We recently found out through Facebook that an “International Surrealist Exhibition” took place in the Municipal Museum of Cartago in Costa Rica (free admission), which shares a logo with a certain Camaleonart Foundation — Art and Entertainment (and that is precisely what it is to a large extent nowadays). It deals with no less than 107 “world famous artists” from 26 countries exhibiting 380 works. Oddly enough, we do not recognize the vast majority of those names, but okay, we’re too insolently a-cultural to be aware of so much “world fame”. We learn that surrealism is an artistic and literary movement whose greatest exponent was Salvador Dalí (not by chance called Avida Dollars by the author of the Surrealist Manifestoes), and also that “art is an ambassador”. Perhaps that would be the reason why representatives of up to 8 surely very progressive embassies of nations from the continent were invited to the inauguration?
A pretentious and one-dimensional, i.e. very reductionist exhibition, despite the presence of friends of great integrity represented with works without doubt of excellent quality; a mere greenhouse of myriad aesthetic repetitions and commonplaces (title of the event: The Keys of Desire) under a “surrealist” label, typically formal, castrated and shoddy (which tolerates the presence of an Ingmar Bergman). It shows a true “surrealist realism” (in the manner of the “socialist realism” of such infamous memory, understood as an ideologization, institutionalization and stereotyping of an originally living impulse) and in this case not even with a minimum of “piquancy”, empty of the least critical decency and rebellious spirit, the essence of a most basic surrealist attitude: a banal alibi among others in a bourgeois culture in total decadence, which seeks, as always, to convert any aspect of transgression into merchandise, entertainment and financial and political speculation at the service of the establishment.
Exegetes, in order to see clearly, erase the word surrealism, said someone quite correctly for quite some years ago.
Jesús Garcías Rodriguez
My object here is simply to project the draught of a systematisation of Cetology. I am the architect, not the builder. But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post Office is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them; to have one’s hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing…
Après la deluge, moi. At the prompting of appeals from those who seek a shift in emphasis, to jump over the commodity of the end product and make that which is unfinished, tangential and reflective more prominent, here are some considerations from the Former Champlain Sea, as a late and purposefully troublesome postscript to our sea inquiry.
“The sea does not move, or else moves too much.”
It’s the spirit of an “open taxonomy” that seems to be the form of organization most suitable to the results revealed by our inquiry. The sea is never closed. A New Year is not remarked in the trenches where the extremophile bacteria relax in the womb-like crevices of the volcanic. After the sea recedes, there is a very real chance of oblivion filling up the vacuum. What choice do we have? People once loved photo albums, reflecting on the memories of their past adventures by cracking decayed plastic and cardboard. Today some people suppose can scroll through them in an instant: what we saw, the fossils and specimens we keep in a storage locker somewhere, the drawing we did of the siren that we value more than the siren itself, which was nothing but a cloud reflected in a puddle, or was it a poodle’s reflection in the windowpane?
I cite this development from the BBC News, January 12th, 2017:
A strange animal that lived on the ocean floor 500 million years ago has been assigned to the tree of life, solving a long-held mystery. The extinct hyolith has a cone-shaped shell, tentacles for feeding and appendages that acted as “feet”.
It lived here too. And now, the much more recent Champlain Sea, where I currently am sitting, is dry as a bone. Shall we change the journal name to Hyolith? What more perfectly beautiful sequence of letters? Like the cover collage of Megan Leach, Hyolith is simultaneously a sepia-toned horror flick and a call to return to the depths.
“Bells made out of a grey swan’s wing.”
The inquiry was intended to bring some semblance of organization to our expedition, but the sea has its own priorities. Some engaged with the themes in a more thorough way (whether in direct responses or via the games and collective responses like Stockholm, SLUT, Fresh Dirt, Inner Island and Leeds). Others used the opportunity to stowaway onboard to go on their own sea cruise. But sometimes it’s the Marx Brothers hiding in the barrel of herring, so we were happy to have had them come along.
At any rate, our initial vision of a biocommunist utopia beneath the waves has altered shape into a perplexing mirror-image. The seacries can also drown out rational planning. As Paul McRandle called them, “incarnate howlings”… In favour of Sade? I now wonder if the Sea has a Lettrist tendency. An early Debord film. The screen is so full it’s either black or white. White noise, or … A very violent insult to one’s existence. Landlubber! You think your memories are unmediated, but you live not just in a house of glass, your whole continent is glass, glass and fibre-optics.
I learned that for presentation, the glass of the aquarium is a tempting alternative to the negative capability of the screen. For our aquaria, which were also very much improvised stagings, we did not just play our roles onstage, but also had the laborious backstage duty of dramaturge-taxonomists. In the sea the material self-organizes, like life itself presumably, but isn’t it totally devoid of a parallel autonominalism? This is the dramaturge’s duty. We established family relations among our results. But only at the very end, almost an afterthought. Yet these aquamarine “cohorts” are, we hope, not temporary formations, but living entities in the surrealist aquarium.
We start with the imposing Cephalopoda, the obsessive, the cunning, the weird. The sea as other. It is an overruling passion for two great researchers of the eschatological tentacle: H.P. Lovecraft and Josie Malinowska. For the former, the eldritch, unwholesome intimations that come with a knowledge of the fish-like; for the latter, the orgiastic and feel good terror (and beauty!) of the octapocalypse to come. Prophets, backwards and forwards, of the sea. As Penelope Rosemont reminds us, here there be monsters, forever.
As we stumble away in terror, we step onto an unwholesome and utero-evocative member of the Nudibranchia, the tribe of the slime, membrane, poison and slug. Steven Cline is a powerful representative. Cool and (ir)reverent, depraved and overwhelming. The notorious phenomenology of the poisonous “blob”, which he has undertaken both in the seeping impropriety of collage and film as well as in his poetic texts (both in this issue and elsewhere). The oneiric flood that overwhelms our critical thought. Shocking. Overerotic. Waking up to a wet dream, or worse, a leech colony distributed across what we once tried to claim as “our” body. That which floods and is flooded. The body is not what it is supposed to be, we are Organs without Limbs nor Liquid Limits (OwLLLs). The calm and mournful lines of Emma Lundenmark, “in soft trailing steps”, but sea-steps, the sensitive and vulnerable slugsteps of the underbelly.
Stepping along with more security the defiant Crustacea, hard-shelled, not without an ambiguous past role adorning the telephonic apparatus of renegades, but still deliriously edible in their structural perfection. They can easily do away with bad memories, since they live forever. Fresh dirt, burrowing and clambering. The self-sufficient, moulting, biologically immortal surrealist adventurer. Surrealist heroism, in the quest of the beautiful floor. Here we find an articulated aural response from the ocean, including Fresh Dirt’s Sumbergence! Sympatica, which devours the lobster elegantly and with an unexpected musical mastication. At the bottom of the sea, Janice Hathaway’s archaeology is staring back at us from before recorded history. But it doesn’t have to live forever, these creatures are only biologically immortal, violence is still available: Beatriz Hausner re-smashes Maldoror’s crab to the great delight of children everywhere. Allan Vilu turns his diabolical machine, itself a crab, against the horror of school and work and the city. A good reminder: constant capital is a kind of crustacean too.
Above the lobster’s head, mesmerizing and airborne, Medusozoa, an exclusively electronic category, invented for the purpose of showing the moving, convulsive and stinging beauty of the image as presentation. Yes, it still hurts if you touch it. Rik Lina’s Psychalian utopia drifts along, charmingly armed. To keep such creatures in an aquarium requires a very high degree of skill. It dies very easily in captivity. On this point, although we received a few drawings and paintings that opened our eyes to the sea of the hand, the tactile sea (Maurizio Bracaleoni’s sirenic cogitation, Karl Howeth’s coraline emergence, Laura Lake’s humorous cephalopodic emasculation and Guy Girard’s oneiric waterpolo) it seems that for whatever reason the collage-mass lends itself to sea-based existence. Collective or individual, we can only conclude that the sea itself is great backdrop with pasted on play actors.
But perhaps the play hardens into a multiplayer reality. Madrepora, the collective in its constructivist period (1917-1920?), will build upon itself until it becomes a mountain-fortress rising out of the depths to confront the Milky Way, replete with devil Taoist-Alchemists and bandits, or it will not be. This is a fortress and a game at the same time. The oceanic becomes the aquarium itself. This is the cohort in which I place the most hope. Perhaps it is the closest of the lot to “absolute surrealism”. The Stockholm Group call them “The seven hidden tribes of krill”. CM Lundberg’s fishmountain cat celebrant soldiers. Crack troops in the game, doomed to an eternal charge of the light brigade…
Or they will survive in our great aquarium, specimens without an environment. We listed the dead or the dying in our game of the Sea Obituary. It was just a prelude to the next century of submarine extinctions. Our specimens are sent, perhaps via mail, in postcard and zine form. Little fossils, fosslings, of superior latent fearsomeness. A “crystaline octopus”, as Casi Cline puts it. The philosopher Meillassoux speaks of the “archefossil”, the objective, carbon-dated material evidence of a past before humanity, as the key to breaking out of Kantian correlationism. The encounter with the traumatic and Lovecraftian species of the Old Ocean, this is the sensation of perpetual discovery we wish to perpetuate, going further than Nemo and the his presurrealist vehicle Nautilus in our mad drive to collect, classify, eat and sleep among the old-oceanic. These are the primordial ephemera we need to maintain a strong link with the marvellous (see the Postal Transmogrification post for more on this angle).
We see to it that in the open and inexhaustible taxonomy of the marvellous, objects name themselves after all. Our concept of the New Aquarium Gothic is revealed to be a kind of cartoon reel with famous characters and an amoral mechanism. Duration 2min36secs. Let’s watch.
Argument, or, The Magic Lanthorn in the Aquarium
Where we find submerged, among the skulls and castle ruins an aquatic “automate”, depicting a recurring dinner scene. Therein we see: a moving model of Georges Méliès sitting down to discuss business with Qu Yuan, the shaman-poet of the Li Sao. The Méliès figurine cuts into the roast, which fall into rectangular fragments of comic strips. These float up in the water to the top of the bowl, where they are almost discernible. The figurine of Qu Yuan writes out what appear to be automatic odes based on the comics. A madreporic colony is spawning at their feet, slowly filling up the entire bowl. A chime version of the Looney Tunes theme plays itself in time with the clockwork motion of the figurines. The mechanism is very delicate.
“The disappearance of humanity is a bad memory.”
It’s like walking out of that first screening of Battleship Potemkin. The ocean revolts. The scales appear beneath our flesh and we grow gills. The sea is a great collage game, like the monsters bred at Leeds and Inner Island. The sea is also pirate radio station.
And so we return from the sea with new and miraculous weapons. Let’s end with a modest proposal for a new alteration (or derangement) of perspective, maybe in lieu of calls for outright iconoclasm against the image, the commodified product or electronic communication. The fear here is of spinning off too hastily into a negative humanist essentialism, limiting what is or isn’t an “authentic” experience to predefined categories. Situationist détournement and board gaming are still preferable, and more adventurous, than total abstinence. The risk is not so much in detailing the corrosive effects of electronic media (which is certainly true), but rather the perplexing mirror that makes everyday activity seem “unmediated” by comparison. This gives too little regard to the role of pernicious and stifling ideology in our daily lives. The problem with the paucity of the virtual is precisely that its flattening effect has a tendency to extend beyond the screen where it is least suspected. Surrealist activity will be the dialectical short-circuit that triggers a meltdown of the whole façade; collapsing at once the virtual and its swarm of subsidiaries in the marvellous and comic glow of the magic lanthorn at the bottom of the surrealist sea, with snarky captions and subversive cartooning.
In the service of business deals far removed from people’s lives, the bearers of Capital continue to smooth out the electronic runway over a mass of unsuspecting heads. In defiance of both facile electronic solutions and the potentially naive idolization of a humanist retreat, I might suggest, as a start of something different, an “aquarization” of presentation itself. This could mean:
* That The Spectacle itself cannot be overcome through abstinence, but through a subversive and hilarious derangement in the vein of a bonsai miniature. Barnacles.
* That presentation might be considered merely a small home for a real life form.
* That presentation could be a miniaturized diorama of its own inhabitants (whether the ego, the egregore etc).
* That presentation can be tactile and it can be portable. This portability means it has the potential to show up in unexpected places: transmogrified among bills and correspondence in mailboxes, at the bottom of a riverbed, in the back of a dumpster, ideally anywhere but a gallery (digital or otherwise).
* If galleries are used, or their extensions cinemas and malls and websites and forums, they could be converted into aquariums before they are deemed fit for our little sea monkeys. We suggest submergence underwater, in the same vein as the Stockholm group played in “Life Partially Submerged”.
* That presentation can prognosticate aquatically. That is, prediction and aquaprophecy, the kind of predictive dreaming of Cthulhu, a message from the depths one sleeps on at the Fleurs de Lys building in Providence, and to be done with airy, monotheistic and statist predictions of the land and sky.*
* That presentation steep itself in the humour of the backlit, the depository of our desires, and the oneiric capabilities of the submarine atmosphere. Only then will the little crocodile survive with gently smiling jaws.
* That aquarized presentation attacks both progressive futurism and nostalgic humanism in the form of the black joke, through cruel but silly mimicry. Blobfish.
* That objects in the aquarium can effectively conflate reality, the dream, imagination, or desire in such a way that skirts around the censorship of rationalist discourse and the flattening of hyper-social media; that we still insist on presenting our creatures with a playground of the marvellous.
*It’s fortuitous that we were furnished with an older aquatic text, Mattias Forshage’s Notorious Bathyscopy, where you will find, if you look carefully, that it predicts through the uncanny and ever-proven power of automatist prestidigitation, very many of the games and themes of the entire issue. I myself remarked its uncannily accurate description of both Surrealist Battleships: “A naval battle was playing, but it did not resemble the game of chess of the ships in bottles.” And also Marine Philozoophy: “Because such a philosophical fish soup couldn’t fill the stomach of anyone in the entire zoo”. Perhaps it could be sifted through for even more insight…
The enemies of poetry have always been obsessed with making it a slave to their immediate ends. They see jet bombers without thinking of Icarus.
On December 19, 2016, the gatekeepers of discourse at Miriam-Webster Dictionary named “surreal” as its Word of the Year.
Far from taking this dubious distinction as a compliment, the living surrealist movement is appalled by Webster’s simplistic, distorted and one-dimensional characterization of the term “surreal” as being relegated to descriptions of disaster situations. As surrealists, we must speak for ourselves to provide a larger surrealist context for understanding the deeper questions of why such disasters happen in the first place and how to transform the present reality of which they are the inevitable byproduct.
According to the Dictionary’s editor, Peter Sokolowski, “Miriam-Webster, which first began tracking
If “surreal’ is to be remembered as the “go-to” word for 2016, let it be recalled for all of its many wonders rather than being stereotyped as merely a descriptor for the malaise associated with terrorism and electoral politics and the terrorism of electoral politics. It is true that the word “surreal” brilliantly evokes that visceral sense of the uncanny associated with such strangely unsettling events, but it is capable of doing so much more. Sokolowski demonstrates his ignorance of surrealism by saying, “I believe there are words such as surreal or love that help us grapple with things difficult to understand”. If he had spent any time at all attempting to understand the subversive qualities of the “surreal” rather than concentrating his attention on mitigating the horrors of the real, he would not have juxtaposed surrealism and love. Love is not foreign to surrealism, but is one of its guiding inspirations along with Liberty and Poetry.
Hands off the word “surreal”! Release it from the miserabilist Procrustean chopping block where Webster has editorially imprisoned it, and let its convulsive beauty illuminate not only the dystopian nightmare but the utopian dream of a world in which we can all live more poetic lives. And rest assured that what we surrealists call the Marvelous will be the playing field for our passional attractions not just for the year 2016 but for the entirety of the 21st century.
Ron Sakolsky, Inner Island Surrealist Group
SC: The desire has come to me recently to step back and “file a report” on the mailings we have been pursuing for the past two years. We started with the primary goal of creating a sort of catalyst for the “mailbox marvelous”. After all, who hasn’t formed a certain connection with this mysterious box which sits outside of all our houses, this strange fountain of daily unpredictability? Always for me a certain mixture of hope and fear as the box is opened, with most experiences leading of course to disappointment. One has to wonder— did Ted Kaczynski really want to overthrow industrial society, or was he just a violent man in love with postal surprises? On the flip side, even the Corporate Cthulhu has caught on to this desire in recent years, releasing a plethora of banal subscription box services for the more desperate and deluded seekers of postal adventure. But still in the back of all our minds sits the strange feeling that somehow these constant bills and spam are wrong, morally wrong, sick in fact — and that this little box is meant for greater things. Due to the ephemeral nature of the project, the vast majority of it all is who-knows-where, but I’ve made an attempt to gather up what myself and others have documented. A few descriptions and examples follow.
CC: The post is an excellent means by which to generate art as an interactive and tactile experience. So much of the way we share art with each other is digital. Or even if we are viewing art at a gallery, it is still usually a flat image on a wall or a cordoned-off sculpture. Visual art thus organized is an input only, valuable of course, but somewhat distanced from the viewer. Published writing also takes on a kind of distance through medium, though it can still feel very intimate as it speaks directly to our minds. Very seldom are we allowed let alone invited to touch, manipulate, and alter art. With mail art, particularly surrealist mail art, both the sender and the receiver are given a unique experience and connection with each other. The sender puts together the package or envelope with a specific person in mind, creating the finished or partial art or objects, getting it ready for mailing, and sending it out to that person who could be almost anywhere in the world. The receiver gets a mysterious and marvelous experience when they open the mailbox to find an unexpected package that could contain anything. Opening the package and perusing its contents, the recipient gets to feel the objects contained within and see them up close. They can then keep these to be experienced again at a later date or alter them and send them back to the sender or a new recipient, keeping the experience an ongoing collective one.
SC: We started off making elaborate and time-consuming “packages”, in concept something more like a Cornell box in an envelope. Collaboration was never actually intended and was a factor completely overlooked by us, though some surrealists ignored our intentions added to them anyway! This alerted us to that rather obvious factor – that our mailings could (perhaps should) be a two-way conversation. No photos remain of these that I know of.
SC: The postcard phase started with these rules:
1. Grab a postcard. Collage the front or parts of the back if you like, but leave space for writing.
2. Choose two imaginary names at random – one for the person addressed, and one for you.
3. Write automatically in the form of a correspondence and mail to anyone.
These were of course abandoned after a time in favor of an “anything goes” approach. The postcard has proven to be the most participated in phase. Collage & writing sew together in a quick and liberating back-and-forth. Jay also used a postcard as material for a digital response.
JA: Someone is on vacation. They are sending me unasked for mementos of uncanny, frankly suspicious locations. I am put-out. What are these sightings? Are they tourist traps? Are they evidence of a poetic rupture? Or a derangement of the proverbial scenic route? “Ogopogo or Piero de Cosimo?” I am asked to choose between the monster I was obsessed with when I was 7 (I owned many bestiaries) and the painter of Andromedan sea-monsters. A mystic mandrake beneath a poet’s bridge. Eventually I find myself responding to these curious stopping points with dreadful sightings of my own. I fling them into the post-box and only afterwards think about where I might have been.
SC: Andrew joined in first. One of us would send a background, which would then be added to and mailed back and forth to each other until finished, creating beautiful images of people and animals in transformation. Johnny took a crazier approach, sending us large packets of snippets which we might add to or merely be confused by, which we then returned with more snippets which he would transform in bizarre ways. This process has been very freeing, a non-goal oriented approach and very automatic. From Tim came a 60 page collage book filled with wonder, and using a few of the pieces we’d mailed him over the year.
JA: There are monthly infiltrators interleaved between the orthodox flyers and bills. The mailbox transforms its internal atmosphere; from a utilitarian extension of the office it suddenly seems more like a bird’s nest for the marvelous. Ephemeralities? Raptures? Odds and ends, announcing the birth of a new moon? Or perhaps these are the new go(e)thic aquaria we saw on our sea journey; encapsulated, electrically back-lit, but evocative of an alternate life. Obscure and confident communications from a demoralized agency, often instructional in nature, and very likely to have a direct bearing on my everyday life in a most unexpected and dramatic way. Booklets that mimic with cruelly black and blue humor the digital alarm clock’s step-by-step commandments, but from a reverse technicolor shadow-realm. We keep everything but fish in these. They bring me dreams, obscure narratives, alerts. They traumatize my city (Ottawa) with pathetic environmental resonances. I can cite three instances: in Rapture 17, a narrative poetic sequence about oneiric sinkholes seem to coincide in its appearance with an epic sinkhole in the city’s downtown core. “Where did this sinkhole come from?” it asks me. A public lecture on local butterflies coincides with the arrival of a whole series of Dream Zines, Ephemeralities and Raptures swarming with ominous lepidoptera, which, apparently found my ecosystem suddenly suitable for paranoiac intrusion. As for the great sewage backup in the basement of a typical office space, I can only attribute its subjective cause to the untimely arrival of a Rapture which contained an unwholesome advertisement for the “Miniature Enthusiasts of Ottawa” along with an image of a loathsome, brown, cacophallic tentacle emerging from a basement door. We can only hope that future disasters are big enough to wipe out all memory of their occurrence, and leave us dumbfounded with the lemonade sea we are craving. To quote Ephemerality 2: “Everything designates that a great reversal is at hand.”
Surrealism as a cultural force does not remain an existent and discussed phenomenon because of technology or any of the developments since Breton’s group. It is a chthonic, primal force with roots in shamanism, primitive cultures, and every last magical, obscure secret in the history of magic. Every bejeweled rock which remains unturned is the fuel for the surrealist quest.
Pharisees continue as they do, drowning themselves in the University safes filled with the carbonation of cowardice’s wine and on demand vanity. As academia falls apart (and academia was never an intended facet of Surrealism; indeed, it was something to be scorned) we can expect the faculty to behave as they always have; worse, actually.
Now the world faces the actual threat of global fascism. However much we wax our denial systems up this is and will be the case. The election of Donald Trump to the Presidential office is a nightmare of such severity that it is almost impossible to contextualize. Taking the attitude that since the system is just monstrous anyway and we therefore should be happy is bad faith.
Though those who consistently shun the full mile in Surrealism (meanwhile one can only inhale this bitter gnosis by going beyond the final mile at least once) and insist it is some form of solipsistic masturbation, this is the time for absolute revolt. If one is not finding ways to take Donald Trump and his capitalist minions, filled to the head with pyrite gold and scorn for life, one is not living up to the bar set up by Breton, Desnos, Eluard, Peret, Carrington, or even Andre Gide.
Attending a protest before the possibility of this dystopian cape falling on our faces actualized itself, I noticed a tremendous energy particularly on the people who had to eat verbal diarrhea from Trump: the minorities. The second time there was a figure who incarnated revolt in a very real sense; a lone figure on a cold day in November holding his sign, bringing out multifaceted pictures of his family, his home, and who he was apart from trump’s derisive negations of Mexicans as “rapists” and “criminals”.
Trump is made inside and outside of the putrid materials we have pledged a lifelong fight against. In just a few days he will be able to do whatever he wants with the United States, and his malicious disasters will spill into countries like Brazil, Germany, Belgium.
I believe it is time to unite outside Trump Towers as one, as a surrealist collective, and refuse to leave.
John Thomas Allen
author of: The Lighthouse Above The Graveyard: A Surrealist Seance
with Alan Gullette
Spectre by Deborah Stevenson
a botany of regurgitated mountains,
a shard of samurai –
the Turin shroud chewed by rotten teeth
flames of unguent giraffe
in a legato of air signs –
alkaline in cerulean
glutinous geometries merge
as pyroclastic salons
pulverise a triad of gametes
vapours of fresh coelacanth rising
a euphemism of fungi
frosting violet stigmata
glittering mummy dust falls
on Jurassic megaliths –
as they collapse into imminent spaces