JTF (just the facts): Published in 2020 by Void Publishing (here). Silkscreen softcover, 23.3 x 30.4 cm, 96 pages, with 49 black and white reproductions. Includes several short texts by the artist. In an edition of 500 copies. Design by João Linneu. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: Most of us have been living through various kinds of lockdown during this past year of the global pandemic. In some cases, we’ve been completely confined to our homes; in others, the restrictions have been a bit less onerous, allowing some movement in and around our communities. But for the majority, it has been a year spent almost entirely inside our houses and apartments, working or going to school remotely, and accompanied only by close family or a small pod of trusted friends and neighbors.
Yurian Quintanas Nobel’s photobook Dream Moons captures the uneasy claustrophobic spirit of this year of quarantine. While his project was actually begun in 2015, its parameters match exactly the constraints of our new reality – all of the photographs in the book were made within the confines of his house, and so document the rhythms of a life lived within strict confinement at home. When he began, he couldn’t possibly have known that his tightly bounded conceptual sandbox would prove to be so timely and universal – but here we are, and Nobel’s surreal project now feels surprisingly relevant to our current mood.
The Dutch-Catalonian photographer’s house lies at the center of his photographic investigations, taking shape as not only a physical presence but a psychological one. Quintanas Nobel quickly transitions from jagged roof lines and wavy curtains to interior shots of various rooms, often with a strange interruption taking place. A black dot hovers in a corner, a much larger orb hangs above a bed, and smaller spheres and rounds brush against window screens and sparkle at the end of dark stairways, each like a ephemeral presence of some kind, perhaps a hallucination. In other rooms, the floor is peeling, the dirty dishes are melting, ghost-like lights shimmer around, and crusty dark spots seem to invade like spores of active decay. The whole place feels unstable, not so much haunted but in the midst of some kind of transformation, where the normal rules of everyday home life have broken down.
Quintanas Nobel then goes several steps further, pushing his images fully into the realm of the surreal. In these pictures, odd occurrences abound – a potted plant hovers above its tray, a suited figure has a dark empty void where a hand should be, furniture seems to levitate off the ground, a old telephone seems to walk on dangling wire legs, and what looks like a huge rock seems to have been deposited on the dining room table. Classic Surrealist motifs like spiders, fish heads, and mirrors make ominously symbolic appearances, and ghost story favorites like disembodied clothing, frosted windows, sharp knives, and a bent fork (maybe bent by someone’s mind!) add to the overall feeling of encroaching strangeness. Even the cat gets into the act, staring up at a crumpled blanket puzzlingly hanging in midair.
When people do appear in Quintanas Nobel’s tale, they are generally nude, and the images are cropped and framed in ways that make the bodies almost abstract. Some of the compositions recall Bill Brandt’s nudes, with torsos and legs isolated into studies of line and curve, and images printed in ways that maximize contrast – there’s even a glimpse of heel, which more directly connects to a few of Brant’s images of feet. A couple of Quintanas Nobel’s images then further complicate matters, layering arms and legs into more jumbled groups, with what looks like a mirror inserted to catch the glare of the flash. These are bodies that are shifting and unraveling, just like the situations in the rest of the house.
The moon motif connects all of these images into one integrated flow. Hidden underneath the flaps of the front and back cover lie black and white woodcuts of the surface of the moon, complete with craters, ridges, and vast expanses. Quintanas Nobel also uses diagrams of the phases of the moon instead of page numbers to track the progression through time and through the book; he also adds them as small graphic elements atop short bursts of text. Overall, the design and construction of Dream Moons are boldly thoughtful, the bright red cover balancing the monochrome photographs, and the design choices finding echoes in the subject matter.
While we are sure to see dozens of pandemic projects in the coming months and years, Quintanas Nobel’s effort finds the rough edge many of us have experienced during extended lockdown, where the intensity of the cabin fever has threatened our grasp on normalcy. His photographs tap into imagination run wild, and the propensity to see things when boredom extinguishes our frameworks of control. In a world turned upside down, Quintanas Nobel’s fantastical images might be more “documentary” (at least of our grasping, deteriorating frames of mind) than we ever could have predicted.
Collector’s POV: Yurian Quintanas Nobel does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).