1 | After a century’s depuration of Surrealism, and having rejected its confusion with a school or just another ‘ism’, the aesthetic propriety of any give creative work cannot be dismissed. How do you understand Surrealism’s aesthetic ideal?
JAN DOČEKAL | The question of esthetic surrealist ideal reminds me of the basic rule of the first surrealists: surrealism does not take care of aesthetics at all, or very little. Its aim is the idea and the content. Research of aesthetic rules in the proportions of the work of art is completely irrelevant. Of course, the principle, that no form of expression can be rejected, if it does not comply with aesthetic standards, is paramount.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | The aesthetic ideal of surrealism is only an artificially created concept that can never really be found. However, it is obvious that surrealism opens up an endless space for all creators without trying to evaluate their work in advance. Everything is evolving, and creators whose creativity is initially of low quality can still have unprecedented outcomes beyond the convention.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | It is axiomatic that Surrealism is not driven by aesthetic considerations. This has been underscored by the lengthy process of delineation and refinement mentioned here, a process which has further sought to distinguish us from being simply ‘just another’ art movement or -ism.
Nevertheless, we are inevitably driven by our own subjective tastes and preferences, as well as by an appreciation of the technical qualities and skills that have been used in the creation of works. We must fight against any tendency to take certain – possibly more skilfully executed – works as aesthetic ideals to which we then aspire in our own explorations, particularly when those skilfully executed works are likely to be taken as aesthetic ideals by non-Surrealists. Within Surrealist groups, for example, you may see the emergence of shared approaches and ideas which could be construed by outsiders as a shared aesthetic. But those approaches/ideas do not constitute an aesthetic, and we must ensure that they never become so.
PAUL MCRANDLE | Convulsive beauty-erotic and veiled, exploding and fixed, magic and circumstancial-is an event as much as it is an ideal.
2 | The classic expulsions that Surrealists carried out from the original Paris formation were of a behavioral nature. Poor-quality work was never judged. Even now, although expulsions no longer take place, when Surrealists comment on their peers they do so in the light of sympathies and alliances, which emphasizes the existence of a clique. To what point does this distort the understanding that one might have of the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century?
JAN DOČEKAL | There were many expulsions from the community of surrealists in the first decades of its existence. These events indicated its revolutionary mood and the desire to change the world. The desire to change the world sometimes justified work of poor quality. However, how can you tell good quality from poor quality? The main thing is that surrealism is still alive, and its ideas are vital, not only in the works of “the old good surrealists”, but also in the works of many young ones. Talking about mutual sympathy and alliances of artists, I think, that surrealism does not manifest much of it. And surrealist cultural revolution is hard to imagine. The capital which rules the today’s world has different priorities.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | There is no doubt that Surrealism was and is the greatest cultural revolution of the 20th century, as well as the fact that some creators with poor quality have passed through it. As I have already said, there is always the possibility (a small chance) that the bad can develop a good things. And the instinct of the pack also works here - we all belong to the same movement and therefore we do not evaluate colleagues.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | This question seems to us to conflate two separate issues: (a) the judgement of ‘poor-quality work’, and (b) expulsions, alliances and cliques.
For reasons outlined in our response to Question 1, we regard ‘poor-quality work’ as a non-issue, or at any rate an issue that has no bearing on whether individuals should face exclusion or censure. Surrealism entails a set of principles to be followed, not standards to be met. The historical expulsions to which Question 2 alludes were made when individuals abandoned or betrayed those principles. The aesthetic quality of their work was irrelevant.
Question 2 states that expulsions no longer take place. Our experience of the internal life of Surrealist groups is that this is an oversimplification. While it’s true that formal expulsions no longer take place, individuals can be deliberately ejected from Surrealist groups by informal means. The group can make its displeasure with a particular individual abundantly clear, whether through active disputation or passive-aggressive attrition, until eventually the individual in question takes the hint and withdraws, amid greater or lesser ill feeling. This depends primarily on the theoretical and practical strengths within the group itself.
The question of expulsion is posed at the level of groups. Sympathies and alliances can be forged at the level of either groups (such as the axis of sympathy that existed between SLAG, Stockholm and Athens, or the long-standing alliance between SLAG and Río de la Plata) or individuals (such as those that congregated on the Isle of Wight during the Archaeology of Hope game in 2017). These are not just collective theoretical and practical endeavours, but intense emotional and personal relationships. To apply the pejorative term ‘clique’ to these formations is neither necessary nor illuminating.
All of that being said, Question 2 does point towards what we see as an underlying weakness in the international Surrealist movement today: a fear of internal conflict. One of us has written about this at more length elsewhere. Ejections from groups are carried out by covert or underhand means because no one wants to be the bad guy who openly calls for another’s expulsion. Groups and individuals stick to collaborating with the friends they find sympa, but there is a danger if that becomes a way of avoiding confrontation with others with whom one disagrees. Committed as we are to a dialectical view of history, we see conflict as the engine of development. A Surrealist movement that avoids internal conflict risks becoming a movement that lacks internal development – becoming stagnant.
To what point does this distort the understanding that one might have of the most important cultural revolution of the 20th century? We do not regard Surrealism as a (merely) cultural revolution, nor as confined to the 20th century, and we do not know whose ‘understanding’ is at issue here. So we are not able to respond to this part of the question.
PAUL MCRANDLE | Surrealist constellations are self-defined along lines of elective affinity in which critiques play different roles.
3 | Surrealist magazines – where were previously just printed, and are now available in virtual format as well, with extensive recovery of the early days of the effort through facsimile and PDF editions – form a collection beyond comparison with any other movement, school or avant-garde over the centuries. I maintain that the most valuable ones are those that never countered other views of life and artwork that were alien and/or complementary to Surrealism. I believe these magazines to be the explorable space of counter-orthodoxy, of the full exercise of generosity, and of the sharing of sparse worlds. However, we still face an immense – declared or undeclared 0 rejection of Surrealism precisely because of its orthodox beginnings. How to separate wheat from chaff?
JAN DOČEKAL | I am a member of the surrealist group Stir up. Our group publishes an irregular magazine called Styxus. It is sponsored by a printing company. The magazine is quite popular with fans of surrealism. The Stir up group has also its own gallery (also sponsored) in a former water mill on the Jihlava river. The gallery shows remarkable exhibitions of works of art by Stir up members and their guests, mainly from abroad. The visitors do not come in thousands, but what is important is that many followers of surrealism come. Nowadays, it is quite difficult to argue (definitely in the Czech Republic), that surrealism represents the permanent revolution. However, it is very important, that surrealism is fundamentally a space of the absolute creative freedom, a space for researching our own imagination and our own dreams. I think that hardly any author deals with the problem of separating the wheat from the chaff. Maybe none at all.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | The fact that we are constantly trying to reject surrealism just because of its orthodox origins can’t surprise us. But it must be remembered that just after World War I people were actually looking for a new sense of life. Breton's Parisian formation, too, has succumbed to controversial attempts to determine the right truths, and so there was a classic expulsion. Surrealist magazines (in whatever form) have recorded developments that our movement has gone through, until it has reached a certain degree of freedom. For me as a creator, surrealism is symbolized by the maximum freedom of creation, and as the theorist of our group, Arnošt Budík, writes - his basic supporting columns are FREEDOM, LOVE AND POISIE.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | Within this question we are unclear about the intended meaning of ‘counter-orthodoxy’, and we do not recognise the description of Surrealism as having ‘orthodox beginnings’. Given these and certain other ambiguities, it is necessary to clarify our understanding before answering.
The question seems to be suggesting that the most fruitful contributions came within magazines that were not exclusively Surrealist, and that their value lay in their opening of shared spheres of response to, and rebellion against, the world and its prevailing orthodoxies.
At an early point in any local development of Surrealism, there must be some separation from existing movements and avant-gardes. This separate delineation of and adherence to our principles will form the basis for the directions Surrealism will be able to take thereafter.
At a later stage, when a Surrealist group has established its separate identity more securely, there may also be attempts to collaborate in publication. These are somewhat different, as they may aim to exploit an apparently shared space and simultaneously to establish the authority of Surrealism within that space. The abandonment of our principles, or their relaxation for the purposes of collaborative publication with non-Surrealists, would be absolutely fatal to our activity as Surrealists.
To give an example from the UK context: when the journal Patricide appeared a few years ago, we were extremely cautious of the venture, and there was discussion of it over a protracted period within SLAG. One SLAG member cautioned against our hostility, pointing out that such collaborative journals can produce more interesting results from Surrealists than explicitly exclusive Surrealist publications, precisely because they make Surrealists stretch themselves further: there is something useful about such journals, because they do not allow us to settle into any complacency about avenues we are already pursuing. In the longer run, the initial interest and success of Patricide for Surrealists became exhausted precisely because the relationship between our movement and the journal remained stubbornly restricted to publication only. If there is no further development towards the Surrealist movement from within a publication or its readership, and if the journal’s publication policy is no longer pushing Surrealists to explore their own practice and investigation in any meaningful or innovative way, then the relationship is of no further benefit to Surrealism.
In this sense the separation of wheat from chaff is one of practice, and depends entirely on our principles. The decision to publish in non-Surrealist journals may reflect a deliberate turn outwards, but such a turn is dependent on a specific understanding of the current state of Surrealism and its relations with the outside world. The choice of such journals will depend on the appraisal we make of them as publications and of the individuals involved as individuals. We may equally well decide that under present circumstances we should be doing the opposite and occulting our practice. Occulted or public, our activity and the decisions behind it reflect our application of Surrealist principles. We can be wrong, we can make mistakes, but that is less important if we scrutinise our every decision, if we seek to probe and lay bare the conscious and unconscious impulses behind our decisions and make those decisions on our own, Surrealist, terms.
PAUL MCRANDLE | Like Klein bottles, Surrealist journals can confound oppositions of the internal and external and operate along exceedingly sinuous lines within and outside the culture.
4 | Two terms within the Surrealist environment have always caught my eye, not because they appear inappropriate to me, but rather due to the compliment-rejection partition that they carry within: ‘Surrealist movement’ and ‘Surrealist civilization’. How different are the two, and what to they represent to the point of appearing antipodal?
JAN DOČEKAL | In my opinion, surrealist movement is everything, what is above realism in our world. It means everything what is created, shared, spread by surrealist followers. The movement means direction. Surrealism (which was declared to be a thing past by many art theoreticians long time ago, nevertheless it still lives in ideas and activities of many followers) is only one of current movements. It is a very good fact. The variety of possibilities is a platform for unity in diversity. I think, that surrealist civilisation is a beautidul futuristic concept, but it remains unfulfilled. It is an expression of enthusiasm, revolution and desire too. About a hundred years ago, according to Kandinsky, mankind was supposed to recognize that the main form of art is abstraction. But it did not happen. And our civilisation has not become surrealistic since the birth of surrealism in the second half of twenties of the last century. If surrealism became the universal style of human existence, it would have lost much of its hidden charm.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | Surrealist movement is more acceptable to me than Surrealist civilization, precisely because it represents a certain movement and development. Surrealist civilization is a concept that too bothers by the monochrome vision of the world and therefore both concepts are in contradiction.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | The term ‘Surrealist civilisation’ has been extraordinarily important and meaningful for certain sections of the movement. However, it is not a term that has ever meant very much to us. We are familiar with Bounoure’s 1976 volume of that name, but we do not find that book especially exciting – perhaps curiously so, given our shared ongoing interest in anthropology and ethnography. Surrealist myth, even primitivism – yes. But civilization? Not so much.
PAUL MCRANDLE | For me, Surrealist civilization remains the horizons within which the Surrealist movement acts.
5 | The imaginative power and the experimental nature of Surrealism, which are essentially complementary aspects, are often evoked. However, given the unquestionable impossibility of perennial renovation within the environment of artistic creation, what one often sees in Surrealism is a repetition of resources, ways of being and language gimmicks. How does one address these variations, which are common to all creative landscapes?
JAN DOČEKAL | I am convinced that the most important attitude to this question is not to solve it. In other words: let the regular surrealist conferences be held and deal with that matter. It is evident that no conclusion can be found. Though it seems that today’s surrealists only repeat things past, that they are not able to do anything else than to dilute achievements of previous surrealist generations, we know very well, that the world is always in motion. Everything is changing. Even surrealism is changing. It has left or softened some of its basic postulates because the shape of present civilization requires it. However, let us believe in the existence of surrealism as mediated by its creators and their followers.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | Like the ocean water, the imaginative power and experimental nature of surrealism will never dry out. It's the invention the creator has. Each of us is original and therefore there is always the possibility that something new will emerge that a new path will be found.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | This is a problem that we think about and discuss often. While novelty is not worth pursuing for its own sake, Surrealism demands a quest for the unknown and an active conquest of the imagination. The practice of automatism, for example, can unleash marvels, but can also result in a repetition of the same repertoire of shapes, images, words or phrases. One needs to cultivate sufficient self-awareness and self-dissatisfaction to know when this is happening (a self-awareness that Surrealists’ use of social media arguably discourages these days, but that’s another story).
The solution is obvious, although effortful: when you find that you are repeating yourself, take deliberate steps to change the rules of the game and force yourself into a new direction. Try a new method, a new medium, a new collaborator. Quest after the unknown. And be prepared to risk looking like an idiot for a while if it turns out not to work.
PAUL MCRANDLE | Through disappointment and longing.
6 | Aldo Pellegrini is one of the few scholars of Surrealism that specifically addressed its poetic sphere. Any list of Surrealist references will emphasize show the relevance of visual arts. This always seemed to be like a failure of the critics because the rejuvenating essence, even in the early 20th century, concerns the image itself and its many angles. Is this one of any number of adulterations to the Surrealist principles, or even they barely recognized the presence of a difference – except in purely technical terms – between imagery and poetics?
JAN DOČEKAL | Like each fruit of human spirit, surrealism is the expression of individual. An unrepeatable imprint of the gift of creation. It is not absolutely necessary for each work of art to be massively understooood. Even a mysterious piece of art, with a hidden sense, can attract because of its uniquiness. No real art is made according to expert manuals. The creator´s own identity stemming in his/her gift and the joy of free realisation of ideas, delivers unique poetics. Its presentation is not measurable by any technical standards. It is the fruit of spontaneous power, eruption of creativity. Work as a result of private project, as a perfectly conceived and rationally made representation may be surrealistic in some way, but this is veristic surrealism. In that case, we perceive mainly the effect and artfulness. Spiritual construction providing freedom for both creator and critic is the goal. Open discussion should be permanent.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | The poetic sphere belongs to surrealism as the nose between the eyes and surrealistic creators does not care if they work with word, paint, color or any material to act on the observer's subconscious and it is not possible without poetry.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | We don’t understand this question sufficiently clearly to be able to answer it.
PAUL MCRANDLE | Our perceptions and mental representations are thought; they derive from the same unique source, always acting in concert and mutual transformation.
7 | When they Surrealism first emerged, its social expectations revolved around what then stood as revolutionary actions, in particular what was seated on the propositions of Marx and Freud. Octavio Paz went as far as to declare that the 20th century would be remembered as the century of Freud and Surrealism. By eliminating Marx from his prophecies, he forgot – if it was indeed forgetfulness – that the marked would defeat, to say the least, every revolutionary intent, including the two that the Mexican pointed out. How does one view this in our day and age? Given the market’s virulent absolutism, what happened to the forces unleashed by Freud, Marx and Surrealism?
JAN DOČEKAL | Sigmund Freud showed the possible direction for surrealism in its intuitive period. Surrealists believed in omnipotence of the idea. Idea is above reality. They relied on philosophical idealism. They were not social activists. Later, surrealists admited the need to judge political order. They raised their voice against the colonialism, they were intoxicated with leftist policy, they were astonished with possibilities provided by the Soviet socialism. It was a historical mistake of surrealism. However the mistake was overcome. The highest achievable point of surrealism is the free creation of free creators. Surrealist theoretician Arnost Budik wrote in his essay “The star with three crystals”: “The starting points of surrealism are poetry, love and freedom”. And the revolution of the spirit still continues.
LUBOMÍR KERNDL | This is a very difficult question, but Octavio Paz has become a prophet just because he called the 20º century the century of Freud and Surrealism. He had observed that Marx's thoughts are not as ideal as they seems to be, and that they are hidden in the suppression of the freedom of the individual. Surrealism itself is still there, and it is not lost in the boiler of the world, and it is guaranteed that the soup that is boiled in it will not be monochromatic.
MERL FLUIN & PAUL COWDELL | The radical transformation demanded by Surrealism was built on the twin foundations of Marx and Rimbaud, in Breton’s famous summation. While psychoanalysis, Freudianism in particular, was a key tool in the armoury of self-transformation, it was not subject to the same level of investigation as either Marxism or the general character of poetry. The equation of Marx and Freud owes more to Marcuse, whose embrace by sections of the Surrealist movement in the early 1970s requires a serious critical reassessment. Marcuse’s declaration that nothing could be expected from the Western European working class, barely six months before May 1968, should at the very least have set some alarm bells ringing.
The revolutionary transformation of society (Marx) and the individual (Rimbaud) is central to our activity and thought, because without revolutionary transformation there can be no Surrealism. This transformation is not just an analytical exercise. If we treat the ‘market’s virulent absolutism’ as all-powerful then we have ruled out in advance the possibility of transformation: the analytical assessment requires a practical application. The unleashing of our forces remains the work in progress, the task at hand.
PAUL MCRANDLE | The market-or what Mark Fisher called capitalist realism-lowers expectations, banalizes criticism, and dulls the shimmering edge of desire for leverage over cultural production as whole. In the process it has jettisoned most of the past as irrelevant and severed history. As Georges Sebbag has noted, our sense of time has been pulverized into micro-durations-clips, GIFs, memes-in which no spark of the mind could illuminate images of a new reality. But we still dream.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artista convidada: Marcelle Ferron (Canadá, 1924- 2001)
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 139 | Agosto de 2019
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