Exhibit II: Dada and Surrealism

Correspondences: A series of explorations within the roots of French Steampunk
By S. J. Chambers

Just as progress giveth, progress can also taketh away, and did so during World War I, when innovation focused upon efficient murder.  With automatic and long range firepower, mines, and the introduction of chemical warfare, Europe’s youth was being slaughtered by millions, 9 million by 1918 as a fact.  With life so easily disposable and nationalist propaganda nonchalantly sweeping the bodies under their respective flags, young intellectuals weaned on Symbolism–like Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte–gave up, for a while at least, seeking the inner nature of man, and began searching for whether anything of man was left at all.

LHOOQ, Marcel Duchamp

LHOOQ, Marcel Duchamp, 1919

With Dadaism, all of tradition was overthrown. Everything in Western philosophy, art, and literature up to 1916 was torn to shreds and replaced with construction paper, simultaneous poems, wood, collage, photomontage and trash canonized as “ready mades” by Marcel Duchamp.

LHOOQ is not only an example of the ready made–a found object given new meaning by the artist’s modification, but also a source of another unique Dada characteristic: irony. By defacing a postcard of the revered Mona Lisa and renaming it LHOOQ (when pronounced sounds like “She has a hot ass”), Duchamp pulled into question the validity of Western concepts of art and society.

Avatar pour trombinoscope, Futuravapeur

Avatar pour trombinoscope, Futuravapeur, 2007

Traits of that same irony can be found in French Steampunk.  Of course, its presence is not irreverent like Dadaism, but is rather a tool to draw comparisons between the present and the past.  For instance, when Futuravapeur uses humor in his work, it is fun loving and self-deprecating.  In this avatar, he has juxtaposed his face onto a classical engraving to tie him and his 21st century work back to the same tradition Dada revolted against.  In the Maurice Sandalette series, he pokes fun at science fiction, gothic, and detective classics, but it is with love and appreciation rather than the disdain Dadaists stained their art jokes with.

Machine, Tournez Vite, Francis Picabia

Machine, Tournez Vite, Francis Picabia 1916

While the Dadaists began breaking down and rebuilding art with new materials, many, like Francis Picabia, cast their gaze away from human representation to make new icons of modernity by drawing upon an increasing mechanical society.  Artists like Francis Picabia did mechanical portraits of machines, gears, and modern conveniences like the portable camera.

L’oiseaux dans un aquarium, Hans Arp, 1920

L’oiseaux dans un aquarium, Hans Arp, 1920

Others, divorced themselves from representation entirely.  Jean Arp relied upon chance for composition, first by cutting up construction paper and letting it randomly land on canvas.  Eventually, this method evolved into biomorphic representation that further advocated a new art for art’s sake, in which the art itself was its own story.

Bass 1, Chris Anderson, 2011

Bass 1, Chris Anderson, 2011

In Chris Anderson, Dada’s main concepts–the ready made, the mechanical subject,  and chance compositions–are married with a Steampunk aesthetic creating an industrial composition of cogs, gears, chains, and tentacles swimming in a leather sea of an old steam trunk.  He takes these ordinary objects, and manipulates them into both sculpture and canvas, and plays upon the Dadaists anti-art aesthetic where the piece can be appreciated for its own sake, or in fact, morphed by the eye into a more traditional seascape.

Holzkauf, Raoul Haussman, 1920

Holzkauf, Raoul Haussman, 1920

After World War I, it seemed man was merging with machine.  Surviving soldiers returned to their homes with metal plates and noses, prosthetic arms and limbs.  Ravages the Dadaists noted when they did do representational pieces. Those works merged the human face or figure with mechanical apparatus, as seen here in Raoul Hausmann’s Holzkauf (Mechanical Head).

Casque d’Ingénieur Impérial I, Futuravapeur, 2007

Casque d’Ingénieur Impérial I, Futuravapeur, 2007

Futuravaepur’s Casque d’Ingénieur Impérial I bares a striking resemblance to Hausmann’s Holzkauf; however, the mechanical elements of Futuravapur’s head seem more integrated. While perhaps the helmet is not designed to become part of the human body,  nonetheless its function as an apparatus to sight and perception makes it an improvement of the body.  While its aesthetic is set in the past not only with nineteenth century resonance, and an echo of Dada’s mecha-humanistic concerns, Casque touches on  a very contemporary concern where advancements in medicine entertainments of Transhumanism, and nanotechnology bring man even closer to becoming cybernetic.

The Man in the Bowler Hat, René Magritte, 1964

The Man in the Bowler Hat, René Magritte, 1964

Dada terrorized the world for ten years until it was overthrown by Surrealism in 1924.  Under André Breton reign, Surrealism gave up attacking societal morals, and believed, like Symbolism, civilization could be saved by more internal explorations involving that new Twentieth century mysticism: psycho-analysis and the interpretation of dreams.

Maurice s'expose chez Kodak, Futurvapeur, 2010

Maurice s’expose chez Kodak, Futurvapeur, 2010

Above all, Surrealism was seen as a philosophy, a lifestyle which manifested and transmitted its ideas through painting, photography, and writing. Dadaist mecha-imagery disappeared and was replaced by figurative painting and photography that was highly symbolic and metaphorical. Bits of Dada still linger in the form of games of chance, biomorphism (with a twist of anthromorphism), and surprising juxtapositions and associations.

Surrealism’s legacy within French Steampunk can be found in its sense of visual exploration.  Even though at the heart of Steampunk  is a nineteenth century aesthetic, a sense of a Modernist revolt and questioning is ever present, whether it is humorous or serious.

La Poupée, Hans Bellmer, 1935

La Poupée, Hans Bellmer, 1935

In photography, the body was pushed to the limits as a poetic object.  In Hans Bellmer’s Doll series, he used dolls to construct realistic and lifelike portraits of pubescent women.

Le Violón d’Ingres, Man Ray, 1924

Le Violon d’Ingres, Man Ray, 1924

While Hellmer used objects to connote a female body, Man Ray transformed the female figure into objects, using free association to transmute this model’s back into the graceful body of a cello.

La Poupée à la violette, AnXiogène, 2006

La Poupée à la violette, AnXiogène, 2006

In Anxiogene’s photography, she combines the surrealist preoccupation with the beauty of the female form.  Her women are, like Bellmer’s dolls, not what they seem.  In her Broken Doll  series she meshes Bellmer’s and Man Ray’s disparate objectifications, and makes a unified image that conjures questions about Victorian nostalgia and the ubiquitous male gaze.

Reine de Coeur, AnXiogène, 2008

Reine de Coeur, AnXiogène, 2008

Her images are beautiful but also disconcerting, and I see them following more in the tradition of the women surrealists, not because AnXiogène is female, but because she is not afraid to break down the female form, which is still revered and viewed as objects of desire.

The Two Fridas, Frida Khalo, 1939

The Two Fridas, Frida Khalo, 1939

The Women Surrealists were not able to tarry far from that sexist conception, but through their art they explored it, thwarted it, and reinvented themselves by deconstructing their female experiences.

Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra, Salvador Dalí, 1936

Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra, Salvador Dalí, 1936

Subjects aside, another striking characteristic of Surrealism was its return to narrative painting, featuring representational figures within a dreamscape construction of the subconscious.  Things are not what they seem in these paintings, and every object and person within the painting is a symbol of the overall story.

Schéhérazade, Sam Van Olffen, 2011

Schéhérazade, Sam Van Olffen, 2011

Which brings us back, full circle, to Sam Van Olffen whose Symbolist attributes also embody Surrealistic ones, combing traditional myths revisited by retro-futurist setting and its implications in the past.

French Steampunk is its own unique art movement, and by tracing some of its lineage, it is apparent its foundation is strong and is fated to only grow stronger.  This is a future that not only guarantees to transmute Steampunk from a fleeting trend to a true movement, and this is a future that I look forward to witnessing in the years to come.

Thank you all for reading my little musings, and a special thanks to Arthur Morgan for not only introducing me to French Steampunk, but for inviting me to guest post.

Correspondences: A series of explorations within the roots of French Steampunk
By S. J. Chambers

Exhibit II:  Dada and Surrealism

Just as progress giveth, progress can also taketh away, and did so during World War I, when innovation focused upon efficient murder.  With automatic and long range firepower, mines, and the introduction of chemical warfare, Europe’s youth was being slaughtered by millions, 9 million by 1918 as a fact.  With life so easily disposable and nationalist propaganda nonchalantly sweeping the bodies under their respective flags, young intellectuals weaned on Symbolism–like Tristan Tzara, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte–gave up, for a while at least, seeking the inner nature of man, and began searching for whether anything of man was left at all.

Image 1: LHOOQ, Marcel Duchamp, 1919

With Dadaism, all of tradition was overthrown. Everything in Western philosophy, art, and literature up to 1916 was torn to shreds and replaced with construction paper, simultaneous poems, wood, collage, photomontage and trash canonized as “ready mades” by Marcel Duchamp.

LHOOQ is not only an example of the ready made–a found object given new meaning by the artist’s modification, but also a source of another unique Dada characteristic: irony. By defacing a postcard of the revered Mona Lisa and renaming it LHOOQ (when pronounced sounds like “She has a hot ass”), Duchamp pulled into question the validity of Western concepts of art and society.

Image 2: Avatar pur trombinoscope, Futuravapeur, 2007

Traits of that same irony can be found in French Steampunk.  Of course, its presence is not irreverent like Dadaism, but is rather a tool to draw comparisons between the present and the past.  For instance, when Futuravapeur uses humor in his work, it is fun loving and self-deprecating.  In this avatar, he has juxtaposed his face onto a classical engraving to tie him and his 21st century work back to the same tradition Dada revolted against.  In the Maurice Sandalette series, he pokes fun at science fiction, gothic, and detective classics, but it is with love and appreciation rather than the disdain Dadaists stained their art jokes with.

Image 3: Machine, Tournez Vite, Francis Picabia, 1916

While the Dadaists began breaking down and rebuilding art with new materials, many, like Francis Picabia, cast their gaze away from human representation to make new icons of modernity by drawing upon an increasing mechanical society.  Artists like Francis Picabia did mechanical portraits of machines, gears, and modern conveniences like the portable camera.

Image 4: L’oiseaux dans un aquarium, Hans Arp, 1920

Others, divorced themselves from representation entirely.  Jean Arp relied upon chance for composition, first by cutting up construction paper and letting it randomly land on canvas.  Eventually, this method evolved into biomorphic representation that further advocated a new art for art’s sake, in which the art itself was its own story.

Image 5:  Bass 1, Chris Anderson, 2011 (?)

In Chris Anderson, Dada’s main concepts–the ready made, the mechanical subject,  and chance compositions–are married with a Steampunk aesthetic creating an industrial composition of cogs, gears, chains, and tentacles swimming in a leather sea of an old steam trunk.  He takes these ordinary objects, and manipulates them into both sculpture and canvas, and plays upon the Dadaists anti-art aesthetic where the piece can be appreciated for its own sake, or in fact, morphed by the eye into a more traditional seascape.

Image 6:  Holzkauf, Raoul Haussman, 1920

After World War I, it seemed man was merging with machine.  Surviving soldiers returned to their homes with metal plates and noses, prosthetic arms and limbs.  Ravages the Dadaists noted when they did do representational pieces. Those works merged the human face or figure with mechanical apparatus, as seen here in Raoul Hausmann’s Holzkauf (Mechanical Head).

Image 7: Casque d’Ingénuir Impérial I, Futuravapeur, 2007

Futuravaepur’s Casque d’Ingénuir Impérial I bares a striking resemblance to Hausmann’s Holzkauf; however, the mechanical elements of Futuravapur’s head seem more integrated. While perhaps the helmet is not designed to become part of the human body,  nonetheless its function as an apparatus to sight and perception makes it an improvement of the body.  While its aesthetic is set in the past not only with nineteenth century resonance, and an echo of Dada’s mecha-humanistic concerns, Casque touches on  a very contemporary concern where advancements in medicine entertainments of Transhumanism, and nanotechnology bring man even closer to becoming cybernetic.

Image 8: The Man in the Bowler Hat, René Magritte, 1964

Dada terrorized the world for ten years until it was overthrown by Surrealism in 1924.  Under André Breton reign, Surrealism gave up attacking societal morals, and believed, like Symbolism, civilization could be saved by more internal explorations involving that new Twentieth century mysticism: psycho-analysis and the interpretation of dreams.

Image 9:  Maurice S’Expose chez Kodak, Futurvapeur, 2010

Above all, Surrealism was seen as a philosophy, a lifestyle which manifested and transmitted its ideas through painting, photography, and writing. Dadaist mecha-imagery disappeared and was replaced by figurative painting and photography that was highly symbolic and metaphorical. Bits of Dada still linger in the form of games of chance, biomorphism (with a twist of anthromorphism), and surprising juxtapositions and associations.

Surrealism’s legacy within French Steampunk can be found in its sense of visual exploration.  Even though at the heart of Steampunk  is a nineteenth century aesthetic, a sense of a Modernist revolt and questioning is ever present, whether it is humorous or serious.

Image 10:  La Poupée, Hans Bellmer, 1935

In photography, the body was pushed to the limits as a poetic object.  In Hans Bellmer’s Doll series, he used dolls to construct realistic and lifelike portraits of pubescent women.

Image 11:  Le Violón d’Ingres, Man Ray, 1924

While Hellmer used objects to connote a female body, Man Ray transformed the female figure into objects, using free association to transmute this model’s back into the graceful body of a cello.

Image 12: La Poupée à la violette, AnXiogène, 2006

In Anxiogene’s photography, she combines the surrealist preoccupation with the beauty of the female form.  Her women are, like Bellmer’s dolls, not what they seem.  In her Broken Doll  series she meshes Bellmer’s and Man Ray’s disparate objectifications, and makes a unified image that conjures questions about Victorian nostalgia and the ubiquitous male gaze.

Image 13: Riene de Coeur, AnXiogène, 2008

Her images are beautiful but also disconcerting, and I see them following more in the tradition of the women surrealists, not because AnXiogène is female, but because she is not afraid to break down the female form, which is still revered and viewed as objects of desire.

Image 14: The Two Fridas, Frida Khalo, 1939

The Women Surrealists were not able to tarry far from that sexist conception, but through their art they explored it, thwarted it, and reinvented themselves by deconstructing their female experiences.

Image 15: Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra, Salvador Dalí, 1936

Subjects aside, another striking characteristic of Surrealism was its return to narrative painting, featuring representational figures within a dreamscape construction of the subconscious.  Things are not what they seem in these paintings, and every object and person within the painting is a symbol of the overall story.

Image 16: Schéhérazade, Sam Van Olffen, 2011

Which brings us back, full circle, to Sam Van Olffen whose Symbolist attributes also embody Surrealistic ones, combing traditional myths revisited by retro-futurist setting and its implications in the past.

French Steampunk is its own unique art movement, and by tracing some of its lineage, it is apparent its foundation is strong and is fated to only grow stronger.  This is a future that not only guarantees to transmute Steampunk from a fleeting trend to a true movement, and this is a future that I look forward to witnessing in the years to come.

Thank you all for reading my little musings, and a special thanks to Morgan Guery for not only introducing me to French Steampunk, but for inviting me to guest post.  I hope you enjoyed them, and perhaps I will see you all at the French Steampunk event at Libraire L’Antre Monde, Paris, September 16th with me and Etienne Bariller.

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2 responses to “Exhibit II: Dada and Surrealism

  1. Pingback: Steampunk Hands Around the World – Official Link List | Airship Ambassador·

  2. Pingback: Steampunk Hands Around the World – Official Link List: UPDATED!·

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