Saturday, 15 February 2014

Auguste Rodin, Eternal Spring (1906-07)

Auguste Rodin always endowed his sculptures with life, locating them in the medium between stones and human beings. That partly accounts for their analogy to sculptures in the Classic periods, those that assume the likeliest verisimilitude with the Holy Divine, standing redoubtably and imparting Wisdom without the means of sounds. Indeed, silence is pronounced in most sculptures, in a magnitude even more palpable than that of an unoccupied room. Sundry feelings and sentiments are made tangible; every trace of happiness or sadness is indelibly etched on the sculptures' cold, pristine faces.

Whenever love is magnified, it is like flickers against a dark sky, explosive but ephemeral. Almost all forms of art display their expertise of turning the mobile into the immobile, the departing into the stagnant. However in some occasions, especially in the case of sculptures, paintings and photography, the fleeting moment and sensation are emphasised. In Rodin’s Eternal Spring, the two passionate lovers are locked in a momentary ecstasy. The muscular arm of the man grabs his lover possessively towards him. His assertion of love is imperious, so much so that she is suddenly cowed; her presence is on the verge of falling out of the marble base, into the pit of eternal oblivion.

The triumphing over the physically inferior is explicit with this particular piece. In closer inspection the man has his arm around the woman’s torso in a rather offhand manner, seemingly taking for granted the fact that she will lean towards him without much summoning. Her body, in response to his commanding gesture, collapses involuntarily, the ownership of which devolves towards him flippantly like lights that flit from one object to another. The Lifeless is duly jealous of the passionate lovers; eager to mingle with them, in hope of becoming an integrated whole so the Lust can be shared. Therefore the lovers, with little awareness themselves, are gradually sunk into the rock, leaving their contours no more prominent than their sweet nothings.

It is the lull that makes us savour each fragmented sound that eventually tails off. It is when accidentally pricking our body are we initiated into the excitement of pain. It is the foreknowledge of an imminent separation do we see every union with forlorn eyes. The two lovers can merely cling onto the hope, dim though it might be, that their moment can be reprieved by the ruthless annihilation and live on. But we all know the Divine is always begrudged of the mortal.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Salvador Dali, The Elephants (1948)

Symmetry is a manifestation of Beauty at its purest and most disciplined. Some might dismiss it as banal; the only mechanism the reactionaries will trot out when their definition of Beauty is constrained by the age-old tradition. But symmetry begets a feeling of orderliness and reverence; it seems like an impossible creation that only the Divine can conceive. What the victor most wants to witness, when returning home from a gruelling battle, is the ponderous portal that welcomes his victory with a low murmur of solemnity, and the symmetrical symbols of his country that engraved on the portal will become the indelible memory that lives with him until he is the Elder, who with voice wispy but sober recounts countless tales of his heroic deeds, his glorious past.

Symmetry also inspires a feeling of uncanniness, as in the case of Salvador Dali’s The Elephants (1948): two elephants, with legs rail-thin, stand face-to-face against a barren background of vast, blood-red heaven. Elephants are a leitmotif in Dali’s oeuvre, but never are them rendered as such vulnerable, defeated creatures as those in the 1948 painting. Both elephants are carrying obelisks, which weightiness does not seem so prominent if our eyes are not instantly fixed upon the scrawny legs. How hazardously the elephants carry their weights! But in close inspection one can discover without difficulty that the obelisks are floating at least an inch above the elephants’ backs. By virtue of doing this Dali reverts the substantial realisation of weightiness back to its original state as purely formless sentiment.

The contrast between lightness and weightiness is therefore blurred; one might even suggest that the two can be interchangeable. Something that dwells on so heavily that ultimately everything is elevated- such sensation is not one that is too anomalous, if likening to one’s endurance to a protracted heartbrokenness, the longer one internalise the heavy feeling, the lighter physically and mentally one becomes. Vulnerability is only the semblance of a developing valour, when one reaches the state of light heaviness, or heavy lightness.

That is what makes the symmetry in The Elephants so uncanny. Symmetry is all about the most astringent form of Beauty; it assumes peace and order rather than begging questions and suggesting mysteries. When an unsolved paradox, or a pronounced contrast, is introduced, the bland serenity is finally broken. But symmetry persists in this painting nonetheless, by means of the barrenness of composition, by means of the blatantness of colours. The beholders have nothing else to behold than the two ill-shaped elephants, staring oddly at each other. This is often the moment when one comes to the conclusion that everything within the painting can be symmetrical: the elephants, the colours, even the lightness and heaviness.