THIS IS NOT AN ART SHOW, AND WE DIDN’T MAKE IT FOR YOU. The images and objects on display are the results of some of our recent experiments in automatism, trance-work and mediumistic communication. Some of them were made with the help of a planchette, a small board mounted on rollers and fitted with a pen or pencil that works on the same principle as a Ouija board. Many others are the results of ‘exquisite corpse’, a Surrealist game in which each player makes part of a drawing, hides it by folding the paper, and then passes it on for the next player to continue the drawing without seeing what’s already on the page. Still others were produced in states of trance, delirium or automatism, either collectively by the whole group, or by individual members working alone. Above all, they are not artworks, and we are not artists. We haven’t put these things into an exhibition for you to contemplate and admire. We’re presenting them here as evidence from our explorations of the unknown – of the other worlds to which Surrealism seeks access.
For some visitors, what they see here might not be what they had expected. The word ‘Surrealism’ often gets hijacked as a kind of brand name for particular styles of art, especially fantasy art. We have no interest in that kind of material. Genuine Surrealism, as it has been practised by the international Surrealist movement from the 1920s to the present day, is not about a particular aesthetic style or content. It’s a desperate, furious attempt to reinvent the whole world simultaneously: both the inner world of the psyche, and the outer world of society and history. In the words of the Second Surrealist Manifesto (1930):
Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now, search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point.
People’s most burning inner desires – for freedom, love, pleasure, life – seem to be forever in conflict with the outer demands of reality – law, work, basic survival. The goal of Surrealism is to overcome that conflict, not by handing victory to one side or the other, but by transforming both. By deliberately bringing the inner and outer worlds into collision, smashing them into each other with great energy at high speed, we aim to bring about a kind of nuclear fusion through which new worlds will be created.
The best and only tool we can use to do this is the imagination, because only our imagination can point us away from the world as it is towards the possibilities for the world as it can be (as it must be, since it’s becoming increasingly obvious that humanity simply can’t go on like this). And since the creation of this new world requires the transformation of the individual psyche as well as of external society, Surrealists place an especially heavy emphasis on the collective imagination as a way of opening up our own minds to other possibilities too. A Surrealist group is a kind of laboratory for experimenting with other realities.
Delirium, trance and automatism are some of the most effective methods we know for unleashing the imagination and smashing the inner and outer worlds together, and they’re especially powerful when they’re practised collectively. Other essential methods involve the exploration of dreams, chance and encounters with magical objects, and as a group we use those too, although we have not emphasised them so strongly here. All of these methods are both easier and harder to use than they sound: they require that mixture of seriousness and frivolity, discipline and abandonment, that is peculiar to play, and that many adults feel inhibited about entering. But in principle they are open to everybody, and during this show we want to put that principle into practice.
That’s why we are inviting you to make your own automatic works (drawing, writing or modelling), using materials we have provided or that you bring with you, and add them to the show. We’re also inviting you to join us to play Surrealist games on Tuesday evening at 7.30pm: games are an especially good way to overcome your inhibitions and get into the automatic ‘headspace’ if you have never practised automatism before, or have only done so alone rather than collectively. Above all we’re inviting you to start inventing new worlds with us. This is not an art show, and it is not for you. It’s by you.
The exhibition closes at 6pm today.