Homage to Dali's Science-Art

Embedded Imagery * Sacred Geometry * Atomization

IN THE 1950's SALVADOR DALI wrote a manifesto on Nuclear Mysticism, perhaps foreseeing what we now call Quantum Mysticism.

NEW 8/26/05 ART SLIDES ~

Iona Miller's neo-Nuclear Mysticism reinvokes the power of the surrealist vision as a valid means of scientific investigation of the inner world where psyche is not different from substance in imaginal reality. When we look inside, we see the dynamics of the universe, even the multiverse. Dali was an apparently prescient visionary artist, as well as surrealist. Whereas Picasso based his Cubist vision largely on angles, Dali's vision was informed by the spiral, which he iconized in his reiterative use of the rhinocerous horn.

Nature works in sacred geometry, curves, fractals, chaotic emergence, reiteration, complex dynamics, embedded imagery. So did Dali. Dali asserted that matter is not at all like it seems, but has attributes even he was only able to guess at symbolically. As nuclear physics continued to mature, Dali was somewhat 'vindicated' in these beliefs, once the true nature of matter as paradoxical wave/particle began to be unveiled.

Beyond the extreme eccentricity and publicity-generating antics of Salvador Dali lies an intensely potent spiritual vision, an ability to see through matter, into a more elemental reality. His foresight was truly prodigious and a productive forerunner of the coming age. The hyper-reality theme of nuclear mysticism is present somewhat in nearly all Dalinian work since 1950. Atoms explode into cubes and spheres, the material world is broken down into disconnected particles, and swirling cones ("rhinoceros horns") symbolise manifestation, appearance and purity. Other ontological symbols are used throughout Dali's version of the Tarot, where they often take on a hermetic, alchemical quality.

Dali's later art explores the subjects of quantum physics and genetics with a metaphysical vision. Evidence of the divine began to appear to Dali in everything. In paintings such as The Madonna of Port-Lligat (first version) of 1949 and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubicus), 1953-54, Dali­ attempted to reconcile Christian iconography with images of dematerialisation inspired by the discoveries of particle physics and atomic energy. Dali described this new phase of his art as "Nuclear Mysticism," which led him to create such monumental works as The Railway Station at Perpignan, 1965.

After the disenchantment of Post-modern deconstructionism, what we need is a neo-Nuclear Mysticism to heal the fragmentation and atomization of our psyches which have been blasted by the future-shock of post-postmodern life. Looking within for a moment of stillness, we cannot help but find imagery of our most fundamental being, that threshold where psyche, matter and energy share the same essence.

Dali's paintings began to reflect his thoughts and he renewed his associations with one of his previous paintings by painting the "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory" between 1952-1954. In this painting, the persistence of memory is fragmented and breaking down into particles, Dali's way of acknowledging modern science and technology.

Many of Dali's paintings during this period portray the concept that everything is in a state of suspension through the repulsion of protons and electrons. Dali's painting "Leda Atomica" where we see a nude Gala sitting on, not surprisingly, air, is a fine example of this concept. Many other objects in this painting show a similar suspended effect.

Dali's opponents have criticised him for his total absorption in his art, arguing that it is self-indulgent and not relevant to the world. Nothing could be more distant from truth. Dali's interest in the evolution of the planet was intense, but finding the present time so barren, Dali addresses himself to the future.

In 1976, Dali said, "The progress of the sciences has been colossal ... but from the spiritual point of view, we live in the lowest period of civilization. A divorce has come about between physics and metaphysics. We are living through an almost monstrous progress of specialization, without any synthesis." This Synthesis, Dali declared, would be brought about by the mystification of science. Dali's various works in holographic cylinders are only a few examples of his attempt to illustrate and symbolise the synthesis vital to the future.

If you look at him grappling with post-impressionism, cubism, right through to his earliest investigations of Vermeer-like realism, you get a much stronger understanding of the surrealist work to come. His late work reveals a kind of secret history. Here's an artist relevant to contemporary artists because of the way he uses science and technology and the scale of his work. From Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, right through to Matthew Barney, Alex Grey, and Jeff Koons, many artists are aware of Dali's impact. Dali becomes someone who is important not just for that 1929-39 Surrealist movement, which in itself is enough to put him in the history books, but for science and technology. He became important as a figure in the 40s, 50s and 60s as a precursor to pop art, as a precursor to the way artists work today. Many of his antics were dismissed as bufoonery in his time but now would be recognized as performance art.

VIEW Dali works at
In 1973, Salvador Dali stated, 'The atomic explosion of August 6, 1945, shook me seismically. Thenceforth, the atom was my favourite food for thought.' This statement may challenge the common perception of Dali, an artist whose name generally invokes images of melting clocks and phantasmal landscapes but who is less frequently allied with the hard sciences. Only in recent studies have scholars begun adequately considering the influence of science on Dali's work, though often such research remains focused on his more popular 1930s production, executed during his association with the Paris Surrealists. In the 1930s, Dali, an official member of Andre Breton's circle since 1929 - was fascinated by physics, particularly Einstein's theory of relativity and the concept of 'thick space'. While an analysis of Dali's attraction to science in the 1930s is compelling, it is just to suggest that his interest was aimed primarily at substantiating his own methodology, which is to say that scientific language gave some credence to the soft-structures and elongated protuberances that featured prominently in his imagery. In contrast, his 1940s and 50s production - christened the 'Atomic Period' - was an arguably more explicit application of scientific concepts, as Dali endeavoured to reinterpret more traditional, often religious imagery through the lens of contemporary scientific knowledge. This scientific/religious amalgam proved a rupture from Dali­'s 1930s introspective production, not fully abandoning psychoanalysis but drawing more heavily from mythology and Christian imagery in the artist's quest to 'become classic'. As Dali's Atomic Period works include the artist's most explicit religious references contemporary with surprisingly erudite allusions to science, these images are perhaps the most illuminating means towards deciphering DalÃÆ’­'s 'mysticism', or, more accurately, his hybrid cosmogony, 'nuclear mysticism'. This mysterious tenet - initiated in the late 1940s - incorporated such diverse aspects as atomic physics, eroticism and Roman Catholicism, in addition to Surrealism and Catalan mysticism. Pictorially, Dali employed an unorthodox symbol - the rhinoceros horn - to signify the myriad of geometric, psychoanalytic and religious notions inherent to his evolving cosmogony. His justification for codifying these disparate elements was consistently nebulous, but, given compelling evidence, I would suggest that Dali's Atomic Period illustrates the artist's attempt to rationalise Christian dogma, affirming for himself the 'truth of religion', which is to say the validity of God.

In a statement included in his 1941 Julien Levy Gallery exhibition catalogue, Dali­ announced a resolution: to 'become classic' - presumably championing a return to Renaissance aesthetics, though he was at the time vague as to what this crusade actually entailed. Dali­ had in fact long celebrated the influence of academic painters on his own 'hand-painted dream photographs', identifying the modern art pompier artist, Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier, in 1933 as the inspiration for his miniaturist technique. Whereas the Surrealists (and, in fact, the 1924 definition of Surrealism ) had long advocated automatism as the pre-eminent vehicle for accessing the subconscious, Dali's technique was highly academic, influenced by Raphael, Vermeer and Velasquez. Dali­'s preferred route to the subconscious was the paranoid-critical method - a particular self-induced 'psychosis' allowing one to perceive multiple images within the same configuration. The paranoid-critical method is of paramount importance to the artist's oeuvre and will be a recurring theme in this examination. 1939 arguably marks the pinnacle of its experimentation, exemplified by the paintings Dali selected for his exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery that year. Though it would be years before Dali­ penned his 'Anti-Matter Manifesto' of 1958, already the seeds were sown for his statement, 'Today the exterior world has transcended the one of psychology'. Indeed, already Dali­ was refocusing his attentions from the unconscious to the conscious.

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, inspiring Dali to take his work in a new direction. It is possible that he adopted this interest partially in response to the Surrealists' newfound disdain for atomic science, which they once celebrated but now - post-explosion - considered irresponsible and destructive. Dali ostensibly took no moral stance on atomic research, accepting it as a fact of the modern age that required assimilation into art if art was to be truly contemporary. He acknowledged the discontinuity of matter, incorporating a mysterious sense of levitation into his Leda Atomica of 1947. Just as one finds that, at the atomic level, particles do not physically touch, so here Dali suspends even the water above the shore - an element that would figure into many other later works.

Further, Leda Atomica - a portrait of his wife, Gala - is organised, like Family of Marsupial Centaurs, according to a rigid mathematical framework, though Leda Atomica's design is considerably more advanced, suggesting the influence of the Romanian mathematician, Matila Ghyka, whose writings since 1931 sought the inherent harmony and proportion co-present in nature and art. Ghyka's primary interest was the Golden Number, the ratio (1+ v5)/2, frequently referred to by the Greek symbol, Phi (F). In approximately 1947 - not coincidentally the year Leda Atomica was executed -, Dali­ met Ghyka at a dinner party. Soon after, Ghyka mailed a copy of his recent American publication, The Geometry of Art and Life, to Dali, though he had no inkling of how important this text would be to the artist. Ghyka's influence is clear in Leda Atomica, in the 'Golden pentagon' that frames the figure and the mathematical formula in the lower right of the image - pr = (R/2) * v(10-2v5) -, which Ghyka specifically cites to calculate the side of a regular pentagon.

In 1949, Dali completed the first version his Madonna of Port Lligat, codifying the influences heretofore considered and thus introducing the mode that would characterise the artist's Atomic Period. The Madonna of Port Lligat is a religious painting executed in the aesthetic style of the Italian Renaissance, specifically akin to Piero della Francesca's c. 1470 Madonna and Child, with an ostrich egg - a traditional symbol of the Virgin - symbolically suspended over the figures. The Madonna of Port Lligat reemploys the theme of matter's discontinuity, though here the figure herself is 'dematerialising'; her arms have detached, and her head has begun to split down the centre - aspects that had disappeared by 1950, when Both paintings open the trunk of the Virgin like a cabinet, reminiscent of the 1934 Weaning of Furniture Nutrition, and both are arranged so that the point of intersection of the diagonal lines focuses one's eye onto the baby Jesus, or, more specifically in the second version, on the Eucharistic bread within Jesus' body.

Glaringly obvious though yet to be addressed is Dali's newfound affinity for Catholic imagery - surprising when one considers the clearly anti-religious sentiments in his films executed with Luis Bunuel, Chien Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'or (1930). Dali­'s Catholicism, which seems to have spontaneously manifested around 1939, is often regarded as an arriviste sentiment in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, when Franco established Catholicism as the national religion. As Dali had weathered the whole of the Spanish Civil War abroad, had he not confessed to supporting Franco and declared himself an avowed Catholic, it is likely he would have been unable to return to Spain. Dali admitted that his conversion to Catholicism was incomplete, though he seemed strikingly sincere in his quest for faith, as he reveals in a telling quotation at the end of his 1942 autobiography:

Heaven is what I have been seeking all along and through the density of confused and demoniac flesh of my life - heaven! Alas for him who has not yet understood that! The first time I saw a woman's depilated armpit I was seeking heaven. When with my crutch I stirred the putrefied and worm-eaten mass of my dead hedgehog, it was heaven I was seeking. And what is heaven? Where is to be found? Heaven is to be found, neither above nor below, neither to the right nor to the left, heaven is to be found exactly in the centre of the bosom of the man who has faith! At this moment I do not yet have faith, and I fear I shall die without heaven.

What I suggest is that Dali­'s Atomic Period, and, indeed, the majority of his post-War production pursues to some degree this desire for faith, perhaps partially inspired by his 'classic' preoccupation, as he observed that belief in Catholic doctrine was characteristic among many of his artistic heroes - Raphael, Velasquez and Gaudi for example.

The quest for faith adds a compelling dimension to Dali's religious, nuclear imagery, though Dali­'s faith was not without scepticism. Indeed, Dali sought empirical proof of God's existence. This positions Dali in a lineage of Catalan mystics - notably the poet, philosopher and theologian, Llull (1235-1316) - who sought to prove religious precepts through logic. Dali certainly knew of Llull's writings, as Llullism was an important philosophical current in 20th century Catalunya. Further, Dali­ was in frequent contact with the Catalan philosopher, Francesc Pujols, a professed Llullist who was celebrated in Catalunya for his 1918 History of Catalan Science; this tome traced Catalan religious thought from Llull to the then present, asserting that the destiny for Catalunya would be to prove the 'truth' of religion through the rigour of scientific inquiry. Though Pujols would surely have disagreed with Dali's mechanism for uncovering religious 'truth', as Pujols was vehemently anti-Catholic, Dali­ seems to have accepted the philosopher's challenge, delving into science to uncover true faith. Dali­ came to believe that God was omni-present, spiritualising all substance at the sub-atomic level. Indeed, though it could hardly be proven, Dali suggested that perhaps God was the mysterious substance being sought by nuclear physics.

In 1951, Dali composed the most significant elucidation of his developing nuclear mysticism, 'The Mystic Manifesto'. In this 'manifesto', Dali­ begins by distinguishing himself as one of the three great geniuses of Catalunya, in the company of Antoni Gaudi whose Mediterranean Gothic architectural style Dali­ championed in the pages of Minotaure; and Raymond de Sebonde, a fifteenth-century Spanish theologian whose most important work, Natural Theology (1480), taught that unaided human reason could establish the existence of God, thus uniting the claims of reason and faith. Dali distinguished himself as the 'inventor of the new Paranoiac-Critical mysticism and saviour, as his very name indicates, of modern painting' - an appellation for Dali­ that Pujols had also asserted as early as 1939.

This intention to 'rescue' modern painting deserves some, albeit regrettably brief, attention. It must be first understood that Dali's figurative mode and incessant extolling of the Old Masters not only galvanised the Surrealists against him in the 1930s, but also later situated him in a diametric opposition to the avant-garde's propensity towards abstraction. Despite a successful 1941 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Dali was not enjoying the critical acclaim he had in the 1930s. Clement Greenberg had published his 1939 essay, 'Avant-garde and Kitsch', which all but named Dali­ as archetypal of popular culture, and the artist's new affinity for religious icons seemed all the more Kitsch - primarily commercial and only marginally subversive compared with his earlier production. In Modern Art: The Cuckolds of Antiquated Modern Art, he argued for the revival of academic technique over the 'barbaric' abstraction that had typified most of the 20th century since Matisse. While Dali's 1930s statements in the same vein aroused the Surrealists' aversion and arguably aligned him with a right wing aesthetic, this penchant seemed all the more political in the 1940s - a time when President Harry S. Truman was lamenting the state of 'so-called modern art', setting the stage for Michigan Senator George Dondero to accuse the avant-garde of being a Communist plot.

Dali said, 'My painting is but a fragment of my cosmogony'. Though art was generally the medium in which Dali­ worked, as his paranoid-critical method suggests, his thoughts were well beyond the surface of his painted canvases.

Nuclear Mysticism
Parallel Worlds
PARA Universes

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