Reviewed by Danielle McCullough
“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine”
The exquisite –
“Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau”
“Toutes mes ficelles de caleçon. Bras de veau n’est pas assez pour te ficeler d’une telle bonne nouvelle. All my strings of underwear. Arms of veal is not enough to tie you up such good news.
–Written correspondence on Facebook wall between two artists, translated automatically by Bing from French to English.
The remains of the parlor game le cadavre exquis (the exquisite corpse) – conversational relics were likely never intended to leave the wine sloshed circle. While the Drawing Surrealism exhibition contained two hundred fifty works by 100 artists from 15 countries, the three textual components of this catalog, written by Jones, Isabelle Dervaux, and Susan Laxton, center primarily on the first wave of the movement in Paris between the wars. Drawing Surrealism gives a clear picture of the physical processes involved with frottage, decalcomania, collage, and photograms as forms of automated drawing. The relationships between these reproduced images, surrealist texts, politics and psychoanalysis occasionally recall redacted letters or translated regional idioms—a multilingual game of telephone loaded with hiccups and false cognates.
That is partly due to the fragmentary nature of a movement which oftentimes deliberately evaded the canonical archive. However, it is also on account of the tome’s non-specificity of historical events situated outside of the production of these artifacts – an illusion of the avant-garde as a world apart. This text does not indicate which artists served in the war, it does not relay which of them met while in the service, it does not discuss the possible psychological effects of machine gun, progress in assault rifles, war photography, shifts in global capital, or the early phases of mass media on these human minds.
Mental illness, like Marxism, is only discussed in terms of aesthetic decisions made by the artists to remain poor, pure and true. There are several tiny reproductions of journal fragments which are not translated into English, leaving the average reader not literate in French out of the loop of these historical transmissions. All in all It remains unclear who is the intended recipient of this exhibition document, or what exactly it is trying to spell out about this collection of transient objects and corresponding ephemera.
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Leslie Jones, Drawing Surrealism (Prestel, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior images from Drawing Surrealism, top: Max Ernst. Figure Ambigue, 1919/1920, bottom: Francis Picabia, Olga, 1930