November 4, 2001
By Royce Carlson
Corporations are taking over the world and the U.S. is bombing
Afghanistan. Ė Itís time to
In fact things are already surreal. When the president of
the United States announces, "We are a peaceful people," and then
drops cluster bombs on Afghan villages Ė thatís surreal. In the tradition
of modern artís response to wars of the last century, surrealism should rise
again. Hereís a little history:
Surrealismís precursor was Dada-ism. After World War I, the Dada movement
began as a response to the horrors of the war. The idea was that the society
that created war was so ugly that it didnít deserve art. The Dadaists
decided to create "non-art" instead to parody and parallel the
horrors they saw in the world. Marcel Duchamp created such "non-art"
works as his "ready-mades", the first of which was a wheel mounted
on the seat of a stool. Other artists associated with this movement, founded
by Tristan Tzara, were Jean Arp, Marcel Janco and Emmy Hennings. Tzaraís
phrase, "Dada destroys everything," shows the nihilistic nature of
The nihilism of Dada was countered by surrealism which took a more positive
approach. Surrealists echoed the absurdity of war with absurdity in art.
Salvador Dali stated that the purpose of surrealism is "To make the
abnormal look normal and the normal look abnormal." This was a reaction
against "rationalism" which was presumed guilty for creating the
kind of political and social environment in which a world war could happen.
They were inspired by Sigmund Freudís concept of the unconscious. They
recreated the strange imagery of dreams to reflect the unconscious rather than
the rational. Therefore, in poetry, prose, art and performance, they practiced
the absurd. Andrť Breton was the major spokesman of the surrealist movement.
It included such other famous artists as Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miro
and Antonin Artaud.
Surrealism was not just a school of art. It was a philosophy. Antonin
Artaud said, "Surrealism is above all a state of mind, it does not
advocate formulas. The most important point is to put oneself in the right
frame of mind." It belongs as equally to poets and philosophers as it
does to visual artists. The surrealist movement was considered to be dead by
1941 by the mainstream art community but it did not die. It just went along
relatively unnoticed for the rest of the century and flared up when times got
ugly with war and corruption.
In the late sixties surrealism resurfaced both in Europe and in the U.S. In
Europe French activists responded to the growing dominance of corporations and
the market economy. In 1967 Guy Debord published a book, "The Society of
the Spectacle" in Paris. The book was a collection of dadaism and
anarchism and advocated subversion and activism. He said,
"The tactics of subversion have to be extended from schools,
factories, universities, to confront the spectacle directly. Rapid
transport systems, shopping centers, museums as well as the various new
forms of culture and the media, must be considered as targets for
Out of the Sorbonne, one of Parisí most prestigious universities, came a
host of revolutionary thought. The walls of Paris were painted with surreal
BE REALISTIC - DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE
THEY ARE BUYING YOUR HAPPINESS, STEAL IT
In the United States, surrealism came back during the Vietnam War. The Artists
Liberation Front was founded in San Francisco and was instrumental in
helping to create the famous 60ís counter-culture. They staged impromptu
surreal performances on the streets of San Francisco. Other groups like the
Ant Farm, another artist collective in San Francisco, staged events like
crashing a Cadillac through a wall of flaming television sets. The Ant
Farm also created the Cadillac
Ranch in Texas - another surreal installation.
I believe that now is the time for another resurgence of the surrealist
philosophy and activism. The conditions are right. Once again, the U.S. is at
war. Corporations are still taking over the world. The media is being
consolidated so that the information we receive reflects the same
pro-corporate, money-driven philosophy. Artists must respond. The ugliness and
absurdity of war must again be countered and paralleled with art. Itís time
to get surreal.
I propose a "Make America Surreal" campaign. This is a call for
artists who are interested to organize within their local communities for the
purpose of making the normal look abnormal by staging surreal guerrilla
performances in the streets.
The idea is to find locations that look totally normal and then envision
what simple element or elements can be added to the scenes that would
transform the scenes into living surrealist paintings. An entire street can be
made surreal by the addition of one well-chosen element. Itís not enough to
just stage the scenes for the benefit of whoever is around at the time. The
performances must also be documented with photography and video.
Already, here in my local community, this has been started. On the streets
of our town, for one evening last month, a tall, thin guy put on a pink tutu
and a pig mask and rode around town on a bicycle. Unfortunately this did not
get documented, but future events will. I would like to see this go on all
over the country.
Art is as much about context as it is about subject. This campaign has the
possibility of making people see their world differently by changing the
context. Things that we take for granted can be highlighted by surrealism.
Besides, it will be a lot of fun! Create a surreal situation in your town,
photograph it, and then send Zenzibar a photo or two and we will post them in
a "Make America Surreal" online gallery. Get surreal!
Here are some links:
- A site about surrealism.
- This site claims to be the home of the ongoing surrealist movement in
The Artists Liberation Front
And the Formation of the Sixties Counterculture
Photo of Ant Farm
video of a Cadillac crashing through a wall of TV's
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