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Friday, November 2 • 11:00am - 12:30pm
2.B. Cinematic Imagination

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PANEL. Cinematic Imagination

"Len Lye as Interlocutor: British Film and Surrealist Photography"
Rachel Hutcheson
Columbia University

Len Lye was an interdisciplinary artist involved in a number of art movements including Surrealism, British Documentary Film, and Kinetic Art with a career that spanned Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. He is best known for innovative promotional films made for the General Post Office Film Unit in the 1930s that incorporated new ways of animation using a variety of direct filmmaking techniques: “scratch film,” direct painting, camera-less photography, and vivid color processes. Concurrent with this rich period of filmmaking, Lye participated in the 1936 International Surrealism Exhibition in London, exhibiting a painting and two photograms. The current scholarship on Lye and Surrealism focuses on the artist’s reading of Freud, his use of primitivism, and engagement with bodily cinema. Lye is not included in surveys of Surrealist cinema, a definition usually referring to films like Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929). Such films use juxtaposition and dream-like incongruities within a narrative structure to release the viewer’s unconscious drives. However, I argue that Lye’s films call for a reconsideration of Surrealist film beyond the dream-like. By analyzing photo-construction book covers Lye designed as well as two collage films: Trade Tattoo (1937) and Rhythm (1957), I highlight the strategy of photographic appropriation. This tactic is apparent in both Surrealist’s appropriation of photographs by others, like those by Atget, which they included in their publications and Joseph Cornell’s collage film, Rose Hobart (1936). A Colour Box (1935), Rainbow Dance (1936), and Trade Tattoo (1937) reveal influence from British film and Surrealism and demonstrate the transference of appropriation strategies between media.

"Surrealism as Strategy in the Spanish Avant-Garde"
Maite Barragán
Albright College

Scholars have identified Esencia de verbena, a short film depicting Madrid’s summer fairs (verbenas) by Ernesto Giménez Caballero, as a Surrealist-inflected film. The film’s fast-paced cuts, inventive perspectives, and innovative montages demonstrate the director’s engagement with Surrealist techniques. The director’s references to contemporary aesthetics befit the film’s intended audience composed of the attendees of the 1930 avant-garde International Film Congress celebrated in Brussels. Yet, it is notable that today the work is seen as a response to Surrealism as opposed to a Surrealist work in its own right. This paper examines Giménez Caballero’s film in relation to the development of Surrealism in Spain during the 1920s and 1930s. Esencia de verbena is the entry point from where to explore and reassess the broader understanding of Surrealism in Spain. Although Surrealist peninsular activity developed with knowledge of André Breton’s collective, it distinguishes itself by the way artists worked independently and deployed Surrealist aesthetics in support of both fascist and communist ideologies. I argue that Surrealism’s inherent elasticity was exploited by Spanish artists as a strategy that allowed them to project their investigations inwards, looking to national identity while retaining international currency. As such, Esencia de verbena elevates the fairs, characterized by their combination of religious devotion with sensuous appetites, to signifiers of Spain as a Surrealist nation. Giménez Caballero reassigns meanings to historical monuments and anachronistic traditions and aligns them to the subversion and eroticism appreciated by Surrealists. Thus, the film’s aesthetics imbued Spanish difference with avant-garde relevance.

"Time and Time Again: The Implications of Joseph Cornell’s Cinematic Imagination"
Robin Blaetz
Mount Holyoke College

The artist Joseph Cornell is known for making exquisite boxes and collages that seem to capture imagined times and places with the delicate juxtaposition of diverse and unusual material. Much has been written about these works in relation to Cornell’s eccentric life, his personal obsessions, and particularly in relation to the Surrealist artists who befriended him in the early to mid-20th century. In fact, Cornell is considered by many to be the most important of the very few American Surrealists. What is less studied with any depth is his relation with a mode of artistic exploration that he launched in the mid-1930s with a film called Rose Hobart, and which attracted him ever more over the course of his life—the cinema. With an understanding of his affiliation with the medium of film, particularly to film’s relation to time and its status as an indexical art form, Cornell’s boxes and collages come into focus in a way that reveals a frequently underestimated depth and seriousness. I will not be making an argument for the value of Cornell’s films, intriguing and beautiful though they are, nor am I concerned with his attraction to movie stars. Instead I want to explore his particular understanding of the cinema formed by his exposure to early film as a collector and exhibitor, his spiritual sensibility, his investment in the found object, and his montage aesthetic.


Maite Barragán

Albright College

Robin Blaetz

Chair of Film Studies; Professor of Film Studies, Mount Holyoke College
avatar for Rachel Hutcheson

Rachel Hutcheson

Phd Student, Columbia University

avatar for Mark Tursi

Mark Tursi

Adjunct Professor, Marymount Manhattan College & New Jersey City University
Mark Tursi is the author of four books of poetry: Brutal Synecdoche, The Impossible Picnic, Shiftless Days, and, forthcoming in fall 2018, The Uncanny Valley. He is one of the founding editors of Apostrophe Books, an innovative press devoted to publishing poetry that intersects philosophy... Read More →

Friday November 2, 2018 11:00am - 12:30pm EDT
Room B. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Humanities Lab (lower level)