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Saturday, November 3 • 9:00am - 10:30am
5.B. Under the Influence: Surrealism After Surrealism

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PANEL. Under the Influence: Surrealism After Surrealism

This panel examines contemporary art projects that emerge variously under the influence of Surrealism and thereby take Surrealism in new directions. Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You,” J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, and Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski’s “The Typewriter Project” all take place “after” Surrealism—that is, by paying homage to the Surrealism of the historical avant-garde, even as they transform it. Each paper features the regeneration of a different Surrealist emphasis. Where Stanford’s fiction complicates the dreamwork of Surrealist flânerie, Ballard’s novels exploit Surrealism’s ecological imaginary, and the gambit of “The Typewriter Project” is to move the Exquisite Corpse from private to public sphere. Taken together, our papers thus underscore the extent to which Surrealism has remained an essential part of the contemporary art scene paradoxically through its propensity to submit to redeployments that inevitably invite redefinition.
 
“‘Mostly I Dream’: Southern Surrealism in Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You
Bill Freind
Rowan University

Frank Stanford (1948-1978) produced an incredible body of work in his brief life, but he is best known for The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, a 572-page, vaguely narrative poem originally published in 1977. Set in the settlements and levee camps along the Mississippi, The Battlefield fuses Southern Gothic techniques with elements of surrealism: as Benjamin Kimpel suggested, it’s as if Huckleberry Finn had been written by André Breton. Stanford adopts the Surrealist celebrations of dreams, as much of the poem comprises dreams and visions. Yet when Lorenzo Thomas called Stanford “a dadgum redneck Surrealist” and “a swamprat Rimbaud,” he’s not quite right: although Stanford’s debts to Rimbaud and Surrealism are clear, neither he nor his alter ego Francis was a redneck or a swamprat in the conventional sense of those words, since both came from educated, upper-middle class families. Moreover, Francis’ whiteness is central to the text: his racial, class, and economic privilege allows him to move like a flâneur through the African-American communities of the Delta, and, like Paris in Nadja and Amour fou, the Delta becomes charged with a psychic energy that complicate the politics of the flâneur, even as it reveals the marvelous in the mundane.
 
“Surrealist Ecologies: Ernst, Ballard, Vandermeer”
Keith Leslie Johnson
William & Mary

Max Ernst’s so-called “jungle paintings” of the late 1930s might be as close as first-wave Surrealism ever got to making an ecological manifesto. Though Surrealism was primarily interested in the inner world of the psyche, its representational logic consistently projected that world onto Nature. Ernst’s jungle paintings are therefore not landscapes so much as dreamscapes. Still, insofar as Surrealism strove to narrow the gap between dreams and waking life, to present them under the same regime of signs, the features of Ernst’s dreamscapes form an ecological picture. Perhaps most salient of these features are flatness, hybridity, and porosity—by which I mean Nature as non-hierarchical, biologically (con)fused, and without clear borders between internal and external. This, at any rate, seems to be how J.G. Ballard approached these images some thirty years on. His first four novels in particular—The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World (1964), and The Crystal World (1966)—each present us with a global disaster scenario, a rebellion or derangement of the classical Elements (air, water, fire, and earth, respectively). Focusing on The Drowned World, I explore how Ballard understood his debt to Surrealism and, more particularly, how he translated Ernst’s jungle paintings into an explicit, if uncanny, ecology. By way of conclusion, I consider Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy as the endpoint of a theoretical trajectory initiated by Ernst, one where flatness, hybridity, and porosity are presented as literal features of Nature, but Nature indistinguishable from dreams.

“Reviving the Corpse: ‘The Typewriter Project’ and Participatory Art”
Robin Blyn
University of West Florida

The installation itself is simple: a wooden booth with a typewriter, a long paper scroll, and an invitation to anyone to write anything with the equipment at hand. As in Surrealism’s early Exquisite Corpse compositions, typists may respond only to the visible fragment of the poem: the contribution of the typist who came directly before. This typewriter, however, has been enhanced with a USB port that allows the emerging poem to appear in real time on the project’s website. Here, anyone can view and respond to the entire poem. This is “The Typewriter Project: The Subconscious of the City,” a contemporary art installation designed by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski. The twin debts of “The Typewriter Project” are Surrealism and 1960s experiments in participatory art. Merging these traditions, the project makes visible the emphasis on collective experience marginalized in a critical approach to Surrealism that privileges the artwork as material object. Such an approach inevitably minimizes the Exquisite Corpse, and yet that practice of collective composition is one of Surrealism’s most enduring legacies. As a means of recovering Surrealist sociality and assessing its political implications in the twenty-first century, I turn both to my experience as director of “The Typewriter Project” during its installation in Florida in 2018 and to Grant Kester’s and Claire Bishop’s exemplary debate about the efficacy of participatory art today. Under the influence of Surrealism, I contend, “The Typewriter Project” intervenes in the evaluation of participatory art practices that privilege ethical considerations over aesthetic experience.

Speakers
avatar for Robin Blyn

Robin Blyn

University of West Florida
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Bill Freind

Associate Professor, Rowan University
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Keith Leslie Johnson

William & Mary

Chairs
avatar for Robin Blyn

Robin Blyn

University of West Florida


Saturday November 3, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am
Room B. Hildreth-Mirza Hall: Humanities Lab (lower level)