“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali… And I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today this Salvador Dali?”
– Salvador Dali
I have been away for about two weeks on a business trip to Singapore and Malaysia which explains why I have not blogged.
I had a small window of time during my trip to sneak off to the ArtScience Museum located next to the Marina Bay Sands where I was staying to visit an extraordinary exhibition by twentieth century iconic and surrealist Salvador Dali. Busy as I may have been, it gave me an opportunity to reflect about why am I blogging and having to explain to people about taking pictures of food.
For me, I believe blogging is about sharing moments in time with others, so that hopefully, when I look back at these moments, they awaken my imagination and fuel my emotions. I do not want my blogging to be about food only. I find that my passion for the arts and music allows me to draw parallels and gives me alternate perspectives and ideas about life and how to live well.
I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Sydney blogger Helen Yee recently who gave us her perspective about what it is like being an “ABC” – Australian Born Chinese in the book Voracious, the best new Australian food writing. Growing up and living as an Asian in Australia, we can and do get confused sometimes when the values of two such different cultures are juxtaposed and having the difficult task to understand who we really are in terms of our cultural identity and values.
However, being Asian and having lived and worked in both Asia and Australia, I like to think that I have the advantage of appreciation for the elements of two very different cultures which cut across all spectrums of life – food, lifestyle, personality traits, family values, religion, politics and business. Why can’t I be Australian and Asian at the same time, embracing the good values of both cultures and try to make the world a better place in my own way, however insignificant it may be.
Every trip out of Australia forces me to think about what it means to live in Australia and whether we really are in the so-called “lucky country”.
I appreciate Dali’s work because it challenges the established boundaries of human perception.
Anthropomorphic Cabinet was exhibited, for the first time, in London in 1936 at the Lefevre Gallery. Dali, who had been a great admirer of Freud for many years, purposely wished to depict here in images the psychoanalytical theories of the great Viennese professor, where these subjects “are kinds of allegories destined to illustrate a certain complacency, to smell the innumerable narcissistic odours emanating from each one of our drawers,” and more precisely later
“The unique difference between immortal Greece and the contemporary epoch is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, which was purely neo-platonian at the time of the Greeks, is today full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening.”
Dali’s work forces us to think “outside the box” or so it seems. The captains of business and industry often tell their people that to be creative and to find new ideas, they need to think “outside the box”. This may not necessarily be so when I find the growing economies of China, India and Singapore are powering ahead at breakneck speed in terms of business ideas, public infrastructure, IT & T whilst a developed nation like Australia appears to be lagging behind in these areas. Granted these Asian economies are growing from a “lower base” but the level of progress being achieved is highly commendable and our governments can well “look within the box” to see what needs to change.
The Man with Butterfly is intended to contrast the mundane ordinary world with a butterfly. The butterfly provides the wings for man to soar to greater heights and a better world where he will leave behind the old habits, outdated thoughts and paradigms.
In similar vein, Singapore’s GDP grew by 14.7% in 2010, achieving the highest economic growth in the world. In establishing Marina Bay Sands as one of the premier casino and resorts in the world, the government has well and truly put Singapore on the world map. Hitherto, gambling is seen as morally incorrect but allowing two casinos to open in this small island republic in a short space of time, Singapore is telling the world that to survive and thrive in our competitive world today, we need to be flexible and open-minded in our approach to change.
Lady Godiva (1040 – 1080) was an Anglo Saxon noble woman who took pity on the people of her city who suffered her husband’s abusive taxation. According to the legend, she rode naked through the streets to gain a remission from the oppressive taxation. Dali pays homage to her sensuality as she embodies earthly beauty, whereas the butterflies depict an ethereal world.
The unicorn is a mythical creature prominent in legends and a symbol of purity and virginity. Its horns is believed capable of neutralising any poison. Dali chose to portray the unicorn as a phallic figure whose horn penetrates a stone wall through a heart-shaped opening, from which a drop of blood seems to be slowly falling.
The classic interpretation of St. George and the Dragon is commonly seen as the saint’s battle against heresy and evil. The dragon’s wings turn into flames, and the monster’s tongue into a crutch, a favourite Dalinian image. We see a woman with her arms raised in the sign of victory. Dali again transforms a traditional image by adding new and unexpected symbolic connotations.
Terpsichore, in Greek mythology, is one of the nine muses ruling over dance and the dramatic chorus. Dali uses a reflected image, setting the soft, carnal muse against the hardened, statuesque one. The lack of definition in both faces underlines the purely symbolic significance of these figures.
Dali joined the surrealist movement in the early 1920s where this movement challenges the established norms of art such as real objects.
Drawing parallels with music, the great composers of the twentieth century also sought to break away from “tradition” such as the sonata form where much of the great classical music genre was composed in a structured manner.
The sonata form consists of three principal sections. An exposition at the beginning is where the main theme of the music is introduced for the first time. The development section then explores the thematic motives with different musical techniques to provide contrast, colour and excitement. Such techniques include variations in tempo, modulation to different keys, using embellishments, syncopation or breaking up the motives into smaller themes which are still recognisable to the listener but takes a slightly different form. The recapitulation reintroduces the main theme usually in its original form to reinforce the piece of music in its entirety.
Although it is the most important principle form of music in the classical period where much of Mozart and Haydn’s symphonies were predicated upon, the rigidity of the sonata form did not survive the radical change and ideologies of the twentieth century where composers sought to create new sounds using new techniques and disregarded established rules and norms.
The snail fascinated Dali because of the contrast of a hard shell with a soft interior. The angel with his wings provides the paradoxical feeling of speed and agility against the slow movements of the snail.
The Dalinian angel trumpets his divine music with his head thrown back and wings spread to show his jubilation for all who will listen.
Dali depicts the unity between man and God with a thumb, where all life emerges. Although man is united with God, God’s knowledge is supreme.
Dali developed new approaches of creating objects in an irrational way. By removing their original function, he gave them new meaning. For example, Dali transformed a telephone into a surrealistic object by covering it with a lobster. The objects’ significance suddenly becomes absurd, paradoxical and strange. By changing the objects’ original meaning, Dali leaves us dazed.
Dali developed a friendship with Jean-Michel Frank, a renowned Parisian furniture-maker and decorator of the 1930s. Together they collaborated on several ideas, transforming everyday practical objects into ones of indeterminate use. The culmination of which was a Surreal Room which was originally laid out in the London home of Dali’s great patron, Edward James.
The furniture presented here is a testimony of Dali’s contribution to decorative arts. Similarly to his sculptures., paintings and lithographs, we can see mythological shapes taking form in functional objects, pulpous lips turned into sofa, or a lamp held by a crutch.
I believe that many great music composers would have agreed with Dali’s quote that “there is less madness to my method than there is method to my madness”, an explanation to what may seemingly be elements of chaotic art or music but it is perhaps up to the creativity and intelligence of the listener and observer to conceive the greatness of its whole.
Woman with drawers is to depict the many facets of the human persona.
Space Venus is Dali’s goddess of beauty although headless and without arms. It is divided into two parts that reveals an egg, a symbol of life, continuation and hope.
The image of this Roman warrior represents all victories, real and ethereal, spiritual and physical. Dali’s surrealistic interpretation of the warrior includes the addition of a window of light, portrayed through a ‘hole’ in the warrior’s chest.
I like to interpret Woman of Time to be a messenger that time can be “stretched or prolonged” if used wisely and to celebrate the essence of time.
I strongly believe that to compete in today’s competitive world, we need to be flexible in keeping up with the times.
Rather than “get real”, we should perhaps “get surreal” to seek new ideas and insights into our increasingly fragile world. Dali might have envisioned during his time the enormity of challenges that we face today.
Horse saddled with time is a horse is saddled with Dalinian time: time which controls man’s passage. The famous melted clock is used in place of a normal saddle. While man believes he is in control of the voyage, it is always “time” who is the ultimate rider.
This sculpture is named after Dali’s famous painting Persistence of Memory (1931) now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It is a simple figure: a limp clock draped over the branch of a dead tree. The unexpected softness of the clock also represents that time, while precise in scientific use, is widely variable in human perception.
As the clock liquefies over the tree, we can see in its shape a human profile, underlining the interminable relationship between man and time. There is a tear falling from the face of the clock, lamenting the path of life.
I am dwarfed by the elements of time.
Should I be seeking the persistence of memory to guide me?
Or to seek change, beginning with the man in the mirror.
Perhaps I should stand tall in the face of adversity.
I am standing tall and will face up to the challenges of the world.
Dali’s Space Elephant travels through a desert carrying an obelisk, a symbol of power and domination.
Based on a 1946 painting by himself, the sculpture suggests that Saint Anthony was overcome by the desire, signified by the long spider legs of the elephant.
Dali extends a note of appreciation to visitors of his exhibition.
The ArtScience museum is located next to the Marina Bay Sands resort and casino.
I had a swim at the SkyPark pool in the morning before Dali’s exhibition and the pool overlooks the lotus-shaped dome of the beautiful museum below and offers uninterrupted panoramic views of the bay and Singapore’s impressive skyline.
Many developing nations and cities are using dramatic architecture to attract and lure tourists and visitors.
In a space of less than two years, the Marina Bay Sands has recouped its investment of S$8 billion, said to be the most expensive outlay for a standalone hotel and casino resort in the world.
So dear readers, do you have a favourite Dali artwork or sculpture?
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