Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A DIALOGUE ON THE IMAGE AND ITS TRANSMUTATIONS

In October 2006 the Athens Surrealist Group and the Group of Czech and Slovak Surrealists jointly held an exhibition in Athens called Fantasy of Reality. Some photographs from the exhibition can be found here. To accompany this exhibition the Athens Surrealist Group also circulated a document titled Rendering the Image Back to its Transmutations, which was subsequently translated into English and circulated around the international Surrealist movement. The text of this document can be found in Greek and English here or in English only here.
Below we have transcribed a discussion of this document between Merl (SLAG) and Nikos Stabakis (Athens Surrealist Group). We are publishing it here as an invitation to you to get involved in the discussion with us, either through the Comments facility of this blog or by email.


From Merl, 12th November
Hello Nikos
It was a real pleasure to hear the news of your exhibition in Athens and to read the paper that accompanied it. I was particularly intrigued by the questionnaire at the exhibition and the forms of interaction that it enabled with the audience. I certainly don't envy you all the task of analysing those 200 questionnaires but I will be waiting very keenly to hear the results. As for the paper issued by your group, most of it of course I agreed with and liked very much. I found the discussion of "being-at-stake" quite elegant. But there are also a few things that I disagree with and/or have questions about. There's an element of the "straw man" to the paper which appears to be arguing with an opponent that doesn't really exist -- or perhaps I had better say, whose existence I don't know about. I don't know who it is who is supposed to have called for Surrealists to cease the creation of images. As far as I am aware, those who have been associated with poetic materialism (which now includes SLAG as well as various people in Stockholm and Madrid) have not done so, for example (and I can't think who else you might have had in mind when writing the paper, although as I say that may just be my ignorance). The poetic materialist critique is not of the creation of images as such but of the material conditions of their exchange and consumption, and of the ways in which those material conditions (according to the argument) inevitably neutralise the images' subversive potential. I take it that your position is that such neutralisation is neither inevitable nor total, and you may be correct, but as it stands there is nothing in the paper to persuade me of this position. A great deal of faith is placed in the power of the image, but it appears simply as faith: the paper simply asserts that images continue to have revolutionary/subversive powers, without addressing the concrete material conditions which would make those powers actualisable. If you reject the analysis of society which is offered in, say, The False Mirror then you need to say what alternative analysis you are proposing, so that we can really weigh up the arguments on either side. Of course I realise that this was just a short paper and not intended to be a long or detailed social analysis, but it points to larger questions which I think are important and which it would be fruitful for all of us to discuss at much greater length.

From Nikos, 12th November
Hi Merl,
Now, if total agreements are perhaps impossible when it comes to finding ways to operate within, and against, a context that tends to assimilate all subversive intervention, the important point is that the desirous function of images precedes their aesthetic and/or commercial uses. The problem is whether the rejection of images produced for 'aesthetic contemplation' may indeed problematize all pictorial production, or whether the conditions under which images are perceived may be adapted to alternative kinds of presentation and encourage an authentically interactive relationship to their perceivers/co-creators. A statement to the effect that the surrealist movement exists and involves a whole different set of priorities than the establishment or repetition of a 'style' was one of the exhibition's major points, another one being the impressive response to the questionnaires. But, this being an evolving set of practices, it is important to point out that being fully aware of the many pitfalls plaguing pictorial expression neither provides a ready way to annul the said pitfalls nor should encourage the temptation to withdraw from such expression altogether--a temptation that does exist, to the very extent that a sense of futility underlies thus the actualisation of images. If «such neutralisation» actually is inevitable and/or total, should the image cease to manifest itself--and, if not, how might it be articulated and distributed, other than in the context of an evolving discourse that would increasingly tend to reject the official surroundings of 'aesthetic consumption'? If the paper seems an open question, so be it--but can it be any other way? It is not about 'straw men,' but rather about dealing with implicit questions: do the identified difficulties regarding subversive potential ultimately preclude the expression of images that actually occur, and if not how should these be articulated? And how could they involve their receivers in a discourse other than that of passive consumption?
I'd be interested to know SLAG's views on how these matters may be concretely dealt with.

From Merl, 29th November
I think there are two points on which I am doubtful about your argument, and I should start by stressing that they are doubts (in the sense of an evolving discourse and set of practices) rather than hard-and-fast objections.
Firstly, you say that "the desirous function of images precedes their aesthetic and/or commercial uses". I am not so sure. This seems to rest on a notion that desire is somehow pre-social, pre-cultural, existing in/arising from some pristine realm of the mind or body which has not yet been corrupted by the Spectacle. I don't believe in such purity of desire. Desire always comes into being in the context of pre-existing material conditions, and is shaped (though not of course wholly determined) by those conditions. That is why, for example, Trost & Luca (in that paper I can't stop quoting because I adore it so much) declare war on Oedipal desire -- it both arises from and perpetuates a particular set of material conditions which are inimical to freedom. (It's also why I rejected the notion of desire as primary to eroticism in that erotic manifesto Paul Cross and I wrote at the beginning of this year.) The fact that images, automatic or otherwise, spring from desire does not mean that they are not already implicated in the Spectacle, because desire itself is already so implicated. This would mean that surrealists need to conduct some serious interrogation of desire as such, rather than appeal to it as a guarantor of integrity, validity or authenticity. I would see this as an important post-bretonian development in surrealism, and it's one of the tasks I am personally most engaged with.
Secondly, this whole discussion appears to rest on the unquestioned assumption that images must somehow be expressed. Must they? Why? Let's just imagine for example that we really did give into this supposed temptation to cease the distribution of images. What disaster would befall us? Wouldn't that actually be quite an interesting experiment -- to cease all circulation of images for a limited period, just to see what else might start happening instead? Ok, I'm being deliberately provocative, but not idly so; I truly don't see why we should take it for granted that "the image must not cease to manifest itself", and I certainly don't see why we should necessarily be afraid to experiment in that direction. It could prove fruitful, in ways that might surprise us and that might generate some genuinely new surrealist discoveries.
As for how SLAG deals concretely with these matters -- well, all group activity is constantly in a state of flux of course, and even more so in our case at the moment when there are new people at the meetings and new ideas, schemes and priorities being thrown into the pot all the time. But in terms of concrete priorities for group activity, I think it's fair to say that we are all agreed that public exhibitions, or other types of events which place people in the position of the "audience", are not something we consider interesting or important for us to do. Our focus of discussion and activity in the last few months has been very game-based, with a strong emphasis on participation and poetic experience rather than on the production of images, objects or texts (although of course these do tend to get produced sometimes anyway, but we would see them I think as by-products rather than as ends in themselves). Some of the new people are less interested in games as such, and are trying to develop other forms of activity but always with an emphasis on participation and experience.

From Nikos, 30th November
I think your doubts refer to deliberately open questions on my part rather than ready arguments. One actually unequivocal statement ("the desirous function precedes etc.") merely refers to the conditions of the image's emergence as opposed to its reappropriation by institutional culture (that is, the urge to see and show, however 'innocent' or not, as opposed to producing a work that ends up assuring one's artistic credentials, being used to promote products and otherwise guaranteeing the neat and harmless sectorization of the image). Of course it is a reappropriation insofar as it emerges from material conditions in the first place, and thus is in no way pure; so, can its origins be profoundly questioned and subverted--would/should a desire whose essence is not a pre-social purity but the sole principles of transformation and incompleteness then manifest itself, and if not how and why? If we try in practice the (conditional or not) abolition of images, would not other parts of our lives (including dream of course) be invested with a kind of otherwise unfulfilled potential that, granted, far from being a sign of purity, nevertheless exists? Would the ceasing of images not actually inform/condition the interesting things that might certainly happen then, and which are no less subject to material factors? The thing is, it is not really a matter of 'disagreement,' insofar as we are faced with the question of where the said 'interesting things' in general come from and where they lead us ('somewhere,' Breton was right on this count--to the extent that we are never aware that this 'somewhere' has been definitively reached). So if we accept such a limited (or indeed unlimited) stop on the flow of images, this could work as an experiment (as you put it), that is, an organized effort (which we may all agree upon and follow through). But by being an experiment it would still refer to the lack that shaped it. (And here we need more details: what form would it take? Would that involve dreams, and why are these not pictorial/susceptible to appropriation from the Spectacle? Would this 'lack' be felt as such, and if so would not the desire for image provide the outline to whatever 'happened'?)
I don't know, of course, to what extent exhibitions are particularly important or interesting in general, other than as a way to negotiate the possibilities for people to not be treated as 'audience,' even though they may think they are that upon visiting. To us, it actually was important for the extra reason that it pointed out our international perspective and helped generate awareness of groups. This is why we incorporated, not only the text you've read, which at least begins to pose some points for discussion, but also a questionnaire that encouraged interaction, even criticism. Obviously, nothing can provide absolute safety from some kind of 'authoritarianism' on the group's part, insofar as the responses are somehow bound to be assessed, and some may be seen as 'forced' in any case, but again it at least tries to pose questions. One in particular being, how do we actually, practically relate to people who are outside a group? Should we bother to establish such a connection? As we've agreed, you can hardly do this in the context of a poetry reading, obviously, and there are few possibilities by and large. Publication is one, but of what kind? And so forth.

From Merl, 8th December
All of the questions you ask about what might happen if we ceased the display/circulation of images (whether and how dreams would be included, how the lack itself would shape the outcome of the experiment, how the unfulfilled potential might shift to other parts of our lives) are good ones, and what's more they are questions that cannot be answered a priori but only by actually conducting the experiment. In fact you may be on the way to inadvertently persuading me that we really should conduct this experiment after all, to find out what would happen to the imagination, desire, creativity etc. under such conditions. Maybe something interesting would come out of the experiment, maybe not. I think the movement should be ready to make such experiments and to take the risk that they may occasionally fail or meet dead-ends.
Of course I agree with you about the need to communicate outside the group, and indeed outside the movement. But I'm by no means sure that exhibitions are an effective way to do that, at least not if what one wants to communicate is the experience of the Marvellous itself, or the possibility of revolutionary change on any level. Of course if one simply wants to demonstrate the ongoing (and international) existence of the surrealist movement, then an exhibition is as good a way of doing that as any, and may be no better or worse in that respect than a poetry reading. But if one wants to communicate something more than the simple fact of our existence, I don't think exhibitions in themselves are going to do it. Of course you made this event more interactive with the questionnaire and so on, and the question really is what you will do next with all of that material, and how if at all the respondents might be provoked into any kind of genuinely poetic experience of their own beyond the simple pleasure (or not) of looking at the images in the exhibition. I don't know the answer to that question, which is why I think we might need to conduct some fairly radical experiments to try to figure it out.

From Nikos, 8th December
I'm not sure either. This particular exhibition happened in the context of a comic magazines festival, which by and large draws hordes of more or less young people, some of whom are reasonably interesting; of course, by the same stroke, it attracts very few visitors of the National Gallery. The fact that so many were seriously interested in the exhibition was, to me, more important than any poetry reading could ever be. But I don't think that exhibitions can go very far in themselves; we are not likely to pursue this systematically, in fact this was but a fairly successful attempt to spread some info on the actuality of surrealism. To that extent, it was not without its merits, but that is all.
The question is, how we can organize an experiment of the sort you envision, and what its possible outcome would have to offer in terms of conclusions regarding future ventures. If the experiment refers explicitly to the (temporary or not) rejection of imagistic expression, it will thereby immediately draw attention to the importance of images, and this is the main problem I can identify, especially insofar as very few of us in the international movement are really involved in image-making as what one might call a 'specialty'; for instance, I did exhibit (for the first and very likely the last time) some of the pictures/collages that occurred from my participation in a collective game, but the visible nature of the said pictures made it clear that they did not derive from a wish to create an artistic oeuvre; so I wonder what my, and many other people's, participation in such an experiment would be--perhaps the abolition of any image-making process, which would obviously include poetry as well. You have to make this clear and set specific rules. Then I'm all for it, although as I said I'm not sure what exactly it would involve.

From Merl, 13th December
Well, I'm not making a serious concrete proposal about this experiment, or at least not yet. I'm just speculating and hypothesising here. Maybe once we've had a bit of time for the new members of SLAG to settle in and consolidate the group we could start thinking about it more seriously. Yes, I agree that any proposal to suspend the production of images would itself focus attention on images, but I don't see that as a problem, on the contrary it would be a good opportunity for us all to step back and think about the place of image-making in Surrealism. I don't agree that it would also involve the suspension of poetry, since what's at issue is very specifically the place of the visual in contemporary consumer culture.

From Nikos, 13th December
Why is not poetry involved in this? The surrealist image tends to become visible--"Donner à voir," as Eluard (yes, I know...) famously put it. Of course, in poetry it is not stabilized, as in a painting or photo, but does it not derive from the same materials as a visual work, whilst of course being less patronizing in its imposition of an ultimate form? Those surrealist pictorial works whose principles were most enthusiastically appropriated by the cultural establishment in its numerous forms are precisely those that retain the sharply dialectical essence of an elementary automatic phrase/image, only to be contained by their integration into spectacular consumption. This, as I've said, does not mean that the principle behind their occurrence was dictated by their subsequent use.
Besides, is not poetry equally problematic for the exact opposite reason? Unlike painting, film or photography, poetry--to the extent that it remains in the realm of written expression, as opposed to plainly 'lived' poetry--is simultaneously cheap to produce/consume and stupidly 'precious.' I'm obviously referring to the standard non-surrealist lot, as in "so-and-so is a poet," but printed poetry or poetry readings cannot be totally removed from the realm of an increasingly obsolete cultural institution. Might not (and I'm also speculating here) the knowing use of images within a culture governed by the Spectacle incorporate a criticism that would be more socially/culturally relevant? Perhaps not, but how can writing get away with it, when it is immediately claimed by 'literary expression/experimentation'?
The reason I insist on concrete proposals is that otherwise we cannot but either accept the continuing propagation of images to start with or denounce it out of hand. This is why one feels the need to explain oneself in the case of, say, an exhibition--as in our text; this cannot go very far, but is an initial clarification as to why, at this stage at least, there is an actual choice to be made. So we need to move beyond merely opposing the aesthetic or consumerist use of images, and into analyzing what the images mean to us and how we can perhaps destroy their allure by pointing out either their distortion by standardized use or their dubious nature.

From Merl, 17th December
The knowing use of images to incorporate social/cultural criticism is of course the purpose (or one of the purposes) of practices such as détournement, which was being deployed by surrealists long before the situationists got hold of it. It probably still has such potential in certain cases, but always greatly weakened by its incorporation into popular cultural forms, notably advertising.
The reason why poetry is not in the same position as visual images in relation to the Spectacle is because of the fundamentally visual nature of the latter. In the Society of the Spectacle, alienation takes place not just through the mediation of human relationships by commodities (i.e. good old-fashioned commodity fetishism) but through the mediation of human relationships by images. Of course, any and all cultural forms in general are commodified under such conditions, including poetry, but the point about the Spectacle is that it involves something more than the commodification of culture in the good old-fashioned sense -- something more even than the commodification of images -- it involves commodification by images. That's the whole point of the critique of the image which some of us have been making. Of course, as you have already said, we're talking here about poetry in the narrow "cultural" sense of the written (or spoken) word, and not about poetry in its widest (truest) surrealist sense, the poetry that is lived. It's precisely in the name of that true poetry that the Spectacle must be overthrown, as you certainly don't need me to tell you!
Before one can make concrete proposals for any kind of experiment or other activity one must first spend time discussing ideas and formulating hypotheses, which is precisely what I think you and I have been doing in this discussion so far ...

From Nikos, 18th December
The persistent point is, where do you draw the line? The reason I mentioned poetry is precisely that the Spectacle cannot be just about innocent images that become commodified but, rather, about human activities themselves becoming commodified by images, irrespective of the original urge underlying the latter's emergence. So "standard" poetry, whilst using speech, still derives from a desire for image, and therefore draws from the same array of materials as that which feeds potential images; how else can one understand the mediation of experience by image? Lived poetry itself, dealing as it would be with a rearrangement of the visible world's aspects according to some notion of desire, would thus still be informed by already consumed images; so, 'critique' may well mean 'subversive use,' and the utilitarian nature of advertising (the closure it effects upon image) is a historically possible context for such subversive play. Other than that, we have certainly been discussing the possibility of ideas, as opposed to actual ideas, so we need to move beyond that.

Notes:
The Madrid Surrealist Group's document The False Mirror, to which Merl and Nikos occasionally refer, can be found in English here. SLAG's response to The False Mirror can be found here.
The concept of the Society of the Spectacle was first elaborated by Guy Debord, whose key writings on the subject can be found in English here and here.
Parts of the discussion above touch on issues which have also been raised by the Stockholm Surrealist Group's recent document Voices of the Hell Choir, which can be found as a blog entry here or as a pdf file here.

5 comments:

martin marriott said...

Hi! One part of assessing the exhibition is to look at the photographs. Of course, there will have been all kinds of organisational hassle, money issues, bureaucratic limitations, etc. And the pictures were selected, and may be cropped and altered. However, I can't resist the feeling, looking at them, that some people had a damn good time!
I am not making a small point here.
This is to do with the poetry of life. This is to do with the social and political situation in Greece. This is to do with bodies, and discipline, suprise, alertness, and joy.

In addition to the questionaires, there is much more valuable information to be gleaned. The various body-languages of the participants (surrealists as well as non-surrealists.) Who folded their arms and leant away from an image? who fearlessly poked their arm into that black cloth? who wouldn't? who giggled but did it anyway? was their body more open, more centered, as they walked away? who's eyes met who's eyes, and lingered there? what was their silent message? were handshakes of different and varying levels? what undertones of hatred and love were in polite thankyou's? how did it change how the surrealists felt toward each other? and many, many more. Who felt more self-respect in the morning when they returned to their day-jobs? What physical intimacies, of what kinds, took place during and after (both surrealists and others) and many, many more to ponder and eat, in absorbing 'how it went.'

Any discussion on the visual image can become, regardless of intention, idealist, unless one jumps onto the Beagle. I think most of us know how big, in physical weight alone, Darwin's Origins and Marx's Capital are. That's what historical materialism/poetic materialism looks like. It's scientific. Its a massive collecting of data, of what IS.

Marxism is not a theory but a movement. Philosophy has been replaced by the natural sciences. The point is not to interperet the world. They said it a million times in a million ways. The truth is always concrete, said Lenin. The truth is always concrete. The truth is always concrete.

And its the deep road away from miserabilism, into joy and spontaneity. Why? Again, Engels:
"Freedom is the recognition of neccessity."

Eugenio Castro said...

Dice Nikos Stabakis: the desirous function of images precedes their aesthetic and/or commercial uses (...) One actually unequivocal statement ("the desirous function precedes etc.") merely refers to the conditions of the image's emergence as opposed to its reappropriation by institutional culture (that is, the urge to see and show, however 'innocent' or not, as opposed to producing a work that ends up assuring one's artistic credentials, being used to promote products and otherwise guaranteeing the neat and harmless sectorization of the image).

Eugenio Castro:
Estimo que el deseo no es una fórmula que garantice la libertad de una imagen (de una creación subjetiva) ni su supuesto potencial subversivo. Como argumento hecho desde el surrealismo, lo encuentro vago. De hecho, cualquier imagen, cantemplada bajo el auspicio del deseo así confiado, sería entonces portadora de ese potencial subversivo. Bien, la publicidad contiene su deseo, la mercancia contiene su deseo, los bancos también, etc, y de hecho están subviertiendo plenamente la realidad... pero en un sentido involucionista que atenta contra el principio de realidad. En mi opinión, aquí reside para mí una de las cuestiones principales relativas a la discusión sobre la imagen: pensar dónde la imagen se ha separado de esa libertad y dónde, a través de su uso, contribuye a aumentar esa separación; pensar, desde el surrealismo, mediante sus prácticas experimentales, cuál podría sería en nuestros días la imagen de la libertad, sus representaciones. Algunos de nosotros ya lo hemos dicho en otro momento y lugar, y, en lo que a mí respecta, vuelvo a pronunciarlo: es preciso tomar conciencia de la crisis de imaginación en el marco del surrealismo con respecto a la que podría ser la inédita morfología de sus representaciones. Y, me parece, éstas no pasan por las que los surrealista de hoy hacemos. Creo, incluso, que es necesario incorporar un elemento aparentemente contradictorio en esta nueva búsqueda. De este modo: "yo no contemplaría contradictorio introducir cierto componente conceptual (el trabajo con la imagen -y/o con la palabra- y su encuentro con su inconsciente externo) que, entrando en relación dialéctica con la visión (con el plano particular afectivo y sensitivo) contribuyera a ampliar el proceso experimental, mas no necesariamente, en un principio, por expansión, sino por discriminación. Me explico: ese componente, que no es insensible, podría obrar como limitador de toda arbitrariedad cuando ésta acabase por gustarse a sí misma (una tendencia demasiado facilota y baldía), redefiniendo el sentido de la imagen surrealista (visual y escrita). Menos paradójico de lo que pudiera creerse, por ser resultado de su injerencia, esa discriminación contribuiría a reevaluar la significación de la poética surrealista (insisto, en lo visual y en la escritura) como agente de libertad, pues a partir suyo se podría esperar una restitución de la correspondencia con las imágenes y con las palabras que evitase el deslizamiento insensible hacia la ortodoxia, participando, al contrario, de su fuerte tensión interna (la reflexión de René Magritte sobre las imágenes y las cosas, a causa de su completa vigencia, es aquí preeminente en su traslación a nuestra discusión)" (E. C., respuesta a una "Encuesta sobre la poesía").


Utiliza Nikos Stabakis en distintas ocasiones la palabra exhibitions y alude a ellas como uno de los medios, todavía principales, de intervención surrealista en la esfera pública.

Eugenio Castro:
Deseo pensar que existen otras fórmulas mucho más propicias y reales, porque, entre otras cosas, conducen, simbólica y conceptualmente, un componente político neto que vence la debilidad del concepto de exposición. No digo que esta fórmula que sugiero sea la fórmula exacta (espero que se me comprenda en este punto), sino que abre posibilidades de contagio más plausibles desde su mismo fundamento político y no "artístico". Me refiero a la denominación "Jornadas surrealistas" (en el grupo de Madrid venimos empleándola en los útimos años). ¿Por qué "Jornadas"? Justamente porque amplía el campo de intervenciones y manifestaciones (conferencias sobre "temas" previamente elegidos y de primera importancia por su oportunidad histórica y actual; acciones poéticas anónimas -nadie tiene por qué saber de la existencia de su ejecución- en la calle; juegos inventados pero que se jugarán in situ por primera vez; lecturas, si se quiere, de poemas (o la forma de representarlos que se invente)... Sin embargo, y a su vez, esa ampliación que desplaza la denominación "Jornadas" comienza, paradójicamente, por un cierre: limitar el protagonismo de la exposición como vehículo mayor de manifestación externa de la aventura surrealista (las exposiciones históricas del surrealismo son, sencillamente, irrepetibles, y mejor que así sea).
¿Por qué limitar la exposición susodicha? Estimo que esta fórmula resulta hoy conservadora, es más, regresiva, en la medida en que contribuye (todavía más si está aislada de un discurso que irremediablemente debe acompañar toda intervención surrealista en la vida pública y cultural), más que a emancipar la imagen, a "enajenar la imaginación mediante la colonización del imaginario por la imagen". Al menos hasta que no se resuelva esta dicotomía flagrante, la "fórmula exposición" resulta, en el marco del surrealismo, negadora de su principio de libertad.

Por lo demás, toda nueva injerencia en el fenómeno imagen, hecha desde el surrealismo, en su vertiente "creadora", me parece que debería estar asistida por un principio experimental que terminase en sí mismo tan pronto como la revelación que lo hubiera dado a la luz y su intensidad integral desaparecieran o empezaran a convertirse en la repetición estéril de lo mismo. Es en este sentido, también, que apelo al componente conceptual antes aludido (que en nada niega la cualidad visionaria, poética, analógica, simbólica de la imagen que pudiera identificarse con la creación en el surrealismo -vuelvo a Magritte, a Nougé y sus "imágenes prohibidas", al objeto surrealista en su casi totalidad -el gran hallazgo del surrealismo, hoy por hoy insuperable- y a la fotografía a partir de Emila Medkova...).

Eugenio Castro: Sin embargo, lo que más me ha llamado la atención, por decir poco, en todo este diálogo reside en la utilización, por parte de Nikos Stabakis, de la siguiente expresión: "Obviously, nothing can provide absolute safety from some kind of 'authoritarianism' on the group's part...". Solicito de Nikos Stabakis que precise qué quiere decir al hacer esta manifestación. Y si es que presupone que existe una disposición o actitud "autoritaria" entre los grupos surrealistas o en algún grupo surrealista en la actual comunidad internacional surrealista.Y cuál sería esa disposición o actitud.

Surrealist Group of Rio de la Plata said...

Nos preguntamos si tantos esfuerzos encaminados a defender la "exposición de la imagen" (y, consecuentemente, la imagen servida en el marco de una exposición), realmente obedecen a una preocupación seria de índole intelectual o si, por el contrario, obedecen a otro interés diverso. Tenemos derecho de hacernos esta pregunta, porque ya hemos visto en América Latina (Ref. nuestro texto del 2006 Unmistikable Miserabilism Signs: Derrame Group from Santiago de Chile) dónde conducen unos debates que, en el mejor de los casos, rutinariamente plantean "actos de fe" (como los define Merl Storr con exactitud), por sobre –o al margen de– mínimas consideraciones en el contexto político-social y cultural.

En un continente que, como el africano, registra una de las cotas más altas de miseria y desigualdad, donde la mortandad infantil roza los niveles del espanto, es un hecho –en apariencia paradojal– que la pintura más cotizada y recomendada para hacer "inversiones" resulte la de los surrealistas Roberto Matta y Wifredo Lam y, asimismo, la de Frida Kahlo de Rivera… Por el momento ningún poeta cotiza en bolsa, y es apenas reeditado. Curiosamente, Enrique Molina, César Moro o Aimé Césaire no tienen émulos. Por lo demás, la de los tiempos del supuesto "fin de los grandes discursos" es una poesía abstracta, una flor del aire. Pero por una de esas maravillas de la "universalidad" de la imagen, por su particular situación en el Mercado del Arte, por el pathos actual o por lo que fuere, la pintura hoy –y en especial la pintura surrealista– es una cantera. Cualquiera sea la opinión que se pueda tener sobre la conveniencia o no de "montar una exposición", desde este momento es imposible hacerlo obviando este dato. Lo decimos porque ni se menciona, y se diría que sólo se trata de "colgar cuadros".

Desde luego, por poco que "el viento de la calle" o las "condiciones de la vida" tengan el poder de agitar nuestra existencia, nuestros pensamientos, nuestros actos, no es posible hacer caso omiso de las condiciones materiales que subyacen cada vez que se invocan las imágenes del deseo. En efecto, estas no son preexistentes a la cultura y la sociedad en que se manifiestan. Pero si hay un deseo ("será justo reconocer que nos ha sido dada una libertad suma": André Breton) no cabe duda de que es al precio de una ruptura y, con mucha mayor razón, de una victoria –por pequeña que ésta fuera– que obtuviésemos por sobre los miserables designios generales de la sociedad: nunca a través de gestos conciliadores o complacientes.

¿Conservan todavía las exposiciones surrealistas esa dignidad que antaño se les reconocía, como la de suscitar una faceta de "baile de los malditos" (por la de Londres de 1937 –la que, por cierto, se había dado en un contexto de huelgas generales en Francia, "sin precedentes", y en pleno auge de la revolución española)? ¿Se aprecian hoy los mismos rostros que aquellos que se reflejaban en las vitrinas en la exposición de L'Écart absolu, que reproduce el nº 1 de "L'Archibras", en París, en abril de 1967? Las comparaciones lastiman, y miden la distancia de todo aquello que hemos perdido a lo largo de la historia. Y muestran también, como para que pongamos atención en ello, la situación actual de los Vasos Comunicantes, su relación entre lo social y lo cultural, entre lo individual y lo colectivo.

Habíamos tenido oportunidad de conocer los contenidos de "El falso espejo", de nuestros amigos del Grupo Surrealista de Madrid y, en un primer momento, lo confesamos, no sin una cierta perplejidad o desconcierto. Al igual que algunos otros, que han llegado a leerlo últimamente o que le han cuestionado sin siquiera haberlo leído, nos había parecido que esta desconfianza radical, depositada por ellos en el uso actual de la imagen, podía estar en contradicción con la idea que nosotros nos hacíamos de esta misma "libertad suma", de la omnipotencia del deseo. Como si, en este terreno, un mínimo gesto de desconfianza pudiese transformarse en una suerte de "profecía autocumplida", tal como ocurre frecuentemente en los panoramas más sombríos de la Ciencia-Ficción. Nada, salvo una lobotomía, podría alienar en el hombre, de un modo durable o definitivo, su capacidad potencial de libertad.

Pero no se trataba de esto por supuesto. Y es lamentable que no se quisiese ver, que no se haya podido reconocer todavía, en el texto de Madrid, la grave advertencia de que es portador, su sentido profundo. Pues, ¿en qué condiciones quedan reducidos la "obra de arte" y los "artistas" en un mundo saturado por las "mercancías", e invadido por los "productores" y los "consumidores"? ¿Qué clase de rol subversivo aún podría jugar el surrealismo, y de qué manera le sería posible evitar su cooptación definitiva por este sistema de "valores"? Creemos, con los amigos del Grupo de Madrid, que no ha de ser por una regresión a los ideales artísticos del Renacimiento, ni por su inspiración en las nebulosas concepciones de la academia neo-platónica, ni por la promoción del artista a la categoría de semi-dios o manteniéndolo en las dependencias de la servidumbre de un moderno Mecenas… ¡No, no es así como se producirá el milagro!

Para nosotros la cuestión técnica de la producción de la imagen, de su ingeniería óptica en el marco de un materialismo poético (¿es que podría tratarse de algo más o de algo distinto?), es un problema a abordar de una extremada gravedad, una tarea que el surrealismo sin duda proseguirá, que no es ocioso que se plantee –pero que nunca debería realizarse "en abstracto". Otro problema, no menos urgente –pero a resolver cada uno de ellos en el terreno que le corresponde– es de índole político-social y cultural: si el sistema reclama para su supervivencia en sus infinitos tropismos y adaptaciones, para esclavizar al hombre sirviéndose de ellos, de unos instrumentos que antaño servían a los fines de la libertad, se debe buscar por todos los medios terminar con este sistema –y no, por ventura, apelando en este proceso a unas "fórmulas mágicas". ¿Cómo podría hacérselo desde la imagen exclusivamente, y, por otra parte, cómo el sistema podría ser derrotado sin ver seriamente afectada su arquitectura superestructural, o sin verse afectado? (1)

Cuando vemos a los discursos girar en el vacío, cuando observamos los "azul como una naranja" eluardianos multiplicándose hasta la estratósfera, las imágenes de clisé prolijamente ordenadas en hileras interminables, esto no debe llevarnos a la confusión o a embelesarnos estúpidamente: qué duda cabe que nos encontramos en presencia de un infra-realismo fantasmal. Hijas de su propia precariedad o hijas del cálculo (porque también hay notorios falsificadores, como ya lo habíamos denunciado oportunamente) estas "producciones" reflejan –por lo menos– una falta de contacto con la realidad. –Y en hartas ocasiones, su defección pura y simple. (2) Lo mismo sucede con el pretendido apoliticismo (que, como tantas veces se ha dicho, sólo ha podido servir para enmascarar las peores servidumbres), el antimaterialismo y la ausencia total de espíritu crítico. Pero nunca creímos, sinceramente, ver llegado el día en que surrealistas tildaran a otros surrealistas de "autoritarios", porque cuestionasen unos procedimientos que históricamente ningún surrealista dudaría en calificar como objetables, tales como por ejemplo los de asumir descarados compromisos con el Estado (3). Apelación que nos ha parecido por demás infeliz y desorbitada, y, probablemente, el fruto de esa desesperación conceptual que cobra víctimas a cada instante, que ya no puede dar cuenta ni de sus propias contradicciones , ni de sus más endebles "pactos de amistad o de comparecencia", o justificar sus más groseras torpezas.

Ahora bien, las peripecias de la imagen también juegan su baza aquí, por más que se nos diga que vivimos en los tiempos de la "flexibilización" y el escamoteo ritual y sostenido. Por más que todo alarde de comportamiento ético sea motejado de "inactual" o mancillado de "autoritario", "brutal" o "excesivo". Ni "Papas" ni "autoritarios", pues sería imposible hablar de una "Exposición Surrealista" –o del surrealismo en cualquier sentido–, si se llevara a cabo en compañía de:

Un policía, unos cuantos vividores, dos o tres alcahuetes de la literatura, muchos desequilibrados, un cretino, a quienes bien pueden unirse, sin que quepa formular objeción alguna, un reducido número de seres sensatos, duros y probos, que calificaremos de energúmenos…, ¿no son estos los tipos adecuados para formar un equipo divertido, inofensivo, fiel reflejo de la realidad de la vida, un equipo de destajistas, a tanto la línea? MERDE.

–André Breton, Segundo Manifiesto del Surrealismo.

Está bien que se les desenmascare, que esto también contribuye grandemente al descrédito de nuestras exposiciones. ¿Y quién lo hará? En la hora actual, debido a la dispersión mundial del surrealismo, debido al hecho de que no existe una mediación posible capaz de arbitrar o erigirse en el Centro mismo del Movimiento, todos y cada uno –individuos y grupos– deberían ser capaces de responder al llamado de su responsabilidad.


GRUPO SURREALISTA DEL RIO DE LA PLATA
Mariela ARZADUN, Celia GOURINSKY, Mónica MARCHESKY, Juan Carlos OTAÑO, Leandro RAMÍREZ, Ñancu RUPAY.

Buenos Aires / Montevideo
enero, 2007



(1) Nunca es redundante o perjudicial volver sobre las bases, volver a recordar lo que nos une, lo que nos convoca como grupo, en definitiva lo que nos duele como hombres ante el mundo, ante el descaro de su impunidad. Por algo nos llamamos surrealistas. No contribuyamos al vaciamiento del contenido ideológico propio de esta época. No contribuyamos a la trampa de deshistorizar y quitarle el peso político a nuestros actos. Contextualicemos los gestos, el sentido de los mismos surgirá de la tensión entre lo que hagamos público y lo que vivamos hacia dentro con nuestros sueños, deseos y hallazgos. La imagen que surja de lo que vivimos ante la realidad formal que nos abruma.

(2) Afirmar, como lo hace Stephen Clark, en "The Wineglass No Longer", que "en el lenguaje del surrealismo, la apreciación de lo sagrado y lo profano tienden a ser lo mismo" ["in the lenguage of Surrealism, the values of sacred and profane tend to do the same"], equivale a otorgar a lo "sagrado", al mismo tiempo que a lo "profano", un mismo status de autenticidad: supone que se trata de valores intrínsecamente inherentes a la condición humana. Se invita a ver en ello una "transgresión de lo habitual" ["transgression of the habitual"] y un rasgo de "iconoclastia" ["iconoclasm"], a la vez que una demostración de las "posibilidades imaginativas" ["imagiative possibility"]… Pero nosotros sostenemos que esta oposición forzada entre lo "sagrado" y lo "profano" sólo podría abogar en favor de un relativismo formal y en un rescate integral de nociones que son perfectamente extrañas al lenguaje surrealista. Cuando Péret redactaba un diario automático de sus experiencias sexuales, creemos que no pensaba que se estaba librando a actividades profanas; Leiris no creía, como Tutmosis al pie de la Esfinge, que sus sueños anotados en "Afrique Fantôme" tuviesen la más mínima conexión con lo sagrado. Y no se trata solamente de una cuestión de juegos de palabras…
Ni sagrada ni profana, la experiencia surrealista participa de lo humano en su totalidad, no pertenece al dominio de los valores conservadores disfrazados de valores revolucionarios, ni pacta jamás con el espíritu de indiferenciación, que parece ser una de las marcas predominantes de nuestra época.

(3) La carta que el Grupo de Madrid enviara al Grupo de París ("Desbrozar el camino"), en relación con el "affaire Derrame", al menos por lo que nosotros pudimos saber ni siquiera fue contestada. Hasta el antipático Sr. Lechuga, compadre del empresario Cecil Touchon, responsable de la multinacional Massurrealismo, del Museo del Collage y de otros deplorables emprendimientos, ¡hasta él tuvo el coraje de reaccionar para defender su "tiendita de los horrores"! Pero nunca lo hizo París.

Pearl Handel said...

We are grateful to our friends in the groups of Madrid and Rio de la Plata for their contributions to this discussion. However neither Nikos nor I can read Spanish, so we have not been able so far to respond any further. I have a feeling that one or two misunderstandings may have arisen between the English (or Greek) and Spanish speakers respectively, and hope to be able to clarify them when we have managed to get reliable translations into English of our friends' comments.

Merl

Rio de la Plata Surrealist Group said...

English translation by Oscar McLennan:

RESPONSE OF THE SURREALIST GROUP OF RIO DE LA PLATA TO "A DIALOGUE ON THE IMAGE AND ITS TRANSMUTATIONS":
SURREALISM WITHOUT WALLS.

We must ask ourselves if the great efforts being made to defend "the exhibition of the image" (and consequently the image served up within the framework of an exhibition) are due to concerns of an intellectual nature, or if there are other interests involved here. We have the right to ask this question, as we have already seen in Latin America (ref. our text of 2006 Unmistakable Miserabilism Signs: Derrame Group from Santiago de Chile) where these debates lead to, that routinely expound, in the best of cases, "acts of faith" (as so succinctly defined by Merl Storr), placing themselves above - or leaving on the margins - the least considerations of the political / social and cultural context.

In a continent where, as in Africa, exists one of the highest levels of extreme poverty and inequality in the world, where the infant mortality rates reach frightening proportions, it's a fact - in appearance paradoxical - that the paintings most in demand, and recommended as "investments" are those of the surrealists Roberto Matta and Wifredo Lam, and likewise those of Frida Kahlo de Rivera…For the moment no poet is quoted on the stock market, or hardly re-edited. Curiously Enrique Molina, César Moro or Aimé Césaire have no emulators. For the rest, those of the supposed time of the "end of the great discourses" it's an abstract poetry that is produced, a flower of the air without root or substance. But through one of these marvels of the "universatility" of the image, for its particular situation in the Art Market, for its current or previous pathos, painting today - and especially surrealist painting - is a goldmine. Whatever opinion one might have over the decision whether or not to "mount an exhibition", it's impossible to do so these days without taking this fact into account. We say this because it is never mentioned, and it is never just a case of "hanging a few pictures".

Of course, just as the "wind from the streets" or the "conditions of life" almost have the power to shake our very existence, to agitate our thoughts and direct our actions, so it isn't possible to ignore the underlying material conditions each time we invoke images of desire. Indeed they do not exist outwith the culture and society in which they manifest themselves. But if there is desire ("it is right to recognise that we have been given an absolute freedom" – André Breton) there is no doubt that it comes at the price of a rupture, and with much greater reason, of a victory - however small it may be - that we obtain over the generally wretched design of society, never through conciliatory or compliant gestures.

Do the surrealist exhibitions of today maintain any of the dignity and spirit which we can recognise in those of the past, such as the provocation of "dance of the damned" (during that of London in 1937 -which took place by the way, in the context of "unprecedented" general strikes in France, and at the height of the Spanish revolution)? Can we see today the same faces of those that were reflected in the widows of the exhibition "L'Ecart absolu", that took place in the no. 1 of "L'Archibras", in Paris of April 1967? The comparisons are painful, and measure the distance of what has been lost throughout the length of our history. And also demonstrates, if we pay attention to it, the present situation of los Vasos Comunicantes (the Communicating Glasses), their relation between the social and the cultural, between the individual and the collective.

We have had the opportunity acquaint ourselves with the contents of "El Falso Espejo", (The False Mirror), by our friends of the Surrealist Group of Madrid, and at first, we must confess, not without a certain amount of perplexity and confusion. Along with some others, who have lately come to read it or who have questioned it without even having done so, it had seemed to us that the radical mistrust they place in the current use of the image, could be in contradiction with the very idea we have of "total freedom", of the omnipotence of desire. As if, in this area, the slightest gesture of doubt could be transformed into a "self fulfilling prophecy", such as often occurs in Science Fiction of the gloomiest outlook. Nothing, except a lobotomy, can remove in any durable of definitive way, the potential capacity for freedom from within a human being.

But of course this was not what it was about. And it is a great pity that the serious warning that the text carries in its deepest sense, has not yet, or perhaps does not want to be, recognised. Thus, what condition is the "work of art" and artists reduced to in a world saturated by "merchandise", and invaded by "products" and "consumers"? What type of subversive role can surrealism still play, and how can it avoid its definitive co-option by this system of "values"? We believe, along with our friends from the Madrid Group, that it is not by means of a regression to the artistic ideals of the Renaissance, nor by seeking inspiration through the nebulous conceptions of neo-platonic academia, nor by the elevation of the artist to some kind of demi god, not by maintaining him in the dependent slavery of a type of modern patronage system…No, the miracle will not be produced in this way!

For us, the technical question of the production of the image, of its optical engineering within the framework of a poetic materialism (is there anything else or more it can deal with?), is an extremely serious question, a task that surrealism should undoubtedly take on board, and is in no way frivolous to pursue - but which should never be undertaken "in the abstract". Another problem, no less pressing - but which each one has to resolve within their respective terrain, is the cultural and political - social nature of their work: if the system with its infinite stratagems and adaptations of survival, ends up reclaiming tools that once served as instruments of liberty, and so enslaving those who employ them, then we must look for all means possible to put an end to this system - and not by chance, relying on some "magic formulas" for this process. How can it possibly be done exclusively by the use of the image? And for another part how can the system be defeated if its superstructure is not seriously affected, or seeing itself affected? (1)

When we see the discourses turning endlessly in a vacuum, when we watch the "blue like an orange" eluardians multiplying into the stratosphere, the long winded cliches ordered in interminable rows, this should not lead us into confusion, or simple fascination: what doubt is there that we find ourselves here in the presence of ephemeral infra-realism. Created by their own precariousness or by calculation (for there are also notorious forgers, as we have already proclaimed), these "productions" reflect - at the very least - a lack of contact with reality. - And on countless occasions, are simply defective. (2) The same thing happens with that which tries to be apolitical (which, as has been said many times, only serves to disguise the worst servants of the system), the antimaterialism and the total absence of any critical spirit. But we never thought the day would arrive when surrealists would brand other surrealists as "authoritarian", as it suggests a type of behaviour which historically no surrealist would hesitate to find unacceptable, such as, for example, shameless compromises with the State (3). A label which seems to us out of all proportion and utterly misplaces, and is probably fruit of this conceptual desperation which claims more victims with each moment, and which still cannot realise its own contradictions, or its feeble "pacts of friendship or complicity", or justify its grossest blunders.

But the vicissitudes of the image, in their endless changes and transformations, play their part here, however much we are told that we live in times of social "flexibility", which means in the sustained and ritualistic falsification of all values. However much any degree of ethical behaviour is branded "out of date", "authoritarian", "brutal" or "excessive". Neither "Popes" nor "autoritarians", then it is impossible to speak of a "Surrealist Exhibition" - or of surrealism in any sense of the words - if it is undertaken in the company of:
"A policeman, a few bon vivants, two or three pimp pen pushers, several mentally unbalanced persons, a cretin, to whose number no-one would mind us adding a few sensible, stable, and upright souls who could be termed energumens: is this not the making of an amusing, innocuous team, a faithful replica of life, a team of men paid piecework, winning on points? SHIT."
-André Breton, Second Manifesto of Surrealism.


It is good that from time to time they are unmasked, that they are shown for what they really are. They also, and nowadays, frequently, contribute to the discreditation of our exhibitions! And who will do it? In the present day, given the worldwide dispersion of surrealism, given that there is no possible mediation capable of arbitration or of setting itself up within the Centre of the Movement, all and each one - individuals and groups - should be capable of assuming the responsibility for themselves.

GRUPO SURREALISTA DEL RIO DE LA PLATA
Mariela ARZADUN, Celia GOURINSKY, Mónica MARCHESKY, Juan Carlos OTAÑO, Leandro RAMÍREZ, Ñancu RUPAY.

Buenos Aires / Montevideo
January, 2007


(1) It is never redundant or prejudicial to return and consider the basic of what unites us, what brings us together as a group, in definition, what hurts us as human beings in the face of the world, in the face of its shameless impunity. We call ourselves surrealists for a reason. We do not contribute to the emptying of ideological content typical of this era. We do not fall into the trap of historical revisionism, and of belittling the political importance of our acts. We must contextualise our actions, the sense of which emerges from the tension between that which we make public and that which we experience within our dreams, our desires and our discoveries. The image which emerges from our lives in the face of the harsh reality which overwhelms us.

(2) To affirm, as does Stephen Clark, in "The Wineglass No Longer", that "in the language of Surrealism, the values of sacred and profane tend to do the same", is equivalent to granting a status of authenticity to "the sacred" as well as "the profane": it implies dealing with values which are intrinsically inherent to the human condition. It can be seen as a "transgression of the habitual" with a trait of "iconoclasm", at the same time as a demonstration of "imaginative possibility"….But we sustain that this forced opposition between "the sacred" and "the profane" can only plead in favour of a formal relativism, and in notions that are completely strange to the surrealist language. When Péret wrote a daily account of his sexual experiences, we don't think he believed he was engaging in "profane" activities; Leiris didn't believe, as Tutmosis at the foot of the Sphinx, that his dreams annotated in "Afrique Fantome", had the slightest connection with the "sacred". And it is not just a question of word games…

Neither sacred, nor profane, the surrealist experience is about the human being it their totality, and doesn't belong in the dominion of conservative values disguised as revolutionary values, and never should approach life with a spirit of indifferentiation, which seems to be one of the predominant signs of our epoch.

(3) The letter which the Madrid Group sent to the Paris Group ("Clearing the Way"), regarding the "Derrame Affair", to the best of our knowledge was not even answered. Even the less than friendly Señor Lechuga, friend of the businessman Cecil Touchon, responsible for the multinational Massurealism, for the Museum of Collage and for other deplorable enterprises, even he had the courage to defend his "little shop of horrors"! But from Paris, not a peep.