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Friday, November 2 • 4:00pm - 5:30pm
4.D. Critical Transmissions

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PANEL. Critical Transmissions

“Dreams Are Not Enough: Len Lye and the Limits of Surrealism”
Raymond Spiteri
University of Wellington

Len Lye is one of the few New Zealand born artists to have documented links to the international surrealist movement. He contributed works to the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London and subsequent exhibitions, his work was reproduced in associated publications, yet he never declared himself a surrealist. Indeed, during the second half of the 1930s when surrealism was active in Britain, Lye was developing a form of filmic abstraction with his direct-film practice. The works that come closest to a surrealist mode—the 1929 film Tusalava, photographs, photograms, and drawings circa 1930—precede the emergence of an organized surrealist movement in England; while the works executed during the second half of the 1930s, had already moved beyond specifically surrealist concerns. This paper considers the role of Lye’s participation in the circle around Laura Riding and Robert Graves on his attitude to surrealism. On one hand, this circle indicates proximity to surrealism, evident in his book cover designs for Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press, and contributions to the review transition—an early vector for the international dissemination of surrealism. On the other hand, it also indicates resistance: Riding was sceptical of surrealism’s value, contrasting the “canniest intelligence” of poetry to the “canniest imbecility” of the dream. Lye’s relationship to surrealism is less an example of direct linear transmission from Paris to London than of a retrospective, even reluctant, conversion. His work appears to straddle the fault-line between the modernism of the Graves-Riding circle, and the early reception of surrealism in Britain, and it demonstrates the challenge of translating surrealism from one context to another: that surrealism as a coherent body of ideas and experiences often becomes distorted in translation.

"A Fraught Relationship: Marcel Broodthaers and the Belgian Surrealists"
Margaux Van Uytvanck
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Belgian artist and enfant terrible Marcel Broodthaers is now almost exclusively known for his installations which question the art world, its history and its institutions. Yet his first steps in the Brussels art world took place among the Surrealist group. After a lull in collective activities during the Second World War, the Belgian Surrealists gathered together in 1945 to give a new élan to their activities by joining forces with the Communist Party. This tumultuous period marked the end of a united Surrealist group in Brussels and the beginning of a multiplication of “parasurrealist” movements which flourished in the second half of the twentieth century. It is in this chaotic context that Broodthaers, then a struggling poet, discreetly entered the stage. From 1945 on, he published his poetry in Surrealist periodicals, attended meetings of the surréalisme révolutionnaire group led by Christian Dotremont and signed a some of their manifestos. While his involvement with the Surrealists only lasted a few years, it had an enormous impact on his later artistic career, starting with the crucial influence of René Magritte’s word paintings. This paper examines how Surrealism influenced Broodthaers’ career as a visual artist, how he was perceived by the key Surrealist artists of his time, and, finally, how the he viewed Surrealism – and, especially, Magritte’s legacy – in the wider context of the emergence of pop art and conceptual art.

"Eugene Jolas and transition: A Version of Surrealism"
Douglas Cushing
The University of Texas at Austin

In the July 1932 issue of Contempo, Samuel Putnam asked, “WHO BROUGHT DADA TO AMERICA?” “NO ONE,” he announced, “BROUGHT DADA TO AMERICA! No one, certainly, before Eugene Jolas . . . And what Jolas and the old transition brought, was not Dada, but a version of Surrealism.” Despite such acknowledgements, Eugene Jolas’s little magazine transition (1927-1938) remains an underexplored vehicle of Surrealism’s transatlantic transmission. Histories usually mark Alfred H. Barr’s 1936 exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism and the Surrealists’ wartime arrival in New York as formative landmarks in the movement’s American reception. Little magazines like transition, however, served as Surrealism’s true vanguard. Jolas published the Surrealists initially out of appreciation, recognizing them as coexplorers and creators of a modern pan-Romanticism. Audiences, however, soon confused the magazine for a Surrealist appendage. Forced to differentiate transition from Surrealism, Jolas also became increasingly critical of the movement. In contrast with their movement, he integrated Novalis’s Romantic philosophy and Carl Jung’s theories into his own project. Through criticism and recontextualization with other art and literature, including James Joyce’s serialized Finnegans Wake, Jolas transmitted not pure Surrealism to his readers, but a reframed version of it. Understanding Surrealism’s early public outing in the United States via transition becomes consequential when we trace transition’s readership in the 1920s and early 30s, because this group included a generation of young artists like Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, and John Cage, as well as future publishers of Surrealism, such as View magazine’s Charles Henri Ford.

avatar for Douglas Cushing

Douglas Cushing

PhD candidate, University of Texas at Austin
I am currently writing a dissertation on Eugene and Maria Jolas's little magazine, "transition" (1927-38). My previous research includes work on Duchamp's relationship with the writings of Lautréamont.
avatar for Raymond Spiteri

Raymond Spiteri

University of Wellington
avatar for Margaux Van Uytvanck

Margaux Van Uytvanck

Research Assistant & PhD Candidate, Université Libre de Bruxelles

avatar for Jonathan Eburne

Jonathan Eburne

Comparative Litearture, English, French and Francophone Studies, Pennsylvania State University

Friday November 2, 2018 4:00pm - 5:30pm EDT
Room D. Bertrand Library: Traditional Reading Room (second floor)