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Friday, November 2 • 4:00pm - 5:30pm
4.B. Hermetic Arts in the Americas

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PANEL. Hermetic Arts in the Americas

"Earth is a Man and The Blue Lobster: Filmic Experiments in Latin America´s Surrealism"
Maria Clara Bernal
Universidad de los Andes

In his seminal text “Pioneros del video y del cine experimental en América Latina,” Brazilian theorist Arlindo Machado mentions several films that could be related to Surrealism arguing that there was a dialogue between local artists and the French avant-garde rather than an influence. In this paper, I will address the subject of Latin America´s experimental cinema though two instances that, in their own way, reflect not only an awareness but also a creative dialogue with French Surrealism in their narrative, style and aesthetic approach. The first case study is the film script: La tierra es un hombre written by Chilean artist Roberto Matta. Signed and dated on New Year’s Eve 1936 in Stockholm, Matta produced the script at a time in his artistic career when he was leaving behind his work as an architect and starting to experiment with automatism in drawing and painting. The second case study is the Colombian short film, La langosta azul (1954). Written by Gabriel García Márquez and directed by Colombian journalist and novelist Álvaro Cepeda Samudio, this film is a rare example of the confluence of the marvelous in Lo real maravilloso and Surrealism. With these case studies, it is possible to argue that experimental cinema in Latin America has at its inception a Surrealist nature. The mechanisms used by Luis Buñuel in Un Chien Andalou and even Man Ray’s Emak-Bakia are present in these works as well as recurrent in many of the first Latin American experimental films.

"Two Cuban Artists in Parisian Surrealism: The Magical Art of Agustín Cárdenas and Jorge Camacho"
Anne Foucault
Université Paris Nanterre

La Havana for Paris and rapidly joining André Breton's group, sculptor Agustín Cárdenas and painter Jorge Camacho are part of the last artistic evolutions of Surrealism in France. This paper seeks to determine how their work was interpreted by French surrealists regarding the two artists' relationship to their native island and their ethnic origins. Following their interpretation of Wifredo Lam's paintings, the sculptures of Cárdenas (whose ancestors were West-African slaves) were perceived by the surrealists as a place of contact, dialogue and even reconciliation between European avant-garde sculpture and West-African art (as Cárdenas's "totems" integrate the strength of Dogon sculpture). Here, Cuban origins act as a mediator between the two continents, even creating the possibility of the rediscovery by Surrealism of West African artifacts, often forsaken for Oceanic and Native American art. According to surrealist conceptions of art, Cárdenas's interest in African sculpture is not formal but points out the desire of "finding the secret of a magical art. " This "magical charge" of art is also at the heart of the paintings of Jorge Camacho. If his links to his homeland are less evoked by the surrealists than with Cárdenas, he is nevertheless perceived as a shaman facing a luxuriant nature that he transcribes as a vast cryptogram in his very hermetic painting, in which he blends poetic and alchemical references. Underlining the production of a surrealist magical art, this paper examines how Cuba "appears more like a producer and exporter of a 'spiritual matter' propitious to Surrealism rather than a place favoring its organization as a group."

"Alchemical Surrealism in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s La montaña Sagrada (1973)"
Abigail Susik
Willamette University
This essay examines diverse strands of surrealist influence in the cult film The Holy Mountain (1973), by Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky Prullansky. Through a discussion of the historical context of Jodorowsky’s artistic production in the postwar period, as well as specific surrealist sources for the film, I argue that La montaña Sagrada is closely aligned with international surrealism in plot, set, and cinematography, but that it simultaneously formulates its own unique countercultural framework by building on this substrate of influence. Based largely upon the unfinished novel by French para-surrealist René Daumal, Le Mont Analogue. Roman d'aventures alpines, non euclidiennes et symboliquement authentiques (1952), The Holy Mountain builds on Jodorowsky’s long-held fascination with surrealism since his involvement with theater and poetry in Santiago, Chile during the 1950s, and his collaboration in the para-surrealist group Panique in France and Mexico starting in in 1962. Continuing his longstanding homage to the aesthetics of surrealist Leonora Carrington and surrealist-affiliated Antonin Artaud in The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky explores a saturated visual world of the occult, alchemy, the tarot and altered states of conscious in barrage of experimental tactics throughout the film. By placing The Holy Mountain in context with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first two feature-length films, Fando y Lis (1968) and El Topo (1970), as well as his incomplete projects in the years following The Holy Mountain for The Story of O (based on the French erotic novel of 1954 by Anne Desclos) and Dune (based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 science fiction novel), a consistent surrealist influence can be traced in Jodorowsky’s cinema. In addition, the inclusion of artwork by Alan Glass and Manuel Felguérez in The Holy Mountain, Jodorowsky’s production of a tarot deck based on the film, and the soundtrack by Jodorowsky, Don Cherry and Ronald Frangipane, can all be related to surrealist influence. This essay will ponder such a surrealist influence in the wake of Mai ’68, and Jodorowsky’s broader ties to the popular counterculture through the film’s financer, John Lennon, in order to address the legacy of international surrealism during the 1970s.

avatar for Maria Clara Bernal

Maria Clara Bernal

Universidad de los Andes

Anne Foucault

Université Paris Nanterre
avatar for Abigail Susik

Abigail Susik

Associate Professor of Art History, Willamette University
Abigail Susik received her doctorate with distinction in twentieth-century Art History and Theory from Columbia University in 2009, and is currently an Associate Professor of Art History at Willamette University in Oregon. She is the author of many articles on dada and Surrealism... Read More →


Keith Leslie Johnson

William & Mary

Friday November 2, 2018 4:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Room B. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Humanities Lab (lower level)