1924 __ Surrealist deambulation compared to Dada excursion and Lettrist/Situationist “derive”
‣ Comment : Surrealist experiments with “deambulation” in 1924: looking for unconscious territories. — In “Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice”, Francesco Careri suggests that walking was humanity’s “first aesthetic act.” Walking, apart from being an act that had a certain use value (hunting, foraging, trading, etc.) assumed a dimension that was “symbolic”: an activity that enabled early human beings to “penetrate the territories of chaos” and “construct an order on which to develop an architecture of situated objects”. Careri. — an architect by training. — suggests that walking, by virtue of being an act that puts humans in direct contact with traversed spaces, was, in a certain sense, the origin and expression of disciplines and practices as diverse as sculpture, architecture, religion, and literature. In the 20th century, furthermore, walking not just assumes the ability to generate the “symbolic meanings” (as had been the case with early humans) but also becomes a means to propose new ways of considering and coming to terms with urban spaces. A person walking is not just someone inserted in a city, but someone who can. — by means of artistic practices. — interact with, and perhaps intervene in, various aspects of that space. Careri identifies three key “moments of passage in art history” when walking was the main aesthetic agent. — the passage: 1) from Dada to Surrealism; 2) from the Lettrist International to the Situationist International; and 3) from Minimal Art to Land Art. In addition, a deeper consideration of these “passages” enables us to infer how the main participants of these movements viewed the city spaces in which they walked. In the main, Careri says, the city was seen as “banal” by the Dadaists, “unconscious and oneiric” by the Surrealists, and “playful and nomadic” by the Situationists. Hence, following Careri, a consideration of the act of walking cannot be separated from a consideration of the context in which walking takes place. Far from being a passive act, walking is a way in which one’s disposition toward the city can, by artistic practices, be further thought through and revised. In April 1921, a group of Dadaists met at the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris. This “excursion” into the “banal spaces” was considered by the group as a “passage from the representation of motion to the construction of an aesthetic action to be effected in the reality of everyday life.” According to Careri, what made the Dadaists’ walk to the church important is that, in one sense, the excursion represented a break with the Futurists’ “representation of the city of the future.” In its place, the Dadaists wanted to “propose, by walking, a habitation of the city of the banal.” Most experimentation took place in the realm of representation (painting, sculpture). By contrast, the Dadaists thought of pushing artistic experiment into the “field of action.” For the Dadaists, walking was an attempt at “total secularization of art,” and by so doing, fuse “art and life, . . . sublime and . . . quotidian.” The Surrealists, on the other hand, rejected the Dadaist excursion into banal urban spaces. Instead, they proposed “deambulation”: a movement, on foot and using transportation, from Paris to the countryside areas of Blois and Romorantin. This move contrasted with the Dada aesthetic on two fronts. First, by choosing to wander (at least in the first instance) not in the city but to the country (and allocate several days from start to finish) the Surrealists privileged “disorientation and self-abandon to the unconscious,” provoking among themselves a “strong state of apprehension.” A second point of contrast with the Dadaists was the Surrealists’ view of the city: that it was not a space for the banal but for the unconscious. Surrealism suggested methods of probing the city’s rational surfaces and enabled its practitioners to look into “one’s relationship with urban reality.” For the Surrealists, a city “produces and conceals territories to be exploited, landscapes in which to get lost and to endlessly experience the sensation of everyday wonder.” In the early 1950s, the Lettrists (and, later, the Situationists, who broke away in 1957) critiqued the Surrealists by saying that they (Surrealists) were not able to pursue the “Dada project to its extreme consequences.” Instead of devoting themselves to urban and personal enquiries into the unconscious, the Lettrists / Situationists pursued an “anonymous, collective and revolutionary art,” in which walking was a crucial component, and sought to produce “art without artwork or artist,” acts of self-effacement and disavowal of “representation and personal talent.” The Lettrists / Situationists, thus, sought to produce “the artless.” In contrast to the Dada excursion and the Surrealist deambulation, the Lettrists / Surrealists proposed the dérive (drift) as a new way of negotiating urban spaces: the dérive, in essence, was emblematic of a “lifestyle situated outside and against the rules of bourgeois society.” The dérive. — a “technique of transient passage through varied ambiences”. — was critical of capitalist society: one of the aims of the group was to break old rules and make their own: to “free creative activity from socio-cultural restrictions” and to “design aesthetic and revolutionary actions that undermine or elude social control.” By disposing of old rules and adopting new ones, the Lettrists / Situationists saw the city as a place that was neither banal nor unconscious, but playful.
‣ French comment : “La ville invite à la flânerie et flânerie rime avec rêverie. L’errance, au hasard, dans le dédale des rues parisiennes, reste l’activité préférée des surréalistes, une activité que l’on peut même qualifier de consubstantielle au surréalisme. La déambulation, surtout nocturne, permet le jaillissement de l’inconscient, le surgissement de l’imprévu, le choc poétique, la rencontre amoureuse.” Les surréalistes, passionnés par la vie moderne, ont élu la ville comme lieu de la magie quotidienne. Si Nantes a été une ville hautement surréaliste, Paris fut l’espace d’investigation privilégié des membres du groupe. Fascinés par le Paris littéraire, hantés par les ombres de Nerval ou de Lautréamont, ils ont aussi découvert un Paris nouveau, un Paris contemporain, celui de l’entre-deux-guerres. Nouveau car, délaissant les endroits à la mode comme Montparnasse ou Saint-Germain, les surréalistes ont élu la rive droite, les grands boulevards, les passages et autres lieux considérés jusqu’alors comme ordinaires ou trop « populaires ». Le merveilleux, objet de leur quête, les surréalistes ne le trouvent pas dans le pittoresque mais au contraire dans le banal du quotidien. Ce qui explique, dans la cartographie des itinéraires surréalistes, la primauté de la rive droite sur la rive gauche, trop « pittoresque », justement, selon Breton. Paris, ville magique, est orientée dans le sens nord-sud, mais seule la rive droite reste secrète et pleine de mystères. La rive gauche, c’est Montparnasse, la bohème et son atmosphère factice. La rive droite, c’est l’Est populaire, le quartier de la place Clichy, la Porte Saint-Denis, les Halles, jusqu’à la Seine.”. (Danièle Rousselier, “La révolution surréaliste”, CNDP/ Centre Pompidou, 2002)
‣ Source : Careri, Francesco (2002), “Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (Land & Scape)”, Trans. Steve Piccolo and Paul Hammond, 2002, Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2004.
‣ Urls : http://www.centrepompidou.fr/education/ressources/ENS-surrealisme-pistes/ENS-surrealisme-pistes.htm (last visited )
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