‘Let us not mince words, the marvellous is always beautiful, anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful.’
André Breton, Surrealist Manifesto, 1924.
Chris De Rosa swims almost daily in the ocean where she dives into another world; one full of organisms “rich and strange” She collects seaweed and sponges from the shoreline along the coast where she lives. These organisms have gone through a “sea-change” and long lost the richness of their original state. These displaced forms have come to resemble terrestrial vegetation.
Who of us hasn’t stared long at forms from the natural world and seen pictures within them: horses in the clouds, faces in the trees. Perhaps finding recognisable images in an otherwise threatening exterior world provides us with comfort or indeed a needed escape into a world of the imagination.
For the Surrealist artists and writers the natural landscape and its forms provided a slew of metaphors of a space beyond the self. Automatic drawing techniques such as frottage (the taking of rubbings from various natural surfaces) and decalcomanie lent themselves to the creation of ‘landscapes of the mind’ featuring weird vegetable and mineral formations. The artists were intrigued by unlikely parallels between the world of material reality and the world of the human imagination. Natural and found objects were valued only in so far as they embodied a mysterious coming together of objective reality, chance and unconscious desires.
The Wunderkammer (wonder-room) of Renaissance Europe was a repository for the kind of objects that the Surrealist artists were taken with. The wonder-cabinet brought together objects from the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms displayed alongside those displaying human craft intervention on organic and inorganic materials (including fakes). This juxtaposition blurred the boundaries between what was deemed ‘natural’ and that which was man -made. The control of nature was the goal of early collecting practices, and was the impetus behind the ordering and cataloguing of objects and artefacts.
De Rosa’s studio is its own Wunderkammer of sorts, walls strewn with collections of sponges, seaweeds and other littoral detritus. There is a schema to these displays but one not rooted in scientific order or nomenclature. All of the objects assembled share a quality of ‘otherness’ or what the Surrealist poet Andre Breton referred to as marvellousness.
Although much of the impetus for these works is environmentally driven the underlying project is to do with wonder rather than ecology. There is a myth in which a young Venetian seafarer brought his beloved a rare piece of salt encrusted seaweed from a Venetian lagoon. It seemed as though fashioned by sirens. To preserve its beauty, she took a needle and thread and painstakingly copied it, tracing out the seaweed's design, and thus lace was invented. De Rosa’s works are plucked and torn in a kind of reversal of lace making.These pieces are the outcome of a sea change in another reversal where the artist has resurrected those littoral organisms and has ‘made them anew’ to re-instil them to a state of thalassic wonder.