member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life


This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo


(Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Week of Kindness?


(Cover)

This post was cleaned up considerably by the multi-talented Gabriel. Don't miss his monkey!

According to this website:
"Une semaine de bonte was finished in three weeks during the artist's visit with friends in Italy in 1933. The fateful events of that year in Ernst's homeland, including the Nazis' condemnation of his work, may account for the mood of catastrophe that pervades this collage "novel.""
...
In his earliest collage books Ernst generally made up completely new scenes out of many separate pieces, but for most of Une semaine de bonte he used complete existing illustrations as base-pictures, altering them with pasted-on additions. His base-pictures were chiefly the relatively crude and usually lurid wood-engraved illustrations of French popular fiction that were plentiful in the books and periodicals of the late nineteenth century. The subject matter of such literature was torrid love, torture, crimes passionnels and the subsequent incarcerations and executions (by guillotine), hatreds and jealousies among the very wealthy and the very indigent: the inferior spawn of Eugene Sue and Emile Zola. Ernst made his trip to Italy with a suitcase full of such pages."




According to Ian Turpin, in his Phaidon book Max Ernst, "The Dada revolt took a number of forms, from the overtly political to a faith in a new art as the only possible saviour of mankind...it was this latter aspect that attracted Ernst on his discharge from the army in 1917...Ernst's contribution to the Dada attack on both modernist art and accepted values in general was collage," where he could juxtapose bizarre elements to "attack contemporary values in general, particularly the reliance on reason."

Text from Werner Spies, introduction to "Max Ernst: A Retrospective"

"The joins and overlappings [between pieces of the collage] had to be concealed from the viewer. This is why Ernst frequently published his composite imagery only in printed form, in photographic reproduction or in versions later touched up with watercolour. Thanks to these tactics of concealment he succeeded in presenting collage as that which he thought it should be: a completely developed and autonomous system in which the origin of the separate elements is submerged in the final, total image. He was out to produce irritating imagery in which, as in the perfect crime, every clue to its identity had been erased. The joins between the collage elements, moreover, were not so much physical as mental in nature. The hinges linking one piece of source material with another had to remain invisible..."


Collage would thus offer, to my mind, a way of rebuilding the world, in the manner of the Foucault/Borges quote at the side of this blog, in which the elements of the world are re-ordered, the logic of organization completely re-thought and re-structured, and we place things that were never before imagined paired together, and we try this thing (life, society) again. This text, Une Semaine de Bonte seems to focus its efforts on showing how bizarrely paired are the things of the world we live in right now, this "Creation of God's" that has somehow showed itself to be a monster, a monster developed, perhaps, from the clash of our true desires for life with the repressive and unnatural structures of society. This book was created during a period of great disillusionment and fierce rejection of what was seen as a violent, dangerous, insane authority--ALL authority, in fact. This was the mood of the period immediately following World War I. Here is a collection of some of the images, divided into day-sections, of Une Semain de Bonte, along with my thoughts on what he might have been doing with this work:


Sunday's Title Page

Ernst breaks the week into its individual days, giving each day a title page which announces its "element" (four of which are alchemical elements, in their order of use by alchemists) and an "example," or representative of that element, along with a-theoretically, at least--related quote. Each title page is followed by a collection of collages following the stated theme.



(Sunday)


(Sunday)


(Sunday)


(Sunday)


(Sunday)

Sunday, which is the Christian day of rest, not the day of creation--in his book is the day of mud, which to me would, in this book, symbolize the act of creation, as the first man is made from mud, here symbolized by the male, aggressive and passionate king of the jungle: the lion. This begins the book with the creation of man and his sort of violent position as the leader of the world, which goes well with a patriarchal form of religion, and then immediately subverts it, by creating that man on the day religiously and very seriously set aside as the day of rest, the day God did not create man.


(Monday)


(Monday)


(Monday)

What he seems to be creating here is a more "honest"--that is, a more surreal, vicious, illogical and frightening--version of the Christian creation story, the seven days in which God created the world. The title then, is ironic--it's a rejection of the idea that it was any kindness at all to have created this world as it is. Throughout, he seems to suggest also that part of the (massive) problem with the world is the very underlying system of beliefs that created it; for example, the rules and regulations governing the way humans view each other, judge each other, and interact with each other.
Supporting this theory, on The second day, water (represented by water) appears. Water is not only a feminine element, it is also the element symbolic in dreams (with which these surrealists were as obsessed as I) with emotional states and your level of success in dealing with them. A stagnant pool suggests one thing about your emotional life, whereas a glorious afternoon sailing on an endless ocean suggests another. You can become overcome by a tidal wave, you can be overly concerned about the presence of the pee-pee of others in a public pool, you might suddenly discover you're able to breathe underwater. In many of Ernst's watery scenes, some people can walk on the water, while others drown. At any rate, in the first image, a bridge is broken off, and an undeveloped (the joints are still apparent as with a doll) female appears as part of the wreckage. Formed from Adam's rib? In the next image, she is more wholly human, though naked. And then she appears, all sauced-up with the top of the shell (reference to Aphrodite, rising from the water on a shell?) on her head...


(Tuesday)


(Tuesday)


(Tuesday)


(Tuesday)


(Tuesday)

The third day brings in the dragons and serpents, which to me would represent the appearance of the devil in the garden, with his fabulous offerings.



(Wednesday)

(Wednesday)


(Wednesday)

(Wednesday)

Day four leads us to the story of Oedipus, an obsession of Freud's that perhaps caused him to lose a little balance (note: for a fantastic opposing view on the Oedipal complex, read An Interpretation of Murder, an excellent novel and representation of this time period, with excellent insight on the psychological ideas that were then developing). In Wednesday's section (Blood and Oedipus), he introduces improper relations, and an interesting note here is that he was at this time, in a taboo marriage with a cousin--so this idea of relationships prohibited by closeness of blood was a bitter one. Yesterday, the demons came, and today the love that might save me from those demons is prohibited--perhaps even a demon itself. For some reason, Oedipus is conflated in his mind with bird-headed humans--why? Ernst had an obsessive relationship with birds in his paintings, and often showed them caged, or trapped in some other way. As a child, he was informed of the birth of his sister at the same time as the death of his pet cockatoo, and the event was to stand over the rest of his life like a dark shadow. He described it (in the third person) thus: "In his imagination he connected both events and charged the baby with the extinction of the bird's life...A dangerous confusion between birds and humans became encrusted in his mind." The suffering of the war and the way that human beings were treating each other, in what "Ernst regarded as the failure of reconciliation between conscious and unconscious, reason and intuition," (17 Phaidon, Max Ernst, Turpin) was a topic that he was consistently commenting on in his art work; he was very aware of unconscious/subconscious psychological forces and their symbols from university studies as well as from the Surrealist group's obsession with Freud, and in a description of this work of collage as compared to his other works, Turin has written: "The characters of Une Semaine de Bonte are in general both closer to the picture-plane and larger in relation to the surrounding space...There is consequently a feeling not so much of a conflict between conscious and unconscious, as of a direct assault by the latter on the former"(17). If we take this work to be that, and we take his tendency to show birds in a trapped state--trapped by the oppressive, guilt-ridden lives of humans, perhaps, then the bird-headed creatures of Wednesday might represent all that life (subconscious desires; repressed activities, feelings, and sexuality; creative urges) that we have suppressed, finding its way out into the light of the world, as it will, in its own, monstrous form. The reference to Oedipus might also refer to the sense of being crippled, trapped, and condemned by the generation before us, and also feeling so much remorse for our own unnatural actions that we might desire to gouge out our eyes rather than continue to see the results of that. The improper relation to our own blood might have more to do with war, here, than sex.



(Thursday, Rooster)


(Thursday, Rooster)


(Thursday, Easter Island)


(Thursday, Easter Island)

"Those among them who are merry sometimes turn their behinds toward the sky and cast their excrement in the face of other men; then they strike their own bellies lightly." .. "Laughter is probably doomed to disappear."--Marcel Schwob (quoted from two separate works). From these opening quotes, the element (darkness), and its representative (the Rooster's Laughter), I see Thursday as Purgatory--our current plight. A plight which because of our unwillingness or inability to turn away from the hypnotic (think of the impending Hitler, think Franco) force of rigid, tyrannical, repressive structures that are against our nature, against the nature of the universe, even, we face the loss of laughter (surprise, joy--which the rooster's laugh is but a sick twisting of), and sink closer and closer to the bottom (darkness, hell). Within the overall structure of the "Week of Kindness," this is the the descent into banality and its natural evolution into hell itself. Here we see images of torture, suicide, stalking, and freakish experiments. The second representative of darkness is Easter Island, which is present as a series of large, blocky masks, as if the stone sculptures had grown bodies, dressed in contemporary attire, and begun taking part in society.
Why Easter Island as a representative of the darkness, the dark side of man, the purgatory present as a path to hell? According to Wikipedia, on Easter Island, "For unknown reasons, a coup by military leaders called mararoa had brought a new cult based around a previously unexceptional god Makemake. The cult of the birdman...was largely to blame for the island's misery of the late 18th and 19th centuries. With the island's ecosystem fading, destruction of crops quickly resulted in famine, sickness and death." As Ernst already had an association formed in his mind between birds and man's evil, the Easter Island heads then become almost parallel to the laughing rooster heads as a sign of our descent.


Friday's element is sight, and its given manifestation is the interior of sight. He divides the section into the "First Visible Poem," (where he quotes Paul Eluard: "And I object to the love of ready-made images in place of images to be made.") the "Second Visible Poem,"


(Friday, Second Poem)

and the Third, which is very short, consisting of a row of handshakes, and a row of eyeballs gazing at each other, both rows with eggs stationed in various places.
Saturday's element is unknown, but its example is "The Key to Songs," and the section is opened with a silent quote. The images seem to be of women in various states of falling.


(Saturday)


(Saturday)

My feeling is that these last two days refer to the duty of turning inwards (the interior of sight), to come to understand and process who we are and who we could be, what exists underneath our daily routine and daily submissions: it is a refusal of "ready-made images," and an exhortation to begin creating our own (for example, collage...). To look at ourselves and to connect with ourselves (the rows of eyeballs, the rows of handshakes). To be willing to take the leap, as it were, to experience the sense of falling that comes from disconnecting with our current supporting structure in search of a new way of living. To cut and paste from the "lurid" stories around us until we have a new cohesive image, one that makes better (even if not logical) sense.



I end here with what I imagine to be Ernst's response to this week of unkindness:



"The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eduard, and the Painter"

The Full Text

Note: Each day's section opens with a quote from a surrealist text. I didn't touch most of the quotes, but would be fascinated to hear what anyone else has to say about them. The link to the full book is offered to the right of this blog. This is just the structure of the entire body, as I see it, but there is an awful lot going on in each collage.

4 comments:

  1. I have to confess sometimes I sneak at the end of the story before start reading:) In this case it made it even more intruiging...Why in Christ's name is Christ being spanked? I wonder as I start to read about each day of the week. This is really awesome work Zoe, very intruiging and informative. That period was so crazy and intense and it definately reflects in Ernst's work. Thank you so much for this, you are magnificent.

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  2. i'm glad you liked it, vesna...i was floored by that painting as well :)

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  3. Superbe exposition que j'ai vu en juin à Paris merci pour cette jolie page à très bientôt

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