“Muses” is a column for which creators from different disciplines reveal sources of artistic inspiration and instigation.
Delia Gonzalez is a multidisciplinary artist who recently moved to Athens, Greece, from New York. As a musician, she has released records via the independent label DFA, including Horse Follows Darkness, a mesmerizing collection of electronically inclined songs of ambient and rhythmic persuasions from 2017. She also works with drawings, film, dance, and performance, and currently has a show of paintings, sculpture, and installation titled “The Last Days of Pompeii” at Galeria Fonti in Naples, Italy. —The Editors
For Documenta 13, in 2012, Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer took over a house and created this dreamlike world. It was like walking into the labyrinth of your dreams. They sectioned off the house, and there was a film room where they were screening 16mm films where you could only see the tops of the mountains or, like, the top of a statue against the sky. Then you would go into a corridor and find a red curtain—but there was nothing behind, just a wall. Then they had all these letters that somebody had written to somebody else—they made sense, but you had no idea what the story was about. Haris is from Cyprus, and one of the things she does is collage; she’ll take old magazines and books with ancient artworks and vases, and she’ll put them together so it would be half behind a frame and half behind a wall. The whole experience was like trying to solve a mystery. I don’t like contemporary art so much—I’m more inspired by film or music—but when you entered this house it was amazing because it really felt like you were lost in a maze and trapped inside the artists’ imagination. Basically, they were in control of your dreams.
She’s by far my favorite Greek artist and an amazing filmmaker. She made this installation called Upon the Earth Under the Clouds for which she took over this immense old olive-oil mill 45 minutes away from Athens. She had 2,000 vases fabricated and filled them with water, and they had a little light inside. With its immersiveness and dynamism the piece invokes a secret passageway into another world, a realm beyond language. It’s beautiful and ephemeral and, while restoring the past and creating a new mythology, it acts as a portal from the old world into the present.
What I wanted to talk about is The Man of Jasmine, which is like an autobiography of her descent into madness. Unica Zürn was married to Hans Bellmer and was his muse. He used her in a lot of his photography and also used her as a model for his dolls. If you’ve ever seen pictures where he ties up those dolls, that’s pretty much her. She was a German writer and he fell in love with her and got her making artwork. He got her into doing automatic drawing, and her drawings are beautiful. But she fell in love with Henri Michaux. She met him in 1957 and became obsessed with him as this magic man who would be the love of her life. They did all this mescaline, experimentally, and she went completely mad. Anyhow, I feel like I can relate to The Man of Jasmine—and artists can relate—because she gets caught up with coincidences and chance. Chance encounters led her life—they became like delusions and she would proceed and follow them. As artists we go on rides and sometimes meet people or put ourselves in situations. With her it was an endless cycle, and it has always reminded me of Grizzly Man, the Werner Herzog documentary where this guy believes he can communicate with bears and, in the end, gets eaten by a bear.
Leonora Carrington was married to Max Ernst, who basically drove her mad. He used to take her paintings and paint over them, and when she’d be looking for a painting he’d tell her, “Oh, I haven’t seen it—you never made that.” Anyhow, her The Seventh Horse is a book I like to read when I feel like I’m not inspired because it’s so fantastical. It’s full of surreal stories made up of hallucinatory dream sequences where the absurd becomes real. It’s great for training the imagination. You know, she describes dresses made up of cat skulls and witches drowning the moon.
Annie Besant was friends with Madame Blavatsky and became a member of the Theosophical Society, and she co-wrote a book with C.W. Leadbeater called Thought-Forms: A Record of Clairvoyant Investigation. I just re-discovered it while I was unpacking. In this book from 1901 she explains that we’re all communicating through our thoughts and shows paintings of thought-forms that she and her friends made. She basically says that, although we see a three-dimensional world, when we make drawings and paintings we’re limited to two dimensions—so what we see and reality are two different things. We get used to this kind of programming and forget that the ways we see things are just an illusion, and our thoughts have power to shape the world around us. We’ve all agreed on words, but we can go past them. We are constantly sending thought-forms from one to another with shapes and colors. For me it was important to re-read this book now because we’re all getting so caught up with social media and the internet—it’s all that everyone’s talking about it, right? That’s all we constantly do. The other day I was looking on Facebook and this girl posted a new product that, if you attach it to your body, it somehow helps to control your dreams. I was thinking, That’s ridiculous—have you ever heard of lucid dreaming?