccupies the Surrealist imagination: ‘What is it to be human?” (André Breton, Conversations: The Autobiography of Surrealism, New York, Marlowe and Company, 1993).
He believed that Surrealists like scientists, could “lead the exploration into new areas and methods of investigation”. Breton paid attention to the new findings in modern science and was impressed by the concepts of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. He constantly drew the parallels between these theories and Surrealism and pointed out their mutual connections. He once mentioned that if “Einstein had been a writer or artist rather than a scientist, he would have been a Surrealist”.
The theory of relativity influenced not only Andre Breton. The painting “Persistence of Memory” (1931) by Salvador Dali (1904-1989) is a classic surrealistic work that is directly related to quantum mechanics, space - time concepts, and the theory of relativity. Thus, in The Coming of the Unconscious (1966), reprint at A User’s Guide to the Millennium, London: Flamingo, 1996) J.G. Ballard (1930-2009), an English novelist and essayist, wrote: “The empty beach with its fused sand is a symbol of utter psychic alienation. Clock time here is no longer valid, the watches have begun to drip and melt. Even the embryo, symbol of secret growth and possibility, is drained and limp. These are the residues of a remembered moment of time”.  
Max Ernst (1891-1976), being a passionate reader of the popular scientific magazine Naturwissenschaften, also admired developments in quantum mechanics and theory of relativity. As per observation of Andre Breton, Ernst was influenced by them, and this influence got reflected in Max Ernst’s collages.
For a better understanding of the artworks influenced by quantum mechanics and theory of relativity let us take a step back to the end of the XVII century - when, almost simultaneously, two major concepts of light were developed. One was Isaac Newton’s corpuscular theory which states that the luminous objects emit tiny particles that spread in all directions and when they fall into the eye they cause the sensation of light. Another was Christiaan Huygens’ wave theory that advocates that a luminous object induces vibration spread in a substance that fills the entire Universe like waves.
Both theories were supported by experiments and it was assumed that the light has a dual nature. In 1924, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, Louis de Broglie (1892-1987), assumed that such dualism is not just a feature of light optical phenomena but thet it has a universal character. His hypothesis got dubbed “uncertainty relation”, which was taken into account by Andre Breton.
For inspiration Breton also took into account Freud’s developments in psychoanalysis as well as Breton’s own medical studies and experience of treating patients in neuropsychiatric centres during World War I.
Wolfgang Paalen (1905-1959) was another philosopher and artist, who joined the Surrealist movement in 1935, through his art, he consistently developed a belief that the human’s understanding of the Universe is restricted by mechanistic postulates of the traditional Newton physics. The key element of Paalen’s vision on the role of art was that art has to step out from its classically descriptive nature, following and witnessing continuous change instead. In the early 1940’s Paalen abandoned the Surrealist movement (he returned back in 1950’s) and turned to abstract impressionism. Paalen’s artworks of this period are distinguished with his wish to follow and catch the behaviour of the surrounding reality in light of “uncertainty relation”. In Seeing and Showing (Dyn, # 1, 1942) he wrote: “...not to paint after nature, but to work according to its great rhythms, not to follow its fortuitous aspects, but to grasp its universal procedures”. Paalen’s philosophy of art based on quantum mechanic ideas was introduced and developed in the same issue of Dyn in the essay L’Image nouvelle / The new image.  
Considering the influence and connections between Surrealism and new physics we can’t avoid mentioning the art of Roberto Matta (1911-2002) - Chilean artist who moved from Chile to Europe in 1935 and joined the Surrealist movement two years later. Like Wolfgang Paalen, he was fascinated by the new physics developments and discoveries. His drawings and paintings of that time were mostly focused on the microcosm of particles, their connections between each other, the enigmatic attractions of non-Euclidean geometry. At the same time he was interested in the Freudian theory of the unconscious, expressing connections between the inner and outer worlds. Matta wrote in his essay: “Einstein was as important as Freud for the modern artist” (The Logic of Hallucination, City Museum & Art Gallery, Plymouth, 1984). The non-Euclidean geometry is traceable through many artworks of Matta which started from the beginning of the 1940s’. The best known ones are La Vertu Noire (1943) and The Verigo of Eros (1944). There is another concept that started to be seen clearly in Matta’s artworks of that period - the concept of fragility of space and, therefore, of the world that we live in. We should say that Matta’s understanding and interpretation of certain areas of new physics and psychoanalysis theories was quite primitive. Nevertheless, we pay a tribute to his intuition and his attempt to establish and explain philosophical connections between art and science.
There is another interesting observation that can explain the Surrealists’ interest in science during the 1930s-40s’: the significant changes in politics in Europe, which inevitably lead to their loss of interest in politics. We know that politics were one of the constituents of the philosophy of Surrealism, however the aim to transform the world through new physics and other scientific discoveries became more realistic in the minds of Surrealists at the time.
My personal experience confirms the relationship between art and science. Being an artist and a mathe-matician myself, I have always been interested in the progress made within the fields of mathematics, physics, the general theory of development, and, later, psychology. Involvement in research and mathematical modelling of very complex natural processes gave me an opportunity not only to get familiarized with many areas of human knowledge and their links to mathematics, but also an opportunity to see the picture on a global scale.
Such a combination of interests within my background is the reason why I often, unconsciously, introduce the elements of some of these theories in my artworks. For example, “Flying over clouds” can be considered as an illustration of the spin effect in quantum mechanics, although, when I started this artwork, I had no idea what it would be. Usually I start to create a space - the living world for further personas and objects. Then I take the time to observe the space I’ve created and try to imagine what kind of inhabitants it would have. Other paintings such as “Lovely expectations of upcoming presence”, “Communication with reflection”, “Offbeat”, and “Elements II” illustrated the tunnel effect in quantum mechanics, the key phenomena of this theory. The tunnel effect happens when electrons move through a barrier that they shouldn’t be able to move through. This was a postulate of classical Newton corpuscular theory. However, electrons have wavelike features and this allows them, with certain probability, to move through.
Let us turn to the engravings, woodcuts, and lithographs of the Dutch artist Maurits Escher (1898 - 1972). In one form or another, all of them are based on the Penrose illusion. The formulation of the principle of this illusion was made in 1958 and belongs to a Bri-
tish psychologist L.S. Penrose (1898-1972) and his son Roger - a physicist. There are several simple rules of how to draw such kind of objects of different complexity. Here we are approaching very interesting and very complex areas of mathematics – topology and the theory of surfaces. Many contemporary artworks, mostly paintings and sculptures, are inspired by topological objects. The most popular is the Möbius strip. The mysterious and famous Möbius strip was invented in 1858 by the German geometer Augustus Ferdinand Möbius (1790-1868). The story tells that when his beloved wife appeared on the threshold of the room she was angry and categorically demanded immediately to dismiss a servant who was so stupid that she was not even able to properly sew the ribbon. Watching gloomily at the ribbon, the professor exclaimed: “Ah yes, Martha! The girl is not that stupid. After all, this is a one-sided annular surface. The ribbon does not have a wrong side!”
There is another topological object that quite often appears in the works of art and is actually considered a work of art itself - the Klein bottle. This bottle has no edges. Originally it was a mathematical model, which in 1882 was invented by the German mathematician Felix Klein (1849-1925). Its inner surface is external and its outer surface is internal simultaneously.
My enthusiasm with topology and the theory of surfaces resulted in a few paintings: “The Swan Lake” and “The Birth” from the “Life” series. However, an object that I put on the both canvases is more complex than the Möbius strip or the Klein bottle. It is a projection or “shadow” of the Boy Surface: a nonorientable surface that is one possible parametrization of the surface obtained by sewing a Möbius strip to the edge of a disk.
These days, cutting edge computer technology gives an opportunity to create art just by using known formulas and algorithms. The best example is fractals. A fractal is a set that has the feature of self-similarity; an object that exactly or roughly coincides with a part of itself, that is, the whole has the same form as one or more parts. There are many objects in nature which have fractal properties, for example: coasts, clouds, tree crowns, snowflakes, human and animal alveoli systems, etc. The first descriptions of fractals appeared in the XIX Century, however the term “fractal” was introduced by a Polish - American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) in 1975 and became widely known with the release of his book Fractal geometry of nature (1977). Fractals became especially popular with the development of computer technologies, which allow us to strikingly visualize these structures. This has been immediately taken into account by artists all over the world. Whatever our attitude to this new form of connection between science and art is - we must agree that we have just entered a new phase of Surrealism development, different from the period during the 1930-40’.


Agulha Revista de Cultura
Número 150 | Fevereiro de 2020
Artista convidado: Daniel Cotrina Rowe (Peru, 1966)
editor geral | FLORIANO MARTINS | floriano.agulha@gmail.com
editor assistente | MÁRCIO SIMÕES | mxsimoes@hotmail.com
logo & design | FLORIANO MARTINS
revisão de textos & difusão | FLORIANO MARTINS | MÁRCIO SIMÕES
ARC Edições © 2020

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