The Surreal Friends
Kati Horna, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo
GARDEN OF TRUST
Visual correspondence between Gluklya and Kati Horna
27.02 > 16.05.2022
On the occasion of the inauguration of the 59th edition of the Venice Biennale, which sees Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo among the protagonists, we decided to share with you a focus on the relationship between the surrealist photographer Kati Horna, currently on show at GALLLERIAPIU ‘and the two painters chosen by Cecilia Alemani.
In 1942, at the height of the Second World War, President Lazaro Cardenas opened the Mexican borders to welcome a number of Europe’s refugees. Artists, Leonora Carrington Remedios Varo and Kati Horna were amongst the many who found safe sanctuary there. The three settled in the Colonia Roma, Mexico City, and soon became close friends, alongside a group of other expatriate artists. Within this close-knit community, the friendship of Carrington, Horna and Varo was particularly significant and had a strong impact on the work of each of them
Carrington and Varo were part of the Mexican avant-garde and with the rediscovery of female artists by the feminist movement, their reputation continued to grow to current popularity. Kati Horna has never been this famous, partly because she refused advertising and she refused to exhibit in art exhibitions. She was a professional photographer who worked in magazines and taught to earn a living. It is clear that these three women formed a lasting bond that helped them find their artistic identity. Kati Horna’s house was the pulsating hub of the meetings of the European intellectual scene that emigrated to Central America. They have created a “surrogate” family between them, the familiar environments of kitchens, houses and gardens are rendered strange and otherworldly in the paintings of Varo and Carrington, yet their familiarity is based on real experience. When viewed together with Horna’s photographs, which capture her friends at the easel, we are given a vision of the boundless imagination that brought these ordinary environments into the realm of the uncanny.
Kati Horna also became the great portraitist of the Mexican literary and artistic avant-garde; her visionary photographs captured leading artists in Mexico in the 1960s, such as Alfonso Reyes, Germán Cueto, Remedios Varo, Pedro Friedeberg, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mathias Goeritz and Leonora Carrington. “Surrealist games, jokes, elaborate costume parties and raucous narratives in the night”. Carrington and Varo enjoyed cooking surrealist meals in the kitchen of Kati Horna’s house or used herbs and filters from the markets to try to make magical potions. Their playful imagination has permeated their everyday life, both in work and in play. Horna’s photographs contextualize and communicate the world beyond the visualization of surrealist artists. We are given an overview of the experiences and emotions that have shaped the aesthetics of movement.
Horna’s documentation shows us the life behind the fantasies and is a key to understanding the cryptic works of her Surreal Friends. Kati Horna saw photography as a vehicle for independence, giving it a political voice through which to express radical ideas in an era when such opportunities were extremely limited for women. Her images show an acute concern for the experience of women and their changing role in modern society. This concern with the portrayal of women is further developed in some of her most celebrated series of her Mexican career, prominently illustrated in publications including Mujeres: Expresión Femenina (Women: Feminine Expression) and the experimental magazine S. nob.
The theme of the uncanny, of the rite, reaches its maximum expression in Oda a la Necrofilia, 1962, interpreted by the artist Leonora Carrington. Much of Horna’s work was done in collaboration with close friends and stems from the deep sense of community she developed in Mexico. In the Oda a la Necrophilia series, Horna created a visual narrative of a woman grieving the death of a loved one. These photographs show her friend and collaborator hidden under a black mantilla, a traditional lace shawl worn by women in Spain and Mexico on religious occasions and during mourning. The white mask placed on the cushions of the empty bed recalls the tradition of the death mask, in which an imprint of the deceased’s face is made as a souvenir. Carrington’s mask and dark form under the shawl suggest an absent body, evoking a sense of loss.
These images, shot and printed by Kati Horna after settling in Mexico, illustrate many of the most distinctive traits of her photography. Oda a la Necrophilia was conceived by Horna as her first contribution to the “Fetiche” section of the magazine S.nob, a short-lived but influential Late Surrealist publication edited by cult writer Salvador Elizondo. It was in this magazine in 1962 that Leonora Carrington’s short stories and illustrations for children in the Children’s Corner column were published. In 2013 her drawings and texts are collected and published in the book The Milk of Dream. This work has inspired the 59th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, which borrowed its title, as a metaphor for “a magical world in which life is constantly revisited through the prism of the imagination, and where everyone it can change, be transformed, become something or someone else “.