It is odd and at the same time highly significant to verify the lack of attention that has been paid in the world of art to the relationship between Surrealism and the dream. There have been many exhibitions devoted to Surrealism in general, or one or other of its aspects in particular. And quite a few focusing on dreams, from very different premises, which in some instances include a few aspects or sections, necessarily partial, devoted to Surrealism. But up until now an art exhibition has not been held that addresses, in monographic form and with the intensity that this calls for, this central and intensely suggestive subject matter: Surrealism and the dream. This exhibition is situated, then, in “almost virgin” territory.
The Surrealist conception of the dream has specific features which differentiate it from other approaches. It is true that following on from various antecedents—Romantic literature, Symbolist writing, and the specific contributions of psychiatry and psychology in the 19th century—the decisive impulse behind Surrealist approaches to, and elaborations of, the dream derive from Sigmund Freud and his major work, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900). But the Surrealists did not confine themselves to being mere followers of Freud. For them the dream is what might be termed life’s other fifty percent, a level of experience different to conscious life, the knowledge and liberation of which impinges in a special way on the enrichment and amplification of mental life, which constitutes the Surrealists’ main objective.
In Surrealism the dream ceases to be considered a void, a mere hole in consciousness, and is understood as “the other pole,” more or less latent or not completely explicit, of mental activity. The “real” is enlarged in the “surreal,” whose most consistent manifestation, due to its continuity and intensity, would be the dream.
It is also important to emphasise how important the visual nature of the dream is. And in relation to this, not to be ingenuous or reductive when considering the way in which the dream makes its presence felt in the pictorial universe of Surrealism. In that sense, it is crucial in my view to bear in mind the extraordinarily lucid viewpoint of Max Ernst, who in “What Is Surrealism?”, a text written in 1934, rejects the ingenuous and clichéd affirmation, which is all too common even today, that the Surrealist artists “copy” their dreams in their works. To pictorially represent a dream does not mean simply copying it—the utilisation of oneiric material in the arts calls for the secondary elaboration of this.
Instead of presenting the works grouped according to their different supports, or in a chronological or historicist way, something which is totally inappropriate to the Surrealist spirit and its tenets, these are shown with a thematic articulation that keeps to a discourse in which the dream is disseminated and manifested in a plural series of pictorial forms:
-Those who paved the way (of dreams). Crucial antecedents, by way of an introduction…
-I is another. The variations and metamorphoses of identity.
-The infinite conversation. The dream is the surmounting of Babel: all languages talk to one another, all languages are the same.
-Landscapes of a different land. An alternative world which, for all that, forms part of the existing one.
-Irresistible perturbation. The nightmare, anxiety.
-Beyond good and evil. A world in which neither morality nor reason obtain.
-Where anything is possible. Omnipotence, anything is possible in the dream.
-The high shine of desire. Eros without the censorship of conscious life.
This “itinerary,” these manifold markers in the dream galaxy, are complemented by the meticulous design of the exhibition space, the idea being to empower the works and to create optimum dialogue between them and different types of public. The goal is for the spectators to have a dynamic perception, calling on the specific features of their particular sensibility, of the Surrealist images of the dream embodied in the work on display.
The 163 artworks and seven video installations brought together in this exhibition, along with the film season and the international conference programmed to accompany it,
attempt to trace a map of the Surrealist pictorial continent of the dream, a map that had not even been roughed in until now. In order to trace the lines of this map, I have focused my attention on works by the artists who intervened, with greater or lesser continuity, in the activities of Surrealism in its historic period. A further potential space of work would thus remain open: the study and presentation of the lines of dialogue and influence of those Surrealist positions on the dream on later art. In the choice of works and projects I have tried at all times, and with the utmost care, that these should be pieces that specifically address the subject in hand: Surrealism’s pictorial representation of the dream. In a word, not just “any old” Surrealist artwork would do.
It is also important to stress the diversity of supports and expressive means used by the Surrealist artists. The exhibition brings together, in all their variety and richness, the different artistic supports in which the relationship between Surrealism and the dream is explored: painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, objects and sculpture, photography and film. And here an important aspect emerges: in pursuit of the objective of elaborating their works through the representation of an interior model, and in a period which saw the technological expansion of the production and reproduction of images, the surrealist artists were the first to be fully receptive to a fusion of different types of expression, to a multimedia aesthetic. Seen thus, the role played by the cinema turns out to be crucial. Nothing would be the same again after the irruption of the spirit of Surrealism in the cinema, whose wake is deep and long, and can be discerned until today, even.
Another crucial point: it was within the framework of Surrealism that women artists found themselves for the first time, in the elucidation of the art of our time, in the position of protagonists. Not from the very first, and not without contradictions, of course. They started out as “partners,” being treated as objects of desire: the “femme-muse,” “Melusina, or the eternal femme-enfant,” the “spectral woman.” But beyond the machista horizon of desire, the male Surrealists gradually found themselves with independent women of culture and sensibility, who in many instances developed their creative personality in confrontation with or at a distance from the men. The considerable number of works by women artists in the exhibition is a sign of the relevance and character typical of their contributions in the Surrealist pictorial representation of the dream.
Surrealism, which is not just another “art movement” but rather an attitude towards life, transmits an intense affirmation of freedom, the hope for a human life of plenitude, the utopia of a mind in command of all its possibilities. In that sense the Surrealist invocation of the dream must be understood, first and foremost, as the manifestation of a revolt against the “realistic” acceptance of an “ill-made” world, against an attitude of resigned acceptance of pain and suffering. It transmits a utopia of total liberation of the mind, the dream of a freedom without limits. Naturally, the same as in utopia, the maximum value of which lies in knowing that its fundamental essence resides in what it denies, in the questioning of an existing state of affairs, as well as in the awareness that it can always be thwarted, dreams are unverifiable. There is no way to subject them to verification. They can only be shared as the words or visions of the other, as an acceptance based on more or less similar individual perceptions.
Surrealism paved the way, many ways, towards the liberation of desire. And, of course, if it sought to be a means of total liberation of the mind, it drew all its strength, which it still maintains today, from the central role it grants to desirous images, akin to a vision of Eros. At bottom, that is the secret message of Surrealism, a project for the complete liberation of desire, on a trail blazed by poetry and the arts.
Surrealism invokes and evokes the restructuring of life through reverie, through the half-glimpsed, through the image. What we wish for, what we desire, is change, a new life that adapts to our desire, and given that we manage to glimpse this new life, albeit still fragmentarily, in the registers of the image, we idealistically declare that what we see will arrive, it will come to pass. With such eyes, open inwardly and outwardly at the same time, we must look at and see the Surrealist artworks which transmit, following a process of pictorial elaboration, images of the dream. The image glimmers in the lightning-filled night, and due to this it intensely suffuses the dream.
The connection of the image with the dream is crucial, because dreaming is a supremely pictorial, visual activity: we dream with our eyes, we see what we dream. The dream, the image, as life’s central components. This cannot simply be reduced to the “reality” that limits and restricts us to an “ill-made” world. We cannot renounce the act of dreaming, of going further. Living is dreaming.