Caution: Some of you may find this a bit disturbing, but it is the sign of the times

Home » Caution: Some of you may find this a bit disturbing, but it is the sign of the times

By the Abir Pothi team

These are tough times. There seems to be no better way of saying it. We have only fathomed superficially how deep the rabbit-hole goes. In such times, it sets us thinking how artists cope with difficult times and how that moment in time affects their creative output. So, we decided to look at art that has come from some kind of strife.

In this series, we will look at well-known as well as obscure works of art that document that eerie Scream-like feeling we get when we have to negotiate with reality, as an insignificant being that is conscious and has the power to express. Perhaps, that is eventually our fountain of hope, redemption and even victory. To create in the face of many odds makes for powerful art. This series will also explore other forms of art, like cinema, as we are trying to make sense of the crisis that engulfs us in a macrocosmic way.

Autumnal Cannibalism: A look at war and love

While many believe that Salvador Dali’s masterpiece, Autumnal Cannibalism (the featured image on top), is not really a cool or detached viewpoint, you can’t help but admire the precise composition. The landscape behind the figures caught in an act of devouring each other, does present a certain sense of quiet.

In order to understand this wonderfully dark picture, one needs to take into account Dalí’s creative process, which hinges on a concept he developed called the paranoiac-critical method. This surrealist technique was developed by him in the early 1930s. This method was especially used in pictures that had optical illusions and multiple images and unlikely connections. The technique consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state, a fear that the self is being manipulated, targeted or controlled by others. The result is a deconstruction of the psychological concept of identity, such that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork. Autumnal Cannibalism is a good example of this method.

While there are many interpretations of this work, there is a general consensus that the Spanish civil war might have driven the artist to conceive of this masterpiece. It was a child of war. This is what has to say about this painting:

Two faceless figures are devouring each other. As their heads and bodies merge, they dig knives and spoons into each other’s flesh. The surrounding landscape is Empordà, in Catalonia, where Dalí was born. The mutually destructive embrace may be a comment on the Spanish Civil War, which began a few months before Autumnal Cannibalism was painted. The apple on the head of the male figure relates to the legend of William Tell, in which a father is forced to shoot at his son.

Some critics say that the work also hints at the consuming nature of sexual relationships. The tranquility of the painting is unmistakable and might even suggest a certain indifference to what was going on. We can only guess. But it is true that Dali did not believe in taking sides in the war. He only depicted the horror and indignity of man killing man.

If the pandemic gets worse, is this how love is going to look like?

‘The Selfish Gene’ by Marc Quinn. This sculpture really gets one thinking about life and love during the pandemic

Marc Quinn is probably one of the most important voices in contemporary art. He looks at the body in a unique way. And his medium is, well, unique as well. From blood plasters (his own blood) to DNA portraits, he is pushing the boundaries of art like only he can.

Quinn’s work is principally concerned with the body’s mutability in time, its physical presence in space and its anxiety within culture. His work also poignantly explores mortality, beauty, kinship and the interplay of art and science.

In these times of uncertainty, this sculpture does a lot more expressing than a thousand or more words could. It is a weirdly hopeful work. Some might even qualify it as dark humour. Whatever it is, this work by Quinn really gets one thinking.

We recommend: Powaqqatsi, a film that talks about transition and transformation

This film has all the big guns in it, including ace musician Philip Glass, whose music is the thread that connects the entire film. As the tagline of the film says, this film is about transformation, something that we truly need in these difficult times.

This is a 1988 American documentary  directed by Godfrey Reggio and the sequel to Reggio’s experimental 1982 film, Koyaanisqatsi. It is the second film in the Qatsi trilogy.

Powaqqatsi is a Hopi neologism coined by Reggio meaning “parasitic way of life” or “life in transition”. While Koyaanisqatsi focused on modern life in industrial countries, Powaqqatsi, which similarly has no dialogue, focuses more on the conflict in Third World countries between traditional ways of life and the new ways of life introduced with industrialisation.


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