Saturday, 30 July 2011

Surrealism: The Poetry Of Dreams, Brisbane

23 JULY 2011
DR. MIRANDA WALLACE. (Curational manager of international art and exhibitions research)

I decided to visit Brisbane's recent major Surrealist exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art. I was lucky enough to also catch a lecture with Dr. Miranda Wallace, the curatorial manager of the exhibition, in discussion about the relationship between the Surrealist movement and contemporary art, which enhanced my visit to the exhibition.

When asked what she liked most about Surrealism, Wallace said she finds it first of all difficult to pin down what Surrealism is, but that largely her favourite aspect is the photography and the clear influence of cinema on many surrealist photographers, including contemporary artists. It is clear that Wallace wanted emphasise this link within the exhibition as film projections consistently appear alongside static works within the exhibition. There is also a surrealist cinema season devoted to moving image, (The Savage Eye; Surrealism and Cinema) which is running alongside the exhibit.

Wallace continues that one reason why it is so hard to define Surrealism is that many works are not linked by a visual style or approach but rather it is more a 'mode of enquiry.' Surrealism sets out to approach the more challenging aspects of life; the subconscious, The invisible realm and other 'hard to access' places, in fact Surrealists were obsessed by these themes. When we consider this, it makes sense and that there isn't one all encompassing style, as if there were, there would be some suggestion that each individual's subconscious is not unique. This is not to say that there are not common themes between artists and links between certain symbolic aspects of work as well and artistic approaches, however each outcome is essentially personal to artist.

In regards to contemporary art or in fact contemporary culture, Wallace explored the fact that Surrealism has also been one of the largest influences in commercial advertising; this bringing together of random things, is a technique, which at one stage became hugely useful within advertising.  

Wallace then began to talk us through a collection of slides' some from the exhibition and some contemporary examples.


Victor Bauner 1934 – artificial man,

This first slide displayed a hybrid creature, displaying this idea of part human part machine. Surrealists were consistently concerned with the line between the real and unreal to perhaps create a stronger more capable human being, forever trying to cross this boundary. In the example shown, the real and the unreal are merged. An idea, which became possible after WWI when the production of prosthetic limbs rose and these hybrids appeared, bringing us closer to this surrealist vision of the unreal becoming real. Wallace made the link to The Tales of Hoffman; where a man falls in love with a mannequin; falling in love with something unreal is perhaps the ultimate bringing together of real/unreal.

Wallace touched on a lot of important things and appeared to have absolutely vast knowledge, especially in terms of Surrealism's relevance to contemporary art, theatre, literature, culture, history etc. This fascination with the body perhaps stemmed from Breton and Ernst's medical background, both trained to be doctors, until they resigned to become poets, yet their fascination with the body continued as they searched to link artificial worlds.

Ron Mueck, mask 11, 2011

contemporary example of the real and the unreal joined together
-the fantastic world

Perhaps the difference between then and now is that contemporary surrealists there is an element of humour and a replication of the movements attitudes, whereas surrealists of the time were completing a genuine search for truth, a genuine way to tap into the subconscious and make the unreal, real.

Wallace showed a slide of Bretons 1960s studio/home, which was fascinating and of which a video appears in the exhibitions, the studio is permanently displayed at the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Within the studio many esoteric objects appear. Breton had a strong belief in the power, status and mythology of objects, hence his vast an eclectic collection.

Often the question is asked 'When does the object become art? Is it when the artist pronounces it art, as if the artist somehow has a divine power. In the case of Surrealism the answer is no, an object must hold some magical power, or retain a sense of meaning or worth, never be a commodity or mass produced consumer item, perhaps found or manipulated in some way. The fall in popularity of Surrealism is largely to do with the rise of Pop Art, which was doing precisely this taking and everyday consumer object and displaying an oversized, over spruced, shiny version of it and calling it art, essentially going against everything that Surrealism was about. Refusing to commit to convention.

The exhibition itself was curated in chronological order, mapping the rise and 'fall' of Surrelaism.

Transform the world' said Marx, 'Change Life' said Rimbaud. These two orders are for us one and the same” - Bréton 1955

"Every product of disgust is capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada: a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action dada: the knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the stonefaced sex of comfortable compromise and good manners, dada: absolution of logic: which is the dance of those impotent to create: dada of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake of values by our valets Dada absolution of memory: dada – abolition of archaology” Dad absolution of prophets Dada: absolution of the future absolute and unquestionable faith in every God that is faith in the immediate product of spontaneity."

Tristan Tszara -Dada Manifesto, 1918.

The fall of popularity in Surrealism due to the rise of Pop Art, which essentially went against everything that Surrealist was about, often the question is asked ' when does the object become art? Is it when the artist pronounces it art, as if the artist somehow has a divine power. In the Case of Surrealism the answer is no, an object must hold some magical power, or retain a sense of meaning or worth, never be a commodity or mass produced consumer item, perhaps found, but then manipulated in some way. Pop Art was doing precisely this taking and everyday consumer object and displaying an oversized over spruced shiny version of it and calling it art. 

On visiting the exhibition itself after the talk I found some very different works to what I have seen before – the surreal house was more specific, obviously centred around the house and themes of domesticity, of course this is a revisited theme from many surrealist, this show has a broader, general overview of surrealism, with a strong link to cinema in conjunction with the surreal film festival being held at the gallery, there is a clearer narrative, however when listening to the talk it seemed that Dr. Wallace's interviewer was perhaps speaking with little knowledge of Surrealism, which is perhaps effective as it is such a vast and complex subject that many of the audience may only have touched on parts of it. It was reassuring, however, that Wallace clearly had more to offer on the topic.

 Belle Du Jour, 1967

 Commercial Surrealist Film
 Early Hans Richter

Mannequin Love

Frida Kahlo: Face to Face

Judy Chicago
Frida Kahlo: Face to Face

18 June 2011

During my second year at university, I initially discovered the work of Judy Chicago. I was working on a group project with 'Rubix' and we were researching themes based around Busby Berkeley, Journeys and a quote which led us to the idea of 'A Dinner Party;' it was then of course that Judy Chicago's, Dinner Party came into our research, an immensely important feminist work consisting (in brief) a tablecloth embroidered with the names of empowering women ( more about that here). When given the opportunity to attend a talk with American Artist, Chicago, I couldn't refuse.

Chicago was predominantly in discussion about her recent book 'Frida Kahlo; Face To Face' Chicago outlined that the book is essentially a discussion about Kahlo's work and Chicago describes that instead of most Art history books, she didn't want to re-create that omnipotent art historian voice, which often convinces the reader that whatever is being written is the absolute truth, and cannot be disputed. A feeling, which I am sure many have felt when reading a hefty volume about an artist as exposed as Kahlo. This being said, although Kahlo is well- known, she is perhaps mis-represented, according to Chicago at least. Although many are aware of her name, Chicago details that some are perhaps not aware of the breadth of her work. The majority of books about Kahlo tend to focus upon her self portraits, these being the most infamous of her work, but as the lecture went on Chicago showed slides of work, of which, many, (including myself) had never seen before and were very different in style to the works I Had been familiar with.

Chicago discussed how, often, female artists have been mis-represented throughout history, which is not the fault of art historians, as how can they comment on work which has been unarchived, mis- restored or lost completely, which is why only recently female artists have been able to in some way come into their own.

It is no that their art is unfairly criticised, it is simply that many surviving, important female works have been placed in an incorrect context, historians attempting to skew and squeeze certain works within the existing male dominated narrative of Art History. Perhaps the themes and issues being explored, are naturally personal, therefore sometimes gender specific. These works contain their own mode of enquiry, which does not fit with any existing model, but needs to be viewed in the context of an artists life or compared with previously unseen autobiographical elements, or in Kahlo's case, a full cache of work. Within her book, Chicago is outlining various phases of Kahlos' life and setting her work accordingly in the correct context.

Chicago emphasises that her book is first and foremost a discussion, therefore is still open to the opinion of the reader and shows a balanced discussion between Chicago and another art historian, allowing the reader to form their own opinions as well as consider the facts placed before them in the book.

Chicago was engaging as a speaker, yet I often dislike talks which appeared too rehearsed and formal, therefore when Chicago veered off her script, her outbursts and personal opinions were in the end the most interesting parts of the talk.