Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she wonderfull? Isn’t she precious?

passport photograph, private collection, UK.
passport photograph, private collection, UK.
© Claude Cahun
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1920.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1920.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1919.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1919.
© Claude Cahun, Untitled, 1938.
© Claude Cahun, Untitled, 1938.
© Claude Cahun
© Claude Cahun
© Claude Cahun
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait with Masks on Cloak, 1928.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in flowers, 1939.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait in flowers, 1939.
© Claude Cahun, Que me veux-te?, 1928.
© Claude Cahun, Que me veux-te?, 1928.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1914.
© Claude Cahun, Self-portrait, 1914.

excerpt from CLAUDE CAHUN: The Extreme Point of the Needle in: Michael Löwy’s MORNING STAR: surrealism, marxism, anarchism, situationism, utopia

During 1936, Claude Cahun took an active part in Surrealist activities: she was present at the Surrealist exhibitions in Paris and London and signed the collective appeal “No Freedom for the Enemies of Freedom” (written by Henri Pastoureau and Leo Malet), which denounced the Fascist coup in Spain and the passive atti-tude of the French Popular Front government. However, in July 1937 she and her companion, Suzanne Malherbe, decided to leave Paris and live on the Channel Island of Jersey. She did not sever her connections with the Surrealist group, and in 1938 she joined the International Federation for an Independent Revolutionary Art (FIARI). In June 1939 she signed the last declaration of the
FIARI, “A bas les lettres de cachet! A bas la terreur grise!,” which was also the last collective manifestation of the Surrealists before the war and the dispersal of the group. In 1940, with the beginning of World War II and the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Th ird Reich, a new chapter in Claude Cahun’s political and intellectual life began, perhaps the most astonishing and impressive of all: anti-Fascist Resistance.

When the German troops arrived, Cahun’s first impulse was to shoot the Kommandant; she took a small revolver and went to the woods to do target practice. However, she was too inexperienced, and Suzanne convinced her that she would miss her target. They decided to start a subversive activity addressed to German soldiers to incite them to insubordination.

From 1941 to 1944, for four years, they issued, mainly in German (Suzanne translated), thousands of anti-Fascist leaflets, posters, and fliers aimed at sowing trouble and demoralization among the occupiers. Claude Cahun also produced photomontages using images cut from the Nazi magazine Signal and sometimes took her inspiration from John Hartzfeld’s well-known anti-Fascist works, which had been exhibited in Paris in 1935. Humor, play, allegory, nostalgia, absurdity, the marvelous, and irony were their main weapons in this unequal struggle against the most powerful war machine of Europe.

Their fliers contained anti-Nazi and antimilitarist slogans, such as “Liebknecht-Frieden-Freiheit,” uncensored information, songs, manifestoes, theatrical dialogues, images, and wordplay and were usually signed the “Nameless Soldier.” One of their fliers, which enraged the occupying authorities, directly called on the soldiers to rebel and to desert and advised them that if their officers at-tempted to stop them, to shoot their officers. Some of the material was handwritten on cardboard cigarette paper wrappers. They also wrote “Down with War” on French money. Usually, however, Cahun made twelve carbon copies of each fl ier with her Underwood typewriter and illustrated them with images made of typewriter letters and graphic signs. Th en they attached the fliers to walls, doors, barbed wire, and parked cars or hid them inside newspapers and magazines on the newsstands or left them in mailboxes, churches, and houses used by the Nazis.

Their daring behavior, right under the noses of the Gestapo and the occupying forces, can best be described by the Yiddish word chutzpa, insolence. Summarizing the spirit of her struggle, she wrote after the war, “I committed myself to revolutionary defeatism, trying to convince the German soldiers to turn against their officers. We fought for a rainbow of values stretching from the ultraromantic black to the flaming red. We fought for the Germans against Nazi Germany. We fought as Surrealist writers with weapons of chance.”

And in a letter from 1950 she explains that what stimulated her to resist was her leftist, pacifist, Surrealist, and even “Communist (historical materialism)” ideas as well as the need to defend particular values, “such as freedom of expression and sexual freedom [liberté des moeurs] that were of personal concern to me.” During those four years the angry, frustrated Gestapo agents searched in vain for the dangerous “Nameless Soldier,” who sabotaged the morale of the troops and preached rebellion in every corner of the small island.

Finally, someone, probably the shopkeeper who sold them the cigarette papers, denounced the two women, and on July 25, 1944, they were arrested. Trying to save her friend, Claude Cahun told the Gestapo officers, “I’m the only one responsible. I did the photomontages and wrote the fliers. Moreover, I’m Jewish on my father’s side.” As soon as they were jailed, both women tried to commit suicide by swallowing Gardenal pills they kept with them for just such an eventuality. Th e attempt failed, but they were seriously ill for some time, and this probably saved them from being deported to Germany.

At fi rst, the Nazi secret police could not believe these two kind, middle-aged ladies were the fi rebrands responsible for all the subversive agitation and thought they were agents of some “foreign” power. When they at last became convinced, after searching their house and finding all the materials, they convened a military court. The German prosecutor, Major Sarmser, argued that they were illegal partisan fighters, using spiritual weapons that were more dangerous than guns. He also insisted that their flier calling on the German soldiers to rid themselves of their officers was “incitement to murder.”

The military court predictably sentenced them both to death. The two women were to be sent to Germany to be beheaded with an axe, the Third Reich’s treatment for dangerous anti-Fascist enemies whose death they intended to serve as an example. However, due to the liberation of France in the summer of 1944 the Channel Islands were cut off from Germany, and the deportation could not take place.

Seeing that the war was lost, the local commanders were afraid of reprisals and did not want to take the responsibility for an odious execution on the island itself. They told the two women that if they wrote to the German authorities asking to be pardoned, they could save their heads, thanks to the merciful policy of the Third Reich. To their dismay and surprise, Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe obstinately refused to sign an appeal for pardon: they considered it dishonorable to ask favors of the Third Reich! The embarrassed local commanders were then forced to sign the appeal themselves, and the two proud anti-Fascist resisters were “pardoned” and sentenced to life imprisonment. During their time in the military prison they discovered that many German soldiers were jailed for trying to desert or for insubordination, a situation they attributed, at least in part, to their antiwar propaganda. Finally, on the last day of the war, May 8, 1945, they were liberated, in poor health but alive.

⁞ ‘No photoshop, no easy tricks’ ⁞

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_thomas_rosenboom_web_01© Aisha Zeijpveld, Thomas Rosenboom. Portraits of writer Thomas Rosenboom for Volkskrant Magazine.

I find Aisha Zeijpveld’s work undeniably captivating but what first caught my attention was the particular way I found it being promoted at Ignant. Here’s an excerpt: Aisha does all her editing by hand. No photoshop, no easy tricks, just scissors and whatever material she needs to create the surreal effect she wants. She sketches onto the photographs, outlining the figure in an unusual way, whilst modifying shapes into something slightly different.

It’s curious that we now find ourselves promoting manual work as it, for itself, was a sign of quality. It shows just how mush humanity is trapped in a nostalgic mode and is unable to evolve beyond traditional methods and behaviours. Every now and then, after a few decades of fervours developments, we begin to look back and resuscitate the ‘way we were’.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very fond of manual processes and have always enjoyed and prefer its results, but my point is that the process does not define the work, it only defines the author. And of course, if you believe one thing and the other are inseparable, then choosing manual or technological processes, direct or abstract work, become decisive questions when thinking about the quality of a work of art, but are they?

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_tokyo_ohayo© Aisha Zeijpveld, Tokyo Ohayo, 2012.

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_web_013© Aisha Zeijpveld, Valerio Zeno. Portraits of Valerio Zeno for Volkskrant Magazine.

phoca_thumb_l_aisha_zeijpveld_what_remains_03© Aisha Zeijpveld, Untitled, from the fashion series What remains, 2012.

phoca_thumb_l_myrthevandemeer_2_web© Aisha Zeijpveld, Myrthe van de Meer. Portraits of writer Myrthe van de Meer for Volkskrant Magazin.

phoca_thumb_l_tessa_rose_jackson_aisha_zeijpveld_03© Aisha Zeijpveld, Tessa Rose Jackson. Portrait series of singer-songwriter Tessa Rose Jackson.

phoca_thumb_l_suzy_glam_rgb_web_03_1000pixels© Aisha Zeijpveld, Suzy Glam eyewear, 2014.

phoca_thumb_l_saint_laideur_02_web© Aisha Zeijpveld, Saint Laideur, 2014. Lookbook dutch fashion designer Shanita de Vries.

٠ The ‘ancient’ art of cut & paste (using one’s own hands, if you can imagine) ٠

c_02_hunde© Christine Gensheimer, Hunde, 2007. Photo-collage.

c_09_eberhard© Christine Gensheimer, Eberhards, 2010. Photo-collage.

Fauve© Maria Kassab, Fauve. Paper collage.

Sans Titre© Maria Kassab, Sans-titre. Paper collage.

Slow This Bird Down-01© Maria Kassab, Slow This Bird Down, 2013. Photo-collage.

6© Isabel Reitemeyer, Herr A. und Frau I., 2008. Collage.

2© Isabel Reitemeyer, Frau L.. Collage.

14© Isabel Reitemeyer, Auf dem Arm. Collage.

5© Isabel Reitemeyer, Im Dienst. Collage.

٠ Andreas Nitschke and the urge to play ٠

nitschke02© Andreas Nitschke, from Black Beauties

9© Andreas Nitschke, from Pro Kopf

It was Andreas himself who directed me to his work and I’m glad he did so. I’m always happy to help promote work I enjoy seeing and which manages to add something to the problems I’m dealing with at the moment.

Andreas’ work is definitely contemporary, for all the imagery used in his collages is easily recognizable. The stereotypes and the conventions often depicted in his work are also straight forward. I find that refreshing. Though the process at use is not original, in the sense of its uniqueness, his work does have some qualities that fit my study on the possibility of ‘authentic traces’ in works of art.

Andreas_Nitschke_5-450x681© Andreas Nitschke, from Verkappte

nitschke07© Andreas Nitschke, from Konvertiert

Besides the most common definition of what ‘art’ is – namely that art is what the professional elite authenticates as being art -, my position is that art is a kind of manifestation or symbolic expression that appeals to the senses, that expands our perceptions and potentates our imagination. Andreas’ imagery does that for me. Obviously some collages are more successful than others and not all of them work for me, but… There’s a great liberty in making ‘the urge to play’ one of your biggest drives, for ‘play’ is an aimless activity and, for that, it helps the subject to freely express oneself.

When I speak of the ‘urge to play’ I’m actually thinking of Hans Prinzhorn‘s (Artistry of the Mentally Ill, 1922) proposal of the main elements in the configuration of works by the mentally ill. Andreas’ work ticks several of the criteria and, as far as I’m concern, that only says good things about the origins of his drive to create and the man he becomes thru his expressive manifestations. Prinzhorn speaks of the ‘urge to play’, the ‘ornament urge’, the ‘ordering tendency’, the ‘tendency to imitate’ and the ‘need for symbols’, among others.

I would add that his work is also raw and compelling. Moray Mair, from MutantSpace, describes it as a punk style that’s rooted in the fashion of our day. A cut and paste process that gives his pictures a primal quality, a rawness that gets straight to the point.

In an interview by David Dean, from ‘So Magazine’, Andreas himself speaks of a childish quality to his work: My intention is very philanthropic: I steal from magazine pictures  – without blinkers – all these body parts and reuse them for my hand-made work to show how we can be as humans: full of contradictions, sometimes controversial, sometimes nasty but always vulnerable. I hope some of my work has a bit of a toxic effect although they are so small and childish.

Though I don’t find it grotesque, I do think that some of the montages are repulsive and subversive, for they challenge our conventional perception of ‘how things look like’. In Andreas’ words Nothing is sacred! Second-hand-photographs from contemporary magazines or pulp-fanzines, fast food for the eyes… I use everything. It’s the out-of-the-box-thinking of the punk culture that is very close to my work, too.

nitschke08© Andreas Nitschke, from Pro Koft

nitschke01© Andreas Nitschke, from Koexistenz

More of Andreas‘ work can be seen @ andreasnitschke.com

٠ Isaac Pereira & the monstrosity of the shadows ٠

door poster3

When I first met Isaac’s work, one of my immediate deductions was regarding his very deep use of blacks and whites. After some years, I now know that his work is not defined by the use of black & white, but rather by the absence of colour, which in turn leads to very defined areas/lines/figures within his photographs.

Isaac’s work is very much about what I would characterize as a way of being in time that is quite paradoxical: it leaves traces of a poetic voice, in the most romantic/existentialist sense; but it also shines a light to a place of anger. A paradox, in this context as well as in others, is not a negative qualification of a choice, an act or a discourse. If we, human, are to move forward, we will always be incoherent and often not sincere; for being is a dynamic thing and if we rule by the voice of consciousness we need to be able to go with the flow.

So there’s a lot of rawness in Isaac’s work. His photographs are a genuine trace of his photographic act, since I, as the spectator, am given the space necessary to travel to his reality and imagine my own emotional being in such situations – the smell, the temperature, the smoke… I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we are all allowed to see the same punctum in his images but, because of is simplicity and formal references, we are allowed to acknowledge it as an act of communication, even if in the poetic form.

akr_01© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#1 Displaced)

akr_02© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#1 Displaced)

The work here showed is part of an exhibition that Isaac held in Macau last December. Isaac called it Akhromatopia, referring to the places without colour, being that those places can be subjective or objective, internal or external, real or imaginary. In a short story Isaac wrote about this work, one paragraph goes like this:

Slowly, in whatever way, a kind of discoloration was occurring. It was as if everything became pale. The lost pigment colors, saturation, became indecipherable. He had to stop, dazed. What he saw then, was completely white, pure white, the total absence of shapes, contours, as if everything had been invisible and transparent. He rubbed his eyes with the indicators. It was all white; light only. For several minutes, he sat on a huge rock, listening, smelling everything around. Then, fell asleep.

akr_05© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#2 Discarded)

Isaac’s work denotes strong literary influences and even if the medium of photography has always been very akin to storytelling, to narratives and allegories, Isaac’s point of view is more that of a nihilist and a wanderer, rather than a dreamer, though this doesn’t mean that he is not aware of the world of possibilities in front of him. In an interview given to João Henriques some years ago, Isaac spoke of his feelings about the media:

The media are machines. We live in the middle of automated ‘mediums’. Means for construction? Yes. But of what sort of construction? Endless constructions. But not all the same. No. Fortunately. That is the fear: that everything has the same repeated construction. How does one avoid that? Making sure your feelings and your thoughts go between the camera and its construction, automatically. Making sure that the image is an image ‘of you’ and not an image ‘from the camera’. It’s the same old question. (my translation)

akr_09© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#3 Dislocated)

akr_010© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#3 Dislocated)

As much as there are parallel and juxtaposed worlds in his photographs – for Isaac has an unusual capacity to work with the monstrosity of the shadows -, denoting his affinity with surrealism and non-linearity, Isaac is also a traditionalist in the way he deals with the medium. Although his photographs manifest his beliefs in immediacy and automatism, they also denote some sort of commitment with concepts such as “truth” and “time”, which remind me of classic street photography. There is no problem with the classic, but there is surely one with tradition, for it prevents us for looking out for our own singular point of view.

Amidst the underground nature of Isaac’s photographs and within the deepness of his blacks I see thoughts about ‘authenticity’ and ‘aura’. Even if concepts sometimes are reduced to their status as a word (as his the case both with ‘aura’ and ‘authenticity’), I find it possible to say that Akhromatopia works as a genuine plastic expression of Isaac’s intimate journey to ‘be what he is’ and ‘see what he sees’.

akr_013© Isaac Pereira, from Akhromatopia (#4 Disturbed)

exp10

٠ Les Automatistes and the ‘resplendent anarchy’ ٠

artreview1_46824tumblr_mn6nh8UHCb1qex654o1_500sullivan_216-Sullivan© Françoise Sullivan, Danse de la Neige (Dance in the Snow), 1948. 17 black & white photographs by Maurice Perron

“[…]
The society that was born of faith will die at the hands of reason…
The fatal disintegration o f our collective moral strength into strictly individual and sentimental power has undermined the once formidable shield of abstract knowledge behind which society takes cover to enjoy its ill-gotten gains at leisure .
It took t h e last two wars to achieve this absurd result. The horror of the third war will be decisive. We are on the brink of a D-day of total sacrifice.
The rats are already fleeing a sinking Europe by crossing the Atlantic. However, events will eventually overtake the greedy, the gluttonous, the sybarites, the unperturbed, the blind and the deaf.
They will be mercilessly swallowed up.
A new collective hope will dawn.
It is already demanding the passion of exceptional insights, anonymous union in renewed faith in the future, in the future collectivity.
The magical harvest magically reaped from the unknown lies ready in the field. It was gathered by all the true poets. Its powers of transformation are as great as the violence practiced against it, as its continued resistance to attempts to make use of it.
None of these treasures is accessible to our society as yet. They are being preserved intact for future use. They were created spontaneously outside of and in spite of civilization. Their effects on society will be felt only when our present needs are clear.
Meanwhile, our duty is plain.
We must abandon the ways of society once and for all and free ourselves from its utilitarian spirit. We must not willingly neglect our spiritual side. We must refuse to turn a blind eye to vice, to scams masquerading as knowledge, as services rendered, as payment due. We must refuse to live out our lives in the only plastic village, a fortified place but easy enough to escape from. We must insist on having our say-do what you will with us, but hear us you must-and refuse fame and privilege (except that of being heard), which are the stigma of evil, indifference and servility. We must refuse to serve, or to be used for, such ends…
Make way for magic! Make way for objective enigmas! Make way for love! Make way for what is needed!
We accept full responsibility for the consequences of our total refusal.
Self-interested plans are nothing but the stillborn children of their parents.
Passionate actions have a life of their own.
We are happy to take full responsibility for tomorrow. Rational effort can only release the present from the constraints of the past when it stops looking back.
Our passions will spontaneously, unpredictably, necessarily forge the future.
Although we must acknowledge the past as the birthplace of the future, it is far from sacred. We owe it nothing.
It is naive and unhealthy to think that, because historical persons and events happen to be famous, they are endowed with special qualities to which we ourselves cannot aspire. These qualities are indeed out of the reach of facile academic affectedness, but anyone who responds to the deepest needs of his or her being or recognizes his or her new role in a new world will attain them automatically. This is true for anyone, at any time.
The past must no longer be used as an anvil for beating out the present and the
future.
All we need fro m the past is what we can put to use today. The present will inevitably give way to the future.
We need not worry about the future until we happen upon it …
[…]
Unity is the road to success.
Yesterday we stood alone and irresolute.
Today we form a strong, steady group whose ramifications are already pushing the limits.
We also have the glorious responsibility of preserving the precious treasure that has been left to us. This is also part of our history.
Its tangible values must constantly be reinterpreted, be compared and questioned anew. This is an exacting, abstract process that requires the creative medium of action.
This treasure is our poetic resources, the emotional renewal that will inspire the generations of the future. It cannot simply be passed down but must be ADAPTED, else it will be distorted.
We urge all of those who yearn for adventure to join us.
Within the foreseeable future , we expect to see people freed from their useless chains and turning, in the unexpected manner that is necessary for spontaneity, to resplendent anarchy to make the most of their individual gifts.
Meanwhile we must work without respite, united in spirit with those who long for a better life, without fear of long delays, regardless of praise or persecution, toward the joyful fulfillment of our fierce desire for freedom.”

excerpt from the Global Refusal Manifest, by Paul-Emile Borduas (1948). The Manifest of Les Automatistes.

٠ Love & Chance ٠

Chance having been defined as “the encounter of an external causality and an internal finality,” we have to ascertain whether a certain kind of “encounter” – in this case the essential one, that is, by definition the most subjectivized one of all – can be considered under the angle of chance without our immediately seeming to be the question. in L’Amour Fou, by Andre Bréton

GMA 3988© Georges Hugnet, Portrait automatique de l’automate d’Albert-le-Grand [Automatic Portrait of the Automaton of Albertus Magnus], 1938

81.187_01_d02© Georges Hugnet, Initiation préliminaire aux arcanes de la forêt (First Initiation to the …, 1936

GMA 3989© Georges Hugnet, Untitled (Suite of Collages), n.d.

Era nosso propósito situar o debate a um nível sensivelmente mais elevado, ou seja, em suma, no ponto fulcral daquela hesitação que nos assalta o espírito ao pretendermos definir o que será o «acaso». Haviamos previamente estudado a evolução, assaz lenta, de tal conceito, ate aos nossos dias, e assim partíramos – da ideia antiga que o encarava como uma «causa acidental de efeitos excepcionais ou acessórios, revestindo a aparência da finalidade» (Aristóteles), passáramos depois a ideia de um «acontecimento provocado pela combinação ou o encontro de fenómenos pertencentes a series independentes na ordem da causalidade» (Cournot), ideia de um «acontecimento rigorosamente determinado, de tal modo, porem, que uma dissemelhança extremamente pequena nas suas causas redundaria numa diferença considerável, no domínio dos factos» (Poincare), até chegarmos a concepção dos materialistas modernos, segundo a qual o acaso seria a forma da necessidade exterior se manifestar, ao abrir caminho através do inconsciente humano (isto para tentar interpretar e conciliar, com uma certa audácia, o pensamento de Engels e de Freud, sobre este assunto).in L’Amour Fou, by Andre Bréton

hugn_34_wr_hugnet_spumiferes33© Georges Hugnet, Le Pyrodon Glaciare [The Pyrodonic Iceling], from the series La Vie Amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

hugn_55_wr_hugnet_spumiferes19© Georges Hugnet, La Bisquelle Rieuse [The Laughing Duowatt], from the series La Vie amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love Life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

hugn_15_wr_hugnet_spumiferes38© Georges Hugnet, La Mailloche Dorée [The Golden Meshlican], from the series La Vie Amoureuse des Spumifères [The Love Life of the Spumifers], 1947-48

٠ Topor et la ‘Loi sur les Aliénés’ ٠

Roland_Topor_Shut_Up9788886178976_2tumblr_lxwiiav5hz1qd9cgko1_50009-La-demence-senile--illus.-Roland-Topor-(Le-Livre-de-Sante--v.9--1967)_900all illustrations by Roland Topor

l’homme-citoyen est propriétaire parce que la faculté de posséder appartient à la sphère des libertés individuelles, mais il est libre dans la mesure où il a la propriété de sa pensée, et qu’il dispose en propre d’une capacité reflexive autonome. En conséquence, c’est la propriété intellectuelle, découlant de la théorie des droits naturels, qui permet d’établir une équivalence partielle entre la liberté personnelle et la propriété matérielle, sauvant cette dernière des contingences historiques ou des nécessités sociales. Corrélativement, celui qui est temporairement dépossédé de sa pensée (У aliéné) voit suspendre sa liberté et l’usage de ses biens. Cependant, la loi évite prudemment de définir la notion d’aliéné, se retranchant derrière l’autorité médicale ; en outre, elle semble utiliser indifféremment les notions ď « aliéné » et de « dément », dont l’étymologie renvoie à une dépossession (alienare) ou à une perte (de-mens) de l’esprit. Comme le fou (du hûnfollis, ballon rempli d’air), l’aliéné aurait donc perdu la raison – sa raison.”

excerpts from L’aliénation de l’écrivain, by Alain Vaillant, in Romantism: Revue de la Société des Études romantiques et dix-neuviémistes 1990, n°67. pp. 3-16.

La Planète Sauvage (1973) by René Laloux and Roland Topor

The Tenant (1976), directed by Roman Polanski and adapted from Roland Topor‘s novel Le Locataire Chimerique.

┐ the patriarchal fantasy of control └

Max Ernst : a retrospective© Max Ernst, The Roaring of the Ferocious Soldiers (Le Mugissement des feroces soldats). 1919

“Indeed, the apparent sadism of the photographs raised the specter of surrealist misogyny; but it also pointed to an adjacent issue no less difficult: are these surrealist transgressions of the body related to actual transgressions of the body during the period-from the mutilations of World War I to the atrocities of the Nazi regime? If so, why are these fantasies visited upon the female body? Do they partake in a putatively fascist imaginary, a peculiarly damaged ego that seeks a sense of corporeal stability in the very act of aggression against other bodies somehow deemed feminine by this subject (Jews, Communists, homosex- uals, “the masses”)?
(…)
To a degree, the critical relation of dada and surrealism to fascism became encrypted for me in the autistic machines of Ernst and the sadomasochistic scenarios of Bellmer. I wanted to frame these works less as historical parentheses of this relation than as ambiguous explorations of the (proto)fascist obsession with the body as armor, and to see this armor as a prosthesis that served to shore up a disrupted body image or to support a ruined ego construction.
(…)
Begun in fall 1919, the collages in question were produced from rough proofs that Ernst found at a Cologne printer.’ Each work combines diagrams of mostly mechanical systems with different devices, lines, and symbols to produce schematic figures, the reading of which is often keyed by titular inscriptions.’ Of course, to find meaning in these bizarre images may seem forced, especially as they tend to be read (if at all) as so much dada nonsense. Yet this nonsense is purposeful – not only in its disruption of conventional signification but also in its double imaging of a mechanistic body and a schizophrenic representation.
(…)
The titles of two collages, Le Mugissement des firoces soldats and Trophie hypertrophique, point directly to a military-industrial subject. In the first work the mugissement or roaring of the feroces soldats, a phrase which derives from the French national anthem, ironically suggests a loss of speech or reason, a becom- ing other of the “ferocious soldiers” -a trope that would soon be standard in surrealism for a becoming unconscious. However, in the immediate postwar context, this roaring refers to a becoming machine and/or weapon as well. And indeed, the ferocious soldiers, mechanically meshed as they are, evoke nothing so much as a war machine that has become both autonomous and involuted, even internecine.

Foster_armor_fou2© Hans Bellmer. Variations sur le montage d’une mineure articulée. Minotaure 6, Winter 1934-35.

(…)
While Ernst may only allude to (proto)fascism, Bellmer responds directly to Nazism.67 Too young for World War I, he rejected engineering, the profession dictated by his father, for publicity, which he also rejected when the Nazis came to power lest he abet them in any way. It was then that he turned to his poupées – again, as an attack on fascist father and state alike; an attack, however, played out on the compulsively (dis)articulated image of a young female body. How are we to reconcile these two data, the avowed politics and the evident sadism of the dolls?
(…)
The poupées thus concern the sadistic as much as the fetishistic, though the two are hardly opposed here. Again, the first doll attests less to an arresting of desire than to its shattering effects, and the second doll is “a series of endless anagrams” that are aggressively manipulated. This sadism is hardly hidden; Bellmer writes openly of his drive to master his “victims,” and to this end the dolls are often posed voyeuristically. In the second poupée, this look masters through the various mises-en-scene of the doll, while in the first poupée it is even made internal to the doll: its interior is filled with miniature panoramas intended “to pluck away the secret thoughts of the little girls.””Involved here, then, is a patriarchal fantasy of control not only over creation but over desire as such.

But exactly what is this desire? And precisely how masterful is it? At least two points call out for consideration. The first concerns the political implications of the apparent sadism of the poupées, and here two related remarks seem useful. The first comes from Benjamin, also in the midst of the fascism of the 1930s: “Exposure of the mechanistic aspects of the organism is a persistent tendency of the sadist. One can say that the sadist sets out to substitute for the human organism the image of machinery.””This formulation is in turn specified by Adorno and Horkheimer toward the end of World War II: “[The Nazis] see the body as a moving mechanism, with joints as its components and flesh to cushion the skeleton. They use the body and its parts as though they were already separated from it.In this light the sadism of the mechanistic dolls might be seen, at least in part, as second-degree–that is, as a reflexive sadism aimed as an expose at the sadism of the fascist father.”

excerpts of Armor Fou, by Hal Foster, in October, Vol. 56, (Spring, 1991), pp. 64-97

IMG_3057© Lee Miller, Lee Miller, Tanja Ramm Under Bell Jar, Paris, 1931 (left), Object by Joseph Cornell Object, 1933 (right)

┐ WR: Mysteries of the Organism └

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“As for Wilhelm Reich himself, upon whose ideas and career the film is largely based, today he seems less like a sex radical than like a crypto-conservative without knowing it. Reich’s glorification of the orgasm is actually quite heteronormative and prescriptive, as well as being entirely caught up within the discursive deployment of sexuality-as-liberation, described and denaturalized by Foucault. (Indeed, as far back as the 1950s, Norman O. Brown had already denounced Reich’s privileging of “normal adult genital sexuality” over the multiple potentials of “polymorphous perversity”). Reich’s later ideas about orgone energy, for which he was prosecuted and persecuted by the US government, and which (in the late 1950s and the 1960s) had a correspondingly subversive prestige among writers and intellectuals (like Norman Mailer and William Burroughs), today seem little more than variants of today’s fashionable (and entirely conformist) New Age beliefs.

Where does all this leave WR: Mysteries of the Organism? I’ve been suggesting that the ideas and practices which make up the film’s subject matter have all been tarnished by the passage of time. In a certain sense, this means that what Makavejev proposed, in 1971, as images of liberation, have now become parts of everyday experience, in all their banality and obviousness, and have turned out not to be liberating at all. But I am trying to suggest that, in an important way, this only makes the film more visionary and more relevant. And this, of course, has as much to do with the film’s form and dynamics as with its overt content. WR begins as a sort-of documentary about Wilhelm Reich. But other strands quickly get woven in, and Makavejev’s montage becomes increasingly dense and delirious as the film proceeds.

(…)

Makavejev, however, is neither as didactic as Eisenstein, nor as contemplative as Godard. Rather, he pushes intellectual montage in the direction of what I can best call a kind of energizing of potentialities (of what Deleuze would call the virtual, or what Whitehead would call the “mental pole” of a concrescence). Makavejev is concerned with multipying potentialities, even (or especially) when these potentialities (obviously) cannot all be realized (since they are “incompossible” with one another), and when they lead to an impasse. Which is why the film can both enthusiastically celebrate the potentials of free sexuality, and envision the way such a “liberated” sexuality is only a pseudo-liberation, as it issues either in rampant consumerism (the American way), or in the exaltation of a sort of phallic totalitarianism (which applies, in different ways, to both Stalin and Hitler), or to the panicked reassertion of male privilege via murder (Vladimir Ilyich loses his self-possession when he gives way to orgasm and to his desire for Milena; which is why, in classic masculine-domination mode, just like in all those American film noirs, he punishes the woman for having allured him).

That is to say, in comparison to either Eisenstein or Godard, Makavejev’s intellectual montage is… more intellectual, more world-significant in its ramifications. (None of this should be seen as criticism of Godard, for whom I maintain an undying love and allegiance). But, besides being more intellectual, Makavejev is also (how to best put this?) more material — no, rather, more corporeal, more deeply embodied, than Godard (or Eisentstein). This has much to do with Reich, whose insistence on the embodiment of affects and desires is perhaps the most significant and powerful aspect of his theories. Reich, for instance, thought and wrote at great length about how repressions and conflicts and erotic positions are manifested, not just in linguistic and intellectual symptoms (as per Freud), but also very much in bodily postures and gestures, in what might be called the visceral forms of expression. (This non-linguistic dimension is precisely what the Lacanians ignore, systematically and on principle). This aspect of Reich’s theory is in fact explained to us, on screen, by a Reichian analyst (Alexander Lowen, if I am remembering correctly).

Following this principle, Makavejev’s montage is as visceral as it is intellectual. The sexual scenes in WR have generally been the ones that have caused the most controversy: in the dvd of the film that I showed my class, during the plaster-casting scene the man’s erect penis is obscured by a ridiculous sort-of psychedelic efflorescence special effect. This is something that wasn’t there when I viewed the film years ago; it was added to the film by Makavejev in 1991 (he proclaimed it an “improvement” ) in order to satisfy British censorship regulations (is WR the only Eastern-bloc film that has been thus censored both by a Communist country and by a capitalist one?). But in fact, the most physically jolting scenes in the film are not directly sexual at all — they are documentary scenes of Reichian therapy, showing patients violently thrashing and convulsing their bodies while yelling things like “give it to me.” source: The Pinocchio Theory

┐ Kirsten Hoving └

© Kirsten Hoving, Birth of the star system, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Music of the Spheres, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Orion, the Hunter, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

© Kirsten Hoving, Cassiopeia, from the series Night Wanderers, 2010

“Night Wanderers is a series of photographs envisioning the cosmos. I photograph objects and nineteenth-century photographs frozen in or placed under disks of ice to create the feeling of galactic swirls of stars, galaxies and spiral nebulae.


For this series, I have been influenced not by the work of other photographers, but by the collage and assemblage art of the American artist Joseph Cornell. In the course of writing an art historical book on the artist, Joseph Cornell and Astronomy: A Case for the Stars (Princeton University Press, 2009), I became aware of the artist’s deep and abiding interest in astronomy. I also came to understand his creative process, which involved juxtaposing objects in often unexpected ways. His working method encouraged me to take risks, to experiment, and to be willing to destroy one object to create another. He also taught me to appreciate the stars.


Using ice as a still life object is always a challenging process. I partially thaw the ice to create transparent and translucent areas, then work quickly to photograph it. While I choose objects and photographs that recall earlier times (an outdated globe, old cartes-de-visite) to help remind us that star light is old light, the ice that encases them underscores the elegance and fragility of our place in the universe.” Kirsten’s statement

More of Kirsten’s work here

This work made me think of Laura Marling‘s Night Terror, so here it is:

┐ Robert Seydel – Book of Ruth └

© Robert Seydel, all Untitled, from Book of Ruth, collages, c. 2000-09

Robert Seydel’s “Book of Ruth is an alchemical assemblage that composes the life of his alter ego, Ruth Greisman—spinster, Sunday painter, and friend to Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. Through collages, drawings, and journal entries from Ruth’s imagined life, Seydel invokes her interior world in novelistic rhythms. These seductive, unearthed artifacts, conceived as a gathering of materials from the Smithsonian and a suburban family garage, construct a mosaic portrait of a reclusive, unknown artist for whom the distance between the ordinary and the extraordinary is infra-thin. The fragments and detritus from which Seydel fashions Ruth’s art and narrates her inner life shine like the pages of an illuminated manuscript, revealing as much about the imagination of an artist as well as about the tenuous creation of self. from Siglio press

“Speaking through another’s voice is hardly an original tactic, though I suppose to some degree it is in the visual arts. “I is another,” Rimbaud said, lodging uncanniness at the heart of what we are. From Browning to Pound to Pessoa, speaking in voices was a way to carry history and multiplicity into the poem. Armand Schwerner asked, as a poet, “Why leave fictive experiments to the prose writers?” I guess I’ve asked that myself, but as an artist. To attempt to make the hand obey another’s psychology, at least so far as you imagine it, doesn’t seem that different to me than fashioning the voice of a literary character.

And art has always seemed to me a kind of exit out of the self, a way to get beyond the self. I don’t think I’ve ever really understood why “self-expression” is an attractive motivation for making art, which is how students so often speak about what they’re doing. Who cares really? But to fashion a self, that seems to me another thing. Walt Whitman isn’t only that boy “starting out from Paumonak,” but “Walt Whitman, a kosmos”—that is, an invention. The artist’s job, according to both Robert Henri and Jasper Johns, is to invent himself.” excerpt of an interview conducted by Savina Velkova. continue reading here

┐ AUTOMATISM as direct action └

© Bryan Lewis Saunders, under the influence of butane honey oil (left) and morphine IV (right)

© Bryan Lewis Saunders, under the influence of 1/2g cocaine (left) and 1 “bump” of crystalmeth (right)

“After experiencing drastic changes in my environment, I looked for other experiences that might profoundly affect my perception of the self. So I devised another experiment where everyday I took a different drug and drew myself under the influence. Within weeks I became lethargic and suffered mild brain damage. I am still conducting this experiment but over greater lapses of time. I only take drugs that are given to me.”

More of these portraits can be seen here and Bryan Saunders website here

“Automatism, by allowing for the free flow of the uninhibited imagination, is at the heart of the surrealist project. Automatic writing or drawing practices need not submit to any mannered stylistic interference or be forced to bow down before confining aesthetic considerations. Though popular conceptions of surrealism tend to focus on such clichéd and easily imitated tropes as Dali’s melted clocks, the surrealist embrace of automatism seeks to unleash the radical imagination revealing knowledge and inspiring possibilities located outside of the narrow boundaries of reality. Eschewing any particular form of aesthetic expression, and rejecting the certainty of authority in favor of the surprise of a chance encounter with the Marvelous, surrealism is experimental in nature rather than didactic.

In rejecting the impoverished version of reality that we are expected to embrace, surrealism is sometimes unfairly accused of being escapist. Rather, instead of accepting an artificial dichotomy between dream and reality, in André Breton’s conception, the two can be seen as “communicating vessels” which can be reconciled in action. In this transformative sense, surrealism cannot simplistically be reduced to one of the passing cavalcade of avant-garde art movements in painting, literature, film or sound. The latter mediums of expression are merely expedient points of entry in the surrealist quest to create a more exalted reality by realizing poetry in everyday life.

What then is the nature of the passional attraction between surrealism and the anarchist notion of direct action. If a radical subjectivity is needed to overcome the miserabilist stranglehold of mutual acquiescence, then the revolutionary romanticism of surrealism can be a fecund basis for mutual aid. From the very start, the surrealist movement, in word and in deed, has allied itself with the struggle for freedom. Embracing what I will refer to as a “radical inclusivity,” surrealism has not confined itself to the art world but has repeatedly sought out kindred free spirits from among those that the dominant society dismisses or condescendingly labels as “other”. Rather than perceiving oppressed peoples exclusively as victims, surrealists have seen as mentors and accomplices all those who desire to, or who in effect, actively sabotage the absolutism of the reigning reality of industrial civilization with the poetic truth of the dream. In this struggle, the affinity between surrealism and direct action is a combination of radical refusal and emancipatory exhilaration.”

excerpt from “The Surrealist Adventure and the Poetry of Direct Action”, by Ron Sakolsky, in The Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, Issue 8, Winter 2011. Continue reading here

┐ Gemma Marmalade └

© Gemma Marmalade, from the series Animals, 2008

© Gemma Marmalade, from the series Animals, 2008

“Animal is a series of photographic portraits of a woman Gemma met on an internet dating/networking website in 2006. Without knowing anything of the artist or her motivations to make contact, the woman engaged in sending photographs of herself via mobile phone, some erotic, some banal.


Over a period of nearly two years, the artist received 69 pictures before contacting Jane.


Fascinated by her character and the disclosure that she used the offer of contact as an “anonymous online confessional”, Gemma learnt that she, from Italian Catholic descent, was an ‘executive escort’. She described her bitterness towards her family’s rejection of her, the disillusion with relationships and people at large; she prefers the honest company of animals. A trained vet, eloquent and darkly witty, Animal aimed to illustrate her in a way that re-established her engagement with her own sexuality, challenge her occupational feelings and allowed her to be the literal “sexual creature” she so desired to be.


Utilising the canon of Surrealism’s anthropomorphic gestures and grandiose Italian Renaissance art aesthetic, Animal brings a hyper-surreality to the commissioned portrait.”

Gemma’s statement

More of Gemma’s work here

┐ Ting Cheng └


@ Ting Cheng, Icy Yoga Lesson, 2012

@ Ting Cheng, Where is my home, 2009

excerpt from an interview by Alexandra Plesner, from Dazed Digital

Dazed Digital: Your images give the impression of a dreamer, trying to escape this asylum called life. Why does this concept fascinate you so much?
Ting Cheng: As human beings, we learn from playing, we gain experience through trying. While I am not particularly good at planning, I am the queen of playing and trying. Inside the game, we are the controller. We press and release. We continuously select and restart, trying to break through the barriers that we encounter. The game will never be over, because despite all the set-backs that we’re facing, we will always continue playing and seeking those little victories. I indeed wish I could transform myself from a traveller, an outsider and a dreamer into a present experience maker.

DD: What was your first passion and how does this passion manifest itself today?
Ting Cheng: Being an outsider is really essential for me. It is the main inspiration for my work. The feeling of alienation urges me to step aside from my own body. It drives me to express this inner desire of exploring and discovering.

DD: What does photography mean to you?
Ting Cheng: I am a day dreamer and a visual thinker, so I turn to photography to communicate my feelings, thoughts, dreams and desires. I use photography to expose and document the absurdity and oddness of everyday life. Photography for me, is almost a way to prove my very existence. It is a way to escape from an ordinary and mundane reality, replacing it with a new reality.

DD: To look at your picture gives hope that the door to fairyland actually exists. How important is escaping reality for you personally and as a professional?
Ting Cheng: The image of the world has existed within our consciousness and cognition. If I am not satisfied with the reality I find myself in, I can reorder and reshape the map of the world through my imagination. Even more, I can build up a new reality. My work gives me an alternative to rethink and question the possibility of space and the relationship between our bodies and the objects that surround me.

More of Ting’s work here

┐ Jakob Hunosøe └

@ Jakob Hunosøe, Thermos placed on lamp , from the series Out of Order, 2012

framed, 46,5 x 46,5 cm, Archival Fiber Print, edition of 5

@ Jakob Hunosøe, Tin pot and ceramic pot touching electric kettle on plate , from the series On Things Ordinary, 2010

framed, 46,5 x 46,5 cm, Archival Fiber Print, edition of 5

Rather than objectively exposing the surroundings, Hunosøe uses the photograph as a means of rewriting reality. With simple artifices such as reflections, additions and unexpected combinations, he adds a poetic, surreal dimension to his motifs. The photograph becomes an instrument enabling us to look at the world with different eyes and to uncover new meanings in our immediate surroundings.


Each photograph is based on a clear idea explained in prosaic titles such as “2 x 2 meters of garage objects” or “Mirrored glass of water, coins and used napkin on table.” The intention of the stagings is neither to seduce nor to convince the viewers, seeing that the titles expose the often simple artifices on which each picture is based. Hunosøe’s pictures can be seen as one long series of attempts. The “pseudoscientific”
attempts are not meant to lead to a certain result; rather, they are created in their own
right.(…)

excerpt from text by Marie Laurberg; continue reading here

His work here

┐ Sabrina Biancuzzi └

© Sabrina Biancuzzi, Untitled, from the series L’instant P, 1986

© Sabrina Biancuzzi, Untitled, from the series L’instant P

“Specialised in film photography and old-style development processes, Sabrina Biancuzzi is both a photographer and engraver. A young woman passionate about what she does, she loves both working in the lab and the grain of film stock. Through her images she lets us glimpse our own distortions, those of dreams and the unconscious. Her personal voyages between dream and reality, today and yesterday, Paris and Brussels, show the world that our nights explore.”

More of Sabrina’s work can be seen here

┐ Michel Medinger └

© Michel Medinger, chicken feet and striglithium, 2001

© Michel Medinger, aubergine albino

“Working with a host of organic and inorganic shapes and forms, Medinger creates marvelously idiosyncratic tableaux that explore the dynamic interaction between object, form and meaning. Like a 19th-century cabinet of scientific curiosities, Medinger’s pictures of incon­gruous and decidedly Dadaesque juxtapositions of tools, flowers, fruits and vegetables, skeletal structures, marine and animal forms, and machine parts force a contemplation of the nature of life and mortality. Despite the dark and somewhat brooding quality of his work, there is an underlying whimsicality and humor to Medinger’s approach that lightens the overall experience of his photographs.”

More of Michel’s work here

║ Janieta Eyre ║

© Janieta Eyre, Motherhood, from the series Motherhood

© Janieta Eyre, Two pages from my diary, from the series Lady Lazarus

“Speaking of photographs of racing horses, Rodin once said ‘It is the artist who is truthful and the camera that lies because, in reality; time does not stand still”. When Janieta Eyre states that “The media and photography have something in common: they are both more fiction than fact” she is reaffirming Rodin’s reasoning in an up-to-date way. She is also confirming that, despite appearances, she is the heir to a tradition that is far older than is usually realised. In the by now enormous flood of hooks and articles dedicated to the transvestite and misc en scene practices that have recently swept the world of visual arts, above all photography, their origins have often been forgotten. These are to be found in the practitioners of what might be called artistic photography during its greatest period, from Rejlander to Julia Margaret Cameron whose model Mary Hillier was transformed so often into the Virgin Mary as to merit the nickname of Mary Madonna: not bad for faking reality given we are dealing with a modest servant in Cameron’s household.

So the roots of a tendency to counterfeit or reinvent reality in a theatrical way are to be found -not just for Pyre but for Sherman, Ontaili and others – within this tradition (and we should not forget that, both at the beginning and at the end of the century, this involved photography’s emulation of painting: first in order to acquire artistic dignity and later to reaffirm the centrality it had by now gained) Yet if her roots are to be found in this tradition it is also true that Pyre’s work is substantially different just as her results are different, above all because in the meantime some very powerful artists have tackled these themes and have provided further areas for exploration: just think of Ralph Fugene Meatyard’s fundamental The Family Album at Lucybell Grater or of the early self-portraits of Urs Luthi, even though an abyss separates the two artists (both of whom were, significantly, born at the beginning of the Sixties). Furthermore Lyre, born in London in the mid-sixties and now working in Canada, has a markedly different sensibility (and perhaps I should also mention here that the apparently realistic images off the wall are also the result of manipulation as well as being staged).

Above all this sensibility of hers has developed from a cool mixture of high and low culture where allusions to the painting of the past are as frequent as those to cartoons, where Alice in Wonderland refers not only to the book by Carroll (one of Cameron’s circle of photographers, amongst other things) but to the Walt Disney cartoon film, where Greenaway can mix with Waters’ Pink Flamingos with a nod to Fellini’s Casanova along the way, and all giving life to a wealth of images deviated and deviant with respect to the usual pathos of artistic influences. It is not by chance that this also occurs in the most recent series by Tracey Moffatt who crosses Quinta del Sordo with Fantasia. (…)”

Essay by Walter Cuadagnini. To continue reading click here

More of Janieta’s work can be seen here