Sunday, 20 June 2010

Distorted images in a hall of mirrors

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Svankmajer on cancelling his attendance at the West Dean conference

The Leeds Surrealist Group have published texts by Jan Svankmajer and the Czech and Slovak Surrealist Group concerning his decision to cancell his attendance at the conference on surrealism at West Dean:

A statement in support of him will soon be available on the London Surrealist Group blog.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Magon and Zapata Spoke Through Them

I have just received the following tract by the Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement. I thought it worth further distribution.

On the murder of Betty and Yiry
In a declaration made shortly before her death, Betty Cariño said: “Our feet firmly on
the ground, our heads held high; with dignity, a focused spirit and burning heart.” Her
heart, like that of the young Finn, Yiry Jaakkola, has stopped beating, victims of the
PRI paramilitary hired killers responsible for the abuses against the autonomous
commune of San Juan Copala, the village of the rebellious Triqui natives whom they
would like to cut off from the rest of the world; the assassins responsible for the
armed attack upon the solidarity caravan, taken in ambush. Through our voice, Betty
said, speak the voices of the Oaxaca women in struggle, the voices of Magon and
Zapata, the voices of all our ancestors who have fought for freedom. This heart,
which she recently compared to that of a flower opening towards the sun’s rays of
the days to come, continues to beat in Mexico, in France, wherever human beings
stand up against the intolerable submission to all the tyrannies on our planet. No
machine-gun can silence this voice, which will continue to resonate in the mountains
and valleys of Oaxaca and the whole of Mexico, to murmur in the rivers, to thunder in
the tropical storms, to blow with the wind, to sing in the waterfalls. It will manage,
inevitably, to break the jaws of the killing-machine used by the oligarchy and by
Paris, 11th May, 2010
The Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement
Anny Bonnin, Michèle Bachelet, Hervé Delabarre, Alfredo Fernandes, Michaël Löwy,
Marie-Dominique Massoni, Dominique Paul, Bertrand Schmitt, Michel Zimbacca,
and their friends: Guy Girard, Jean-Jacques Méric

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


This morning I received my copy of the new magazine Patricide in the post. The subtitle of this magazine is 'documentary surrealism' which explains to some extent why I chose to send one of my photos to the editor, Neil Coombs, and why I received a contributor's copy. I must admit to having had some qualms, I have seen a good many publications over the years, claiming to be surrealist, but with little, if any, idea as to what surrealism might be and why the magazine should be so considered beyond possibly an adherence to the wacky.

Having had brief discussions with Neil Coombs, I was reasonably convinced that this would not be the worst publication under the surrealist rubric and it would not be a waste of my time contributing, but was till unsure as to what degree it might be considered authentically surrealist. I knew that at least a couple of other surrealists known to me were contributing and that Coombs was not wholly ignorant of the subject, so it was a risk worth taking, even if the magazine was a disappointment.

Patricide is well produced, rather in the style of an academic journal, over 100 pages of essays, photographs and drawings as well as various quotes from surrealist or quasi-surrealist sources (Breton, Debord, Painleve and Matthias Forshage among others). I would say that it is indeed a worthwhile publication, but don't think that as yet it has shown itself to be a surrealist publication, rather it is an eclectic effort that has set up camp in the interstices between surrealism and other ideas and practices. This is a criticism, but not a condemnation.

To my way of thinking, in order to really qualify as a surrealist publication a magazine really needs to engage with surrealist ideas and activities to a far greater degree than does Patricide. Really it touches upon them and adds them to a mix that involves much else, often worthwhile in its own right. For the most part it does not have a genuine surrealist perspective so much as present a collage of image and text that dips in and out of surrealism in various ways. Again, not a condemnation but a criticism as this can be a good tactic; after all, the most important surrealist journal currently in publication, Analogon, constantly crosses the borders between surrealism and other currents and has published much that is explicitly not surrealist. The difference is that Analogon brings these together within a framework of surrealist perspectives and critique and the first issue of Patricide does not.

To be sure, Coombs' editorial does show some commitment to the surrealist vision, he specifically says that:
"Academics and bourgeoise (sic) bohemians attempt to claim surrealism for themselves yet it stubbornly resists. Surrealism does not reside in the private and public collections of the art dealers and galleries or the purses of government agencies but in the practices of surrealist individuals and groups across the world." (Coombs 2010)
I have no argument with this statement whatsoever, I welcome it as the editor's perspective and it reflects my own understanding completely but it is far from being a complete statement of what surrealism, its ideas and practices, might be. Coombs does make a brief attack on capitalism and its meshing with "an ever more complex technological and theocratic apparatus" (Ibid) which all augers well, but does not go beyond the opinions of the editor himself, it can't be said to be a common position for the contributors of the magazine, although one might like to think that it does. Coombs admits that "Although they are not all active as surrealists, the contributors to Patricide have been appropriated by this journal..." (Ibid) and this is both an advantage and a problem. One drawback in some surrealist publications can be that the focus is too narrow, sure they reflect surrealist perspectives, but can come across as dogmatic, often in reaction to more eclectic approaches that do not reflect surrealist principles in any substantial way. In this instance there is no sense that the contributors have anything in common except the fact of being contributors and thus, presumably, have no objection to being in something with the surrealist label, but it seems to me to be too much of a label or a flag of convenience, perhaps not for the editor and I'd not wish to accuse any individual here among the contributors either. It is rather the unease of seeing a mass of material that can not be vouched for in any way within the context in which it demands to be considered.

Once again, I am not condemning, but criticising. Patricide has not yet proven itself as a surrealist publication, but this is only the first issue. It requires a far more rigorous theoretical stance, one that is both principled and flexible in its actual practice, well informed and concrete in its expression. It needs to articulate its position in a way that it has so far failed to do, but the most important words here are "so far". Patricide might actually show itself as an eclectic venture, running up surrealism's Jolly Roger as a flag of convenience or it might become something far more potent. I can only hope that it manages the latter, we could do with another genuine surrealist magazine, but what will happen remains to be seen.

The second issue will have theme of "seaside surrealism" a theme first broached in the 1930s. This has both possibilities of realisation and of potential limitations, perhaps we shall then see what it really is. Meanwhile, for anybody who is curious I would suggest acquiring a copy as it is certainly worth reading, even with my provisos.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A brief comment on "Angels of Anarchy"

A review of the Angels of Anarchy exhibition by Kenneth Cox of the Leeds Surrealist Group can be found here:

Having read the review of the Angels of Anarchy, I find I agree with it, not only in its sentiments, but pretty much word for word. It is precise and true and right. If I had written it I might have come up with different examples, but that would only have been to do with my different mental habits, the concerns of the moment or whatever, not with any meaning or with either the intent or form expressed, except with one very slight exception.

I’m thinking of the case of Francesca Woodman. It is hard to gauge how I’d feel about her work if it was presented in a different context, but I have been quite solidly unexcited about it. Kenneth Cox's judgement on her work is, as such, about right, but I feel a great unease about the way in which the exhibition, and several papers on her, have been attempts to shoe-horn her into the surrealist pantheon. In fact there would seem to be a definite attempt to use surrealism to promote Woodman. While it is clear there is an influence, it is one among many such influences in the work of a young artist who, it seems to me, had yet to arrive at the kind of self-definition that would allow her to regard herself as a surrealist. (Quite apart from her complete lack of contact as far as I can see, never mind about engagement, with the surrealist movement). See the following bit of tosh:

The curious effect of this promotion of Woodman is that it seems to be at the expense of several women who have really engaged with surrealism in a meaningful way and in many cases are still doing so. This means that they still lack the exposure they might well deserve and it is the academic establishment, not the surrealists, who are guilty of this.