A Surreal Trip to Scotland

So this weekend I took a trip to Edinburgh with my wonderful other half. We didn't really have anything planned; it was more a spontaneous adventure in pursuit of Scottish food, pretty views, and art. We had a hotel on Rose Street, which we soon realised was pretty much one road away from the Scottish National Gallery and The Royal Scottish Academy. Coincidence?... Maybe...

On the second day after doing the main touristy things, we thought we'd take a walk to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, despite the pouring rain. When walking up to the gallery, it kind of feels like you're going up the driveway of a Stately home or country house, I mean...

And it also looks a lot bigger on the outside than it is on the inside. There are two main exhibition rooms: the Gabrielle Keiller and gallery space upstairs, which we didn't have tickets for. Other than that, there is just a cafe and shop. We saw 'Magazines and Manifestos: British Periodicals from 1890 to 1950' (in the little library room), 'Surrealism and the Marvellous', and the 'Paolozzi Studio'.

As you walk into the Surrealist room, the first thing that strikes you is the huge, disturbing painting by Toyen; The Message of the Forest (Poselstvi Lesa), painted in 1936. I won’t pretend I spent much time in front of this painting as it really wasn't for me, but it did set the scene for the rest of the exhibition. It demonstrated first and foremost what the Surrealists stood for: the other-worldly experience of our 'reality', and it did this unapologetically. The Gallery couldn't have chosen a better painting to introduce the feeling of bizarre wonderment and disturbia that continued throughout the room.

Progressing from this disturbing content, the next works to catch my eye were Salvador Dalí's Untitled Decalcomania figures, made in about 1935-36. Unfortunately, copyright prohibited me from photographing them, and they're even not on the Gallery website, so maybe aren't the best to discuss, but I really did like them, which is new for me as I'm not a major Dalí fan.

So, exhibited are two of these ink on paper images, in a glass box underneath his Le Signal de L'angoisse (1936). Unsurprisingly, I bet most public attention goes to the hung painting instead of the boxed archives, but sometimes the best gems are hidden here. These are created using the technique of Decalcomania, first developed by Spanish surreal artists Oscar Domínguez. In this, ink is randomly poured onto a surface (paper), which is then pressed onto another sheet of paper, which, when removed, creates patterns suggesting unexpected objects, figures or landscapes.

This reminded me of the Freudian psychoanalysis ink block tests, where ink was splattered onto a surface and then patients would be asked to identify what they saw in the splodges. For Freud, the images people saw within the ink suggested unconscious realities and beliefs that the patient wasn't aware existed prior to the test. The Surrealists were heavily influenced by Freud, as they pretty much worked on the same ideas that focussed on dreams and experiences occurring outside of our known world.

This was not included in the image descriptors, but I think it adds an interesting feature to Dalí's work. Not only was he experimenting with a new artistic technique, but he was also playing with a psychoanalytical test that was thought to access the inaccessible. There is a combination here of psychology and art that foregrounds the experience of the artist, and in doing so argues the validity of these tests to suggest objects and forms that are initially unexpected.

The rest of the room is filled with more Dalí, Duchamp, Magritte and Tanguy. It's brimming with really fabulous works of art, combining painting with sculpture with a few taxidermy items. Being a free exhibition, it's amazing how many famous works of art you get to see inside just one room, so, to get a full sense of what I mean, definitely go check it out if you have chance.

'Surrealism and the Marvellous' is currently on display at Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Lily Cheetham

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