16 September 2010

La Subversión de las Imágenes

This month I finally saw the big surrealism exhibition that's been touring Europe for the last year or so, La Subversion des Images/Subversion der Bilder/La Subversión de las Imágenes. The exhibition, subtitled 'Surrealism, Photography and Film', opened at the Centre Pompidou about a year ago. I was in Paris in November but the museum was closed due to strikes so I missed the show and though I intended to be in Paris again in January the moons aligned and I couldn't make it. The exhibition moved to the Fotomuseum Winterthur in February, where it remained for three months out of my reach. After Winterthur it was relocated to Madrid's Fondación Mapfre, where it has been until last Sunday.

Fortunately, I found myself in Madrid recently and was able to see the exhibition. I found it extremely thorough and very beautiful. Many of the included photographs are very famous, others are quite unknown (at least to me), so it was interesting to see these side-by-side and begin to contextualise the Surrealism movement in terms of artists as much as works. The exhibit is huge so I was kind of glad that most of the text was in Spanish (which I don't have) so I didn't feel obliged, as I often do, to read every word.

Two artists who really took my attention were Claude Cahun and Raoul Ubac who seemingly played large roles in the movement but who are less known compared to the Man Rays and Brassaïs of the world. Cahun worked a lot with self-portraiture, toying with ideas of identity and construction of self through experiments with photographic printing.

Ubac's work was more abstract, he "was always on the look-out for the fortuitous consequences of 'rejects'", and his nebulous forms reflect those chance encounters that occur between light, paper and flesh. Ubac's use of 'burning off' (i.e. melting) a negative to test how far he could push its disintegration seems to exemplify a surrealist practice, which could stand both separate to and beside the subsequently surreal images such a practice produced.

It seemed like a kind of closure to finally see an exhibition I'd been trying to visit for ten months, but it also made me realise how my ideas about what makes a good exhibition or what's of value in exhibition-making, and therefore the expectations I have of exhibitions, my level of patience and dedication to them, has been shifting. I realised that the way I felt about these works and this show - to mention nothing of the necessary contextual differences and motives between my being in Paris in November 2009 and Madrid in September 2010 - had really changed in the ten months after my initial desire to visit. The contentment and pleasure of closure and seeing a beautiful exhibit was there, sure, but yet more present was that seldomly tangible sense of time-passed and self-changed. Surreal but true.


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