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Radio Transmission: Electricity and Surrealist Art in 1950s and ‘60s San Francisco

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Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

This paper deals with a version of Surrealism that emerged in San Francisco in the late 1940s, and its influence on Wallace Berman’s film Aleph (1966) and Harry Smith’s Early Abstractions.

Many San

Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

This paper deals with a version of Surrealism that emerged in San Francisco in the late 1940s, and its influence on Wallace Berman’s film Aleph (1966) and Harry Smith’s Early Abstractions.

Many San Francisco poets of the 1940s through the 1970s understood poets as a visionary company possessing a nearly sacerdotal authority arising from their capacity to put aside the individual self and open themselves to influences from beyond—in a peculiar turn, these influences came to be understood as energy waves that are transmitted through the ether and operate the poet/artist—and cinema and the radio became models for these transmissions. The collage art that resulted was understood as anemic, cobbled together from insecurely apprehended fragments of thought carried in radio signals nearly drowned out by static. I conclude with comments relating the idea of artists’ feeble imaginations being operated by remote control to film and electric media.

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2017-08-07

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Modern Architecture Will Help You

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Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

La Ciudad Frente al Río (The City in Front of the River) is an Argentinian, ten-minute long film directed by Italian Surrealist Enrico Gras in 1949. The film was part of the

Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

La Ciudad Frente al Río (The City in Front of the River) is an Argentinian, ten-minute long film directed by Italian Surrealist Enrico Gras in 1949. The film was part of the promotional material for Bajo Belgrano, a modern housing plan sponsored by the Buenos Aires City Hall under the auspice of populist president Juan Perón. As part of this promotion, German photographer Grete Stern designed a brochure with images from the film and text by the Study for the Plan of Buenos Aires (Estudio del Plan de Buenos Aires, hereafter EPBA). I compare the film and brochure to contemporaneous work by Stern: a series of photomontages illustrating a women’s advice column. The column mined its readers’ dreams for insights into their unconscious, and advised them on proper behavior. Following a similar method, the film found Buenos Aires’ unconscious in the chaos of city life, and revealed what I have termed as "pastoral modernity" as the cure. Masked behind a veneer of revolutionary modernity, the message of these works was that of a nostalgic return to the past—an invitation to sleep, and to dream. Complicating this message, subtle hints in both the film and the photomontages point to the artists’ awareness of the totalizing vision they were collaborating with.

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2017-08-07

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‘Polycythemia,’ or Surrealist Intertextuality in the Light of Cinematic ‘Anemia’

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Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

Robert Desnos’s and Man Ray’s 1928 film L'Etoile de mer has long been considered an exemplar of the surrealist love story, thematically similar to Salvador Dalí’s and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou

Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, Cinema Issue (2016)

Robert Desnos’s and Man Ray’s 1928 film L'Etoile de mer has long been considered an exemplar of the surrealist love story, thematically similar to Salvador Dalí’s and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien andalou (1929) but less overtly shocking. In comparison to the elaborate iconographical analyses of Chien, critiques of L'Etoile tend to describe its avant-garde cinematic style, to distinguish how it illustrates or deviates from Desnos’s scenario, or to provide summary analysis of some of its more obviously Freudian iconography. There have been fewer scholarly explorations of specific symbolism, yet the film exhibits many political-philosophical intertexts, one of which explicitly builds a bridge between the surrealist revolution and America’s core self-signifier, Liberty.

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2017-08-07

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Surrealist Views, American Landscapes: Notes on Wolfgang Paalen’s Ruin Gazing

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The painter and writer Wolfgang Paalen, who travelled through British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska in 1939, published a highly baroque travel account of the initial stages of his journey under the title “Paysage totémique” in Dyn (1942-44). Seeing Paalen’s text

The painter and writer Wolfgang Paalen, who travelled through British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska in 1939, published a highly baroque travel account of the initial stages of his journey under the title “Paysage totémique” in Dyn (1942-44). Seeing Paalen’s text as an exemplary case of surrealist literary landscape in the Americas, the present article traces the ways in which concepts of ruination and mimeticism, in addition to Paalen’s particular theory of the origins of artistic vision, lead him to depict a landscape characterized by a series of cominglings. The observer and the landscape, the primitive work of art and the forest, the work or forest and primal myths whose origins go back to a magical/biological substrate—all of these dissolutions, mimickings or cominglings define a kind of liminal landscape that undercuts monolithic human subjectivity. Paalen applied the term “specific space” to the ways in which the work of art mimicked its environment and vice-versa, each standing in tension with the other. I propose that it is this very “specific space” of comingling which defines the totemic landscape for Paalen. His totem poles both arise from the forest through the mimetic processes, and decay back into the forest through a will to dissolution (or ruination) which is itself affected through mimetic processes. At the point where art blinks out, where with a slight shift of focus one sees a mythical bestiary either carved by human hands or by the chance agency of fire, Paalen sought the source of artistic vision.

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2014

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(Sur)real or Unreal?: Antonin Artaud in the Sierra Tarahumara of Mexico

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Antonin Artaud was one of the first internationally recognized writers to introduce the indigenous Tarahumara (Rarámuri) of Northwest Mexico to the world. In a series of publications based on his experiences with the tribe in 1936, Artaud left a vast

Antonin Artaud was one of the first internationally recognized writers to introduce the indigenous Tarahumara (Rarámuri) of Northwest Mexico to the world. In a series of publications based on his experiences with the tribe in 1936, Artaud left a vast visual legacy that positioned the Tarahumara within a powerful regime of representation, one that framed them within a mixed landscape of exoticism, primitivism, and peyote-inspired mysticism. This paper focuses on these literary works and interrogates the veracity of Artaud’s experiences and observations among the “pure race.” Drawing on the ethnographic record of the twentieth century and anthropological field research, it is my intention to reveal Artaud’s ability to fabricate, exaggerate, and embellish “the truth” which he so desperately desired to understand.

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2014

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Manuel Álvarez Bravo: Surrealism and Documentary Photography

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When André Breton went to Mexico in 1938, he saw the photographs of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, took a set of them back with him to France and, the following year, published and exhibited them as part of his espousal of

When André Breton went to Mexico in 1938, he saw the photographs of Manuel Álvarez Bravo, took a set of them back with him to France and, the following year, published and exhibited them as part of his espousal of Mexico as “the surrealistic place par excellence.” That is the first reason why the work of Álvarez Bravo cannot be overlooked in the broader context of Surrealism. This circumstance, often cited, has rarely been analyzed in any depth and part of the aim of this essay is to undertake that analysis.

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2014