All Things Become Alive by the Touch of the Parabola: Wolfgang Paalen’s Northwest Passage
Wolfgang Paalen’s Northwest Passage
Published by: Talonbooks
In May of 1939, thirty-three-year-old surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen and his wife, the poet Alice Rahon, left Paris en route to Mexico City where they’d been invited to visit Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. First, however, they crossed Canada by rail to Prince Rupert and travelled the length of the Pacific Northwest Coast from Dzánti K’ihéeni (Juneau), Alaska, to Vancouver Island and Vancouver. A few months earlier, in Paris, Paalen had witnessed the raising of a totem pole purchased by his friend, surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann, in Hagwilget the summer before. Like Seligmann and other surrealist colleagues, Paalen had developed a passion for the powerful works of art created by Northwest Coast artists. He felt drawn to visit the communities that had created these sophisticated artforms that, in his estimation, were the equal to any that had ever existed. He shared with his colleagues the surrealist obsession for collecting and devoted himself on the journey to seeking out and acquiring ceremonial belongings to return home with. The belongings Paalen acquired in Alaska and British Columbia became, during the 1940s, one of the most admired private collections in North America. Many of these objects are now in major museums. His resonant works brought together his gifts as an artist, his theoretical engagement with science, and his belief that contemporary art, drawing on what had been lost, could contribute to transforming the world for the better. All Things Become Alive by the Touch of the Parabola: Wolfgang Paalen’s Northwest Passage is the first full account of the journey by Paalen and Alice Rahon down the Northwest Coast. Weaving together travelogue, biography, Northwest Coast cultures, art histories, anthropology, quantum science, and an account of museum collecting during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it opens with the raising in 1939 of K’ëgit, the pole from Hagwilget in Paris and covers the years from the early 1930s to Paalen’s death in 1959. Based on journals, interviews, and Paalen’s own writing, the book offers an intriguing view of this coast on the eve of the Second World War.