Emotions are a fundamental part of our experience and shape many of our decisions and actions, both as individuals and as groups. But what exactly are emotions? Science has proved their importance and defined them as a programme of intelligent actions designed to regulate life. Innovative research by neurologist Antonio Damasio has confirmed Baruch Spinoza’s 17th-century philosophical postulate that humans are not moved merely by reason, but are driven by feelings and passions as well. The body is the place where emotions are (re)presented, given that, in contrast to sentiments, emotions belong to a prelinguistic phase and are manifested in visible actions or movements on the face, in the voice or through specific forms of behaviour or gestures triggered by different stimuli.
The representation of emotions has been a recurring theme throughout the history of art. Poetics of Emotions explores different ways of representing emotions in the visual arts by looking at artworks from different periods and contexts, including contemporary pieces, and revealing the similarities that have endured through different genres and periods. The works on display show how basic shared human emotions—fear, sorrow, anger and happiness, among others—are transformed into aesthetic emotions represented through gestures, signs or forms that have survived the passage of time. For example, celebratory joy or powerful protest are widely represented in people’s outstretched arms, as in Darío de Regoyos’ Basque Dance (1888) and Colita’s photographs from the 1970s. Similarly, pain and sorrow are depicted in the gesture of weeping or the metaphor of the wound, as in the Gothic altarpieces in Pleurants or the images in Gina Pane’s Action Psyché (1974).
The show encompasses three different areas. The first section explores emotions by looking at the representation of figures expressing mostly pain or sorrow. The second section presents a series of pieces in which artists express emotions metaphorically by shifting their mood to the landscape, architecture or raw materials. Finally, the third section centres on how art appropriates emotions that underpin social interactions, from social and political movements to popular celebrations and festivities. By bringing the emotional dimension to the fore, the exhibition underscores the emotional power of the visual arts and highlights the key role played by emotions over an entire lifetime.
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