Monday, January 29, 2007

WOLF MOON REPORT

On 3rd January 2007, SLAG participants and friends celebrated the Wolf Moon by hunting for wolves in central London.


1. On the way to the meeting point

Paul heard the cries of wolves (which sounded like police sirens) and found the husks of wolf claws on the pavement.

Claw-husks: photo by Paul Cowdell


2. Preparing for the hunt:

We used an object to help us establish the irrational characteristics of the wolf by means of a collective question & answer game.


Photo by Merl


i. Is it useful?
Yes (Nacho, Tobias)
Yes, but only when lactating (Debbie)
Yes, as a reminder of a story (Carolina)
To a degree it can be, if you approach it well (Josie)
Only insofar as it is the foundation of all our city (Rema not Roma) (Paul)
Not remotely (Merl)

ii. Where in London does it live?
In a lady’s house (Nacho)
In a Goth shop (Tobias)
In a willow tree (Josie)
The lying-in hospital (Paul)
Stoke Newington (Merl)
Hackney borders (Debbie)
All around (Carolina)

iii. Is it fast or slow?
Moderately slow (Josie)
Slow, very slow movement (Tobias)
Both slow and fast (Carolina, Nacho)
Slow by day, fast by night (Debbie)
Completely stationary, except underwater where it is superfast (Merl)
The speed of a dying heart (Paul)

iv. Is its bite poisonous?
No (Nacho, Tobias)
Yes, depending on perspective (Carolina)
Extremely poisonous and smells of cinnamon (Merl)
Only to good people (Debbie)
Only to humanoids (Josie)
Like mother’s milk (Paul)

v. How far can its voice be heard?
Until it stops crying (Josie)
Far away (Nacho)
Very far, universal (Carolina)
Up to 20 miles away, and at least as far again underground (Merl)
Only on Parliament Hill (Paul)
On Pluto (Debbie)
It’s very quiet (Tobias)

vi. Where is its lair?
Under the stairs at Piccadilly Station (Debbie)
Under plastic sheeting in an alcove in the walls of St. Paul’s Cathedral (Merl)
Deep in the darkness (Nacho)
Between the skull and the brain of its children (Josie)
Beneath it, wherever it is (Paul)
On a shelf (Tobias)
No idea (Carolina)

vii. Is it real?
Yes (Merl, Nacho, Tobias)
Always, because it is imagined (Paul)
Yes, as knowledge and memory in the head (Carolina)
Only at certain times of day (Debbie)
Its reality can be seen on full moon (Josie)

viii. Does it bite?
Yes (Nacho)
Yes, some people (Carolina)
Yes, twice a year (Josie)
Only itself (Paul)
Only good people (Debbie)
Only when threatened (Merl)
It bites if thrown (Tobias)

ix. Can you hear the sound of it falling if you’re not there?
Yes (Nacho)
It depends (Carolina)
Yes, if it falls backwards (Josie)
Yes, as a bizarre rustling under the pillowcase (Merl)
Only if it isn’t there (Debbie)
Only if amplified (Tobias)
It will never fall (Paul)

x. What makes it happy?
Falling (Paul)
Singing (Josie)
Paper underneath it (Tobias)
Others like itself (Nacho)
Marzipan, staircases and hot chestnuts (Merl)
Luxury and adoration (Carolina)
Slimy things (Debbie)

xi. Does it have feelings?
Yes (Carolina, Debbie, Tobias)
Yes, but no understanding of what they are (Paul)
Yes, pity (Josie)
Yes, maternal feelings (Nacho)
Only under the full moon (Merl)

xii. What beer would it order?
Heineken (Nacho)
A pint of Guinness – very masculine (Carolina)
Something Italian (Tobias)
The darkest beer at the bar (Merl)
Something thick and cloudy (Josie)
Beer made by trappists defrocked for shouting (Paul)
It only drinks wine – Wolf Blass (Debbie)

xiii. How does it survive?
On its own (Nacho)
By not being there when it’s heard (Debbie)
By building walls of ice around itself (Paul)
By touting tube tickets and eating leftovers (Merl)
By eating dust (Tobias)
By rapid evolvement (Josie)
In the past (Carolina)

xiv. What does it desire?
No idea (Carolina)
Attention (Tobias)
Others like itself (Nacho)
Snow, pearls, amphibians, golden eggs (Merl)
The bodies of slimy things (Debbie)
To be the last vestige of the civilisation it built and then destroyed (Paul)
More teats (Josie)


3. The search for the wolves

Nacho was very certain that the wolves would be on Adelphi Terrace and led us all straight there.

On this terrace there were many staircases – which make wolves happy and may also provide shelter for wolf lairs. There was also some plastic sheeting in an alcove, or at any rate a plastic bin bag full of pine branches – a suitably arboreal lair for an urban wolf.

The Adelphi itself was covered with stone relief carvings of signs of the zodiac, cherubic children engaged on baffling errands, magical and mythical animals, but wolves were conspicuous by their absence from this menagerie.

Photo by Merl

Someone had left an illegible message in the window of one of the Adelphi’s doors. One of the doors of the buildings opposite the Adelphi was neatly marked “Goods Only”, as if it were the door to the waiting room for the good folk about to be bitten.

Photo by Merl

A large stone relief human figure on the Adelphi appeared to Merl and Debbie to be of ambiguous gender, despite its large beard, because of its apparent breasts – the “more teats” that wolves desire?

The wolf itself appeared not on Adelphi Terrace, or on the Adelphi itself, but on a building on Adam Street: high above us at the apex of a large stone window, a stone relief of a flying wolf head with ferocious open jaws.

A blurry shot of the wolf as it soars overhead: photo by Merl


4. Debriefing after the wolf hunt

As we arrived at the pub, Paul found on the floor under our table a single silver fork. He had recently been told of the Estonian tradition that to offer someone a fork with the tines pointing towards them is a way of protecting them from werewolves.

"And so I was protected from the werewolves": photo by Paul Cowdell

This prompted a discussion of werewolf trials and of various measures for keeping werewolves at bay. Tobias reminded us of the “brotherhood of the wolf”, and we realised that the Adelphi is so called because adelphoi is Greek for “brothers”. (The Adelphi was built by the Adams brothers during the eighteenth century to clear a rookery on the site – not entirely successfully, as we still found a few rough sleepers there, under staircases and in alcoves.)

While we sat discussing these things, a pack of wolves ran past outside the pub window, disguised as women in fur coats. About 10 minutes later, the danger past, shepherds released their flocks (disguised as women in sheepskin) out onto the mountains.


5. Hunted by wolves

This found image appeared to Paul the day after the wolf hunt:



And Josie was also pursued by wolfish shapeshifters through found images:

Sunday, January 28, 2007

AN INCIDENT OF OBJECTIVE CHANCE (report by Merl)

On the night of 29th December, I had the following dream:

Vampires are coming tonight and my sister and I are going to have to deal with them somehow. The evening is approaching and I quickly try to put the animals out of doors -- a dog, a cat and a small deer -- but they keep getting back into the house again. Then all of a sudden the sky goes very dark -- an unexpected solar eclipse is happening, and my sister and I note grimly that this means we are in for 36 hours of darkness.

Now my sister is still downstairs in the house, but I am upstairs in a dining room, and the vampires are all assembled around a large table. They're excellent company and I enjoy being with them, I feel quite at ease chatting and joking with them. They all seem to assume that I am on their side and am going to become a vampire too. I ask whether there will be any kind of ceremony when I become a vampire, and at this they look rather uncertain and say that well, they hadn't actually prepared anything because they weren't sure in advance that I would really be willing to become one of them. More vampires keep arriving as I go around the top floor of the house locking all the windows and doors. I don't know myself whether this is to keep intruders out or to keep the vampires locked in until help arrives; and I also don't know whether I am really going to join them or am just playing along in an attempt to act as some kind of decoy and save my sister. I feel very ambivalent about the vampires altogether. On the one hand I get along very well with them, especially with a young dark-haired female vampire who wears a knitted black beret and whom I find extremely charming and attractive. On the other hand my sister is still downstairs and, well, after all they are vampires. I want to send my sister a text message to let her know that I am still alive at least, but I don't want to make the vampires suspicious by getting my phone out, and in any case I don't know what else to say to her about what is happening.

While I am upstairs with all the vampires checking the doors and windows, I have to go to the toilet. I am menstruating heavily and need to change a tampon; in fact the tampon has leaked and I get a lot of blood on my hands while I do so. While I am cleaning up a couple of male vampires come into the bathroom and start chatting casually to me, which does not seem at all strange or intrusive to me. I show them a handful of toilet paper which has some menstrual blood on it, very thick and dark; I am uncertain of the etiquette of this around vampires, but am pleased to discover that menstrual blood is considered a great delicacy and they are very keen to take it.

Waking up from this dream the following morning, I went downstairs and sat drinking tea surrounded by a lot of books and papers which were haphazardly strewn about because for several days I had been busy re-organising my bookshelves. I idly picked up an old Swedish Surrealist zine from the 1980s that was lying on the top of the pile nearest to me, and it fell open at a short text called "Landskap av det vampyriska skötet".

Not understanding any Swedish, and only able vaguely to recognise the words “landskap” and “vampyriska”, I emailed the author to tell him that the text had appeared to me in this way after I had dreamt of vampires. Without telling him anything else about my dream, I asked him what the text was about. He replied that it was not particularly about vampires at all in fact but about quite another subject: cunnilingus.

Friday, January 19, 2007

SURREALISM AND "STREET ART"

Earlier this month we were delighted to receive some correspondence from Surrealists in Turkey. They produce an underground zine called Düzensiz ("Disordered") which also has a blog here. They are also involved with the literary journal Tesmeralsekdiz, the next issue of which will include a section on "surrealism and street art". It is mainly in relation to this issue that our Turkish friends sent us the following questions.


Before we answer these specific questions from Tesmeralsekdiz, we think we should clarify the wider question of our attitude to art in general. Most of Tesmeralsekdiz’s questions appear to come from within an “artistic” and/or “avant-garde” framework which is alien to us. Contrary to a widespread misconception, Surrealism has never been an art movement (or for that matter a literary movement either). We do not regard ourselves as artists and have no interest whatever in the art world, in either its “mainstream” or its “avant-garde” forms. We are opposed to the art world in exactly the same way as we are opposed to capitalism, and for the same reasons. This attitude is the starting point of our reply to these questions about “street art”.


1. How do you make a connection between surrealism and street art? Are there any relations between the methods of surrealism and the methods of street art?

Actually we spent some time debating what the phrase “street art” even means. If it simply means art made on the street – of which Banksy’s work is probably the best known example – we regard this is as no more or less corrupt or commodified than any other form of art, and we are therefore completely uninterested in it. However we are interested in those forms of graffiti which are not attempting to be artistic or avant-garde, and which (unlike the commodified radical chic of someone like Banksy) can be genuinely guerrilla forms of popular or demotic expression. Graffiti in their basest form – obscene drawings, gratuitous insults, ludicrous boasts made for one’s own gratification etc. – are not mediated through any ideas of “art”. These scrawls on the street are direct expressions of libido and can sometimes be examples of the Marvellous itself in action. This photograph gives an example of such graffiti found in East London:


Hermetic Birds by Merl

In relation to the question about method, again we spent some time debating whether by method you meant methodology or technique. We have no interest in technique, but methodologically it seems to us that, as a direct expression of libido, what graffiti have in common with Surrealism is automatism.


2. Can you give us some historical information about the works of surrealists which were made on/for the street?

If by this you mean works of Surrealist “street art” – no, we cannot give you any such information, for the reasons we have already stated.

However we think it important to emphasise that Surrealists have been interested in the street as a site of poetry and marvel ever since Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris. Psychogeography has been a constant them in Surrealism, although it has not always been pursued systematically. In fact the systematic psychogeographical investigations made by the Situationists in the 1950s and 1960s in many ways have acted as a springboard for more recent and systematic Surrealist explorations of the city, especially by those Surrealists (including SLAG) who have been willing to engage with Situationism rather than reject it wholesale in a defensive/reactionary manner. One of the most fruitful examples of this Surrealist exploration was the discovery by the Stockholm Surrealist Group in the 1990s of the atopos – “worthless places” full of poetic meaning.

For SLAG the poetic exploration of urban streets has always been a major theme. One of our first publications was A Manifesto for Surrealist London, and we have devoted most of our collective energies to devising and playing psychogeographical games in London and other cities.

Perhaps we need to add at this point that the Surrealist vision of psychogeography has nothing to do with the commodified and cultural-touristy “psychogeographical” literature propagated in Britain by authors such as Peter Ackroyd, Iain Sinclair and others, which we regard as at best the literary equivalent of Banksy.


3. Do you have any visual material about surrealism and the street?

These four black & white photographs by Debbie Shaw were taken while playing our psychogeographical game Urban Rock Pooling in London:


Seagulls by Debbie Shaw


Sea Sloth by Debbie Shaw


Atlantis by Debbie Shaw


Albatross by Debbie Shaw


These four colour photographs were not part of any particular game and were taken by Paul Cowdell in various street locations:


Untitled by Paul Cowdell


The Beard of the Patriarch Ran with Ants by Paul Cowdell


She Had Come Back by Paul Cowdell


Lightning Frozen by Paul Cowdell


4. What is the origin of your activist attitude?

The origin of our activist attitude is Surrealism itself. As André Breton famously said at the end of his Speech to the Congress of Writers of 1935:

“Transform the world,” Marx said; “change life,” Rimbaud said. These two watchwords are one for us.

We never tire of quoting these lines, which also sum up the reasons why Surrealism is not an art movement.

Surrealism is a revolutionary movement on every plane. One of those planes is also the internal situation of the international movement itself, and since its formation SLAG has tried to play a role in collective activity on an international level – by organizing large-scale games and other activities, by circulating material on this blog and through our mailing list, by fomenting theoretical and political debate and so on.


5. How do you describe surrealism in 2007, in the 21st century? What are your prospective opinions about surrealism in the 21st century?

The world of 2007 is not the world of 1924, and Surrealism today must face up to the new challenges posed by current material conditions – ecological catastrophe, globalization, the Society of the Spectacle, the “War on Terror”, fundamentalisms of all kinds – as well as take advantage of the new possibilities on offer.

Among the new possibilities for revolutionary Surrealist activity, electronic communication is perhaps the most obvious example. The internet has revolutionised international collaboration between Surrealists and has also made the history of Surrealism more widely and easily available than ever before.

Of course we want to say that Surrealism in the twenty-first century will continue. However that will only be the case if it continues to develop and change. We certainly do not regard Surrealism as a “legacy” which needs to be preserved or curated: on the contrary, it is up to all of us in the international movement to constantly invent Surrealism anew. The point is not to attempt to preserve Surrealism for its own sake, but to continue to fight for Surrealism’s objectives – to change life and transform the world.


6. What do you think of the conceptual art which has improved for the last 30 years? What is your attitude to conceptual art?

We are not interested in conceptual art.

Friday, January 12, 2007

FAREWELL TO TONI DEL RENZIO

With great sadness we have learned of the death of our comrade Toni del Renzio.

Toni was a major figure in Surrealism from the 1940s onwards. He will be particularly remembered for the passion with which he attempted to galvanise Surrealist activity in the UK, as well as for the beauty and power of the work which he produced. Those of us who were privileged to know him will remember him with great affection as well as admiration. His tirelessness and dynamism in the pursuit of the Marvellous will continue to inspire us all.

All of us in SLAG offer our deepest condolences to Toni's friends and family.

Click here to read an obituary of Toni by Silvano Levy.

Sunday, January 07, 2007