Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Bite 45: Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory, 1931

The Persistence of Memory, 1931, oil on canvas, 24 x 33 cm
This is a scene from a place of strange, other-worldly happenings, a place of the unexpected, a place to get lost in. In visualising a dream-state or the hallucinatory vision of the mentally disturbed Dali embraces absurdity and surreality, creating an imaginary world using realist techniques.

A realist use of perspective and a fine rendering of detail would often be used to ground a composition. Yet here the space is made all the more uncomfortable for its 'realistic' representation. It is alien, warped, in an indefinable way, the distant cliffs bringing a contrasting solidity to an unstable arrangement of objects and figures (and which are which?).

This is a world where the human body would not maintain the physical integrity it does in this one. The only vaguely human presence here has become fluid. Slightly resembling the artist himself it is a drooping mask-like creature. Lying forgotten on the dirt, it is in an eternal sleep, collateral of the carnage of time past. 

Ants swarm over a time piece as if it were rotting meat. Melting clocks reference the instability of time, the malleability of memory, a slowing down of time in a dream-state. This is a junk yard, and time itself is decaying before our eyes. 

The very concept of the clock is revealed as a contrived illusion, a futile attempt to grasp at time when it is, in reality, mercury in our hands - continually slipping away.

A branch, the remains of a withering tree: a symbol of inevitable death. The title implies being attacked by time and memory itself, the unconscious invaded by regret. The scene is imbued with the mourning of time past.

"Death tugs at my ear and says: "Live, I am coming." 
                                                                  - Oliver Wendell Holmes