Surrealism – History, Influences and Characteristics

The surrealist art movement emerged in the 1920’s; it is believed to have stemmed from the Dada art movement. ‘The idea of the Dada movement was to go against traditional art and all for which it stood’ (arthistoryarchive 2014).

Dada: ABCD by Raoul Hausmann (1920)

hausmann-3Cubism: Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso (1937)

PabloPicasso-Weeping-Woman-with-Handkerchief-1937

Expressionism: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

van-gogh-vincent-starry-nightSurrealist artists use elements and techniques inspired from Dada, Cubism and Expressionism (examples shown above). This shows the importance of looking at history, of which I have studied for my theory module, as it allows exploration into different art movement, how they began, its influences and evolvement over time. Some of the key characteristics of surrealist art are:

-juxtaposition of objects that would not normally be together
-repetition of objects
-varied object scaling
-simple titles of work

Surrealism: Golconda by Rene Margritte (1953)

golconda

Surrealism is shaped by emerging theories on our perception of reality, it relates to the blurring distinctions of the conscious (reality) and unconscious mind (dreams). Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis was a key figure, his ideas and theories were strongly embraced by surrealists. His work, titled The Interpretation of Dreams Freud's Iceberg 2(1900),

‘strongly influenced the movement of Surrealism, providing a theoretical basis to unravel the unconscious and thus free the imagination through their work’ (Manoeuvresto 2012).

My interactive piece can relate to surrealism as it features some of the key characteristics listed above. The juxtaposition of the falling shapes blurs users perception of reality, as they would usually just expect to see themselves captured on camera. The addition of the falling shapes is a surreal feature, of which the distinctions between the conscious and unconscious become blurred. The shapes are also repeated and are of various different sizes, another common characteristic of surrealist work.

I feel that it is important to explore the history of surrealism as it has helped to further my understanding of the concept. I have learnt more about the art movements of which influences surrealist work as well as further exploring Freudian theory. Next, I will go on to explore some surreal photography as at the moment I have only looked at artwork. I feel that by looking at some more existing surreal pieces, it can help inspire me for my piece and will allow me to analyse the concept further.

arthistoryarchive, 2014. The Origins Of Surrealism [online]. Available from: http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/surrealism/Origins-of-Surrealism.html [Accessed 3 December 2014].

Manoeuvresto, 2012. The Influence Of Sigmund Freud’s Theory Of Dreams On The Movement Of Surrealism [online]. Available from:http://manoeuvresto.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/influence-of-sigmund-freuds-theory-of.html %5BAccessed 3 December 2014].

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Concept: Surrealism

Surrealism is the concept that my interactive piece will apply to. Surrealism is a 20th century movement that was shaped by emerging theories on our perception of reality. It is dedicated to expressing the imagination as revealed in dreams, which is most commonly done through the irrational juxtaposition of images. Rene Magritte is a famous surrealist artist…

‘much of the work created by Rene Magritte, takes everyday, normal objects, and he would simply rearrange the figures, and locations, forcing the viewer to take a deeper look at what was in front of them, and at what the image truly represented.’ (Renemagritte.org)

Here are two examples of Magrittes surreal artwork that stood out most to me:

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009-The Son of Man, 1946. This painting is a self-portrait that features an apple covering up his face. Magritte says

‘Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present’ (ReneMagritte.org).

This idea relates to the surrealist idea of the ‘real’ and ‘imagination’, as in this case we know that hidden behind the apple is his face, but what individual people imagine his face to look like behind the object may differ. Hence the viewers will experience conflictions between what is actually present and the hidden.

golconda-Golconda, 1953. This painting relates nicely to my idea as you have various men that look as if they are falling from the sky. The ‘raining men’ are positioned against a row of buildings and blue sky. The inclusion of the men encourages viewers to explore deeper into the painting in order to try interpret what is being presented. The juxtapositioning of the men blurs the boundaries between the ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’, as you would expect to see buildings and men in bowler hats but you don’t expect to see them floating/falling from the sky. This relates to my idea as I plan to have falling objects that users can interact with by obstructing them from falling. From looking at this painting, I have decided that I will experiment with different objects/figures that I could use and what would be best to create this surreal effect.

The concept of surrealism and the juxtaposition of objects/images relates to my idea as the user will be captured on the screen along with various falling objects. Likewise to Magrittes’ work, it makes the users more attentive as it encourages them to explore deeper into what is being represented on the screen. It also helps to appeal viewers in as the paintings are unusual compared to most artworks, which I believe makes them more unique and memorable. Linking this to my idea, I feel that users would typically expect to just see themselves being captured on camera, however, their perceptions of reality may become blurred due to the addition of the unexpected objects. The addition of the objects on the screen blurs this idea relating to the ‘real’ and ‘imagination’ and the fact it is interactive could in fact enhance this surreal idea. I feel that incorporating my piece to the concept of surrealism is a good way to engage users as it encourages them to explore the text deeper in order to fully understand what is being represented.

Carrying out previous requirements gathering on my target audience has made me realise the complexity of contemporary audiences and getting users to decode the concept of my piece (surrealism) may be challenging. As Hermes (2002, p.285) states:

‘the meaning of a text is always subject to negotiation.’

Some may decode the surreal concept, whereas others may decode other varied meanings and concepts from interacting with my piece. Liebes (2005, p.363) suggest that:

‘the dominant paradigm has shifted from audiences as users of texts to the process of reception, based on the idea that viewers are capable of creating a plurality of meanings, and allowing for the possibility of oppositional, or subversive decodings’

hypoanimContemporary audiences are more active consumers of texts, rather than the outdated idea of passive audiences, related to the hypodermic needle theory (1920s). Due to my target audience being mainly Media School students, I feel that a range of meanings and concepts may be decoded from my piece – dependant on many factors including the individuals experiences, course, level of interaction etc.

References:

Hermes, J, 2002. Active Audiences. In: The Media: An Introduction By Briggs And Cobley. 2ed, 282- 293. Harlow: Longman.

Liebes, T, 2005. Viewing and Reviewing the Audience: Fashions in Communication Research. In: Curran, J and Gurevitch, M eds. Mass Media and Society. 4th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 356-374.

Renemagritte.org, 2009. Rene Magritte And His Paintings [online]. Available from: http://www.renemagritte.org/ [Accessed 1 December 2014].

Renemagritte.org, 2009. The Son Of Man, 1946 By Rene Magritte [online]. Available from: http://www.renemagritte.org/the-son-of-man.jsp [Accessed 1 December 2014].

Idea For Interactive Piece

The brief we have been set is to…

‘Create a piece of interactive information design for a shared public space, which is intended to elucidate/explain some an idea or concept you perceive as key to our 21st century media experience.’

The interactive element of my piece will be related to motion, I will video capture the public space and detect the brightness threshold of motion. The piece will feature objects that gravitate towards the bottom of the screen; when motion is detected, the objects are then obstructed from falling. The video capture will be in contrasting black and white, with brightly coloured objects, and the people will be captured as silhouette like figures rather than in full detail. The interactive element of my idea gives the users a sense of agency, which hopefully will help to keep them engaged. A piece that relates to my idea is Text Rain, produced by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv in 1999:

It features coloured falling letters which respond to users motions and can be caught, lifted, and then let fall again.

‘If a participant accumulates enough letters along their outstretched arms, or along the silhouette of any dark object, they can sometimes catch an entire word, or even a phrase. The falling letters are not random, but form lines of a poem about bodies and language’ (Utterback 2014).

I like how the text produces a poem and think that this piece is very effective. For my piece, I could experiment with using different objects, for example I could possibly use shapes, texts or graphics. Relating it to the public space, I feel the idea would be suitable as the piece can be experienced singularly or by multiple people.

The concept that I could apply my piece to is surrealism. Surrealism is a

‘movement, which began in the 1920s, of writers and artists who experimented with ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination’ (Tate, 2014).

Duval (2014) describes surrealism as a form of expression that surpasses realism, hence in this case the surreal can be seen as being better than ‘real’. Surrealists were inspired by Freud, who

‘identified a deep layer of the human mind where memories and our most basic instincts are stored. He called this the unconscious, since most of the time we are not aware of it. The aim of surrealism was to reveal the unconscious and reconcile it with rational life.’ (Tate, 2014).

Thus, surrealism is related to the blurring the distinction between reality(conscious mind) and dreams(unconscious mind). This could link to Baudrillards’ idea of hyperreality, of which I am studying in my Consumer Culture theory unit. He defines hyperreality as the blurring distinction between reality and simulations of reality, of which in the case of surrealism, dreams and imagination could be classed as simulations of reality. Baudrillard (1970, p.12) suggests that

‘Instead of reality, people are treated to simulations involving the constant recombination of various signs, of elements of the code.’

This highlights the blurring boundaries between reality and simulation of reality, of which can strongly be applied to contemporary postmodern culture. It can relate to my idea as users may think it is reality as they are present on the screen, but in fact it is a re-presentation of reality, with the juxtapositioning of random falling objects. This also relates to Saussures’ earlier ideas regarding semiotics: the signifier (object/words/pieces) and signified (concept/meaning), and as Barthes (1964 p.42) suggest:Saussure-Signified-signifier

‘the signified is not ‘a thing’ but a mental representation of the ‘thing’’

My idea could also relate to the concept of audiences, which I studied a lot in my first year theory modules, relating to the changes from passivity to activity, audiences to users and consumption to production (see previous post – Active Audiences).

Next, I will go on to explore some surreal art work and photography that I find of interest, and will relate it to my idea, as well as further exploring my chosen concept of surrealism. I will also go on to develop my processing skills, by watching tutorials and independently experimenting with trial and error, as well as attending the workshops.

References:

Barthes, R, 1964. Elements Of Semiology. New York: Hill and Wang.

Baudrillard, J, 1970. The Consumer Society: Myths & Structures [online]. London: Sage Publications.

Duval, A, 2014. Surrealism: What Is Surrealism? [online]. Available from: http://www.musee-magritte-museum.be/Typo3/index.php?id=8 [Accessed 27 November 2014].

Tate, 2014. Surrealism [online]. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/surrealism [Accessed 27 November 2014].

Utterback, C, 2014. Text Rain [online]. Available from: http://camilleutterback.com/projects/text-rain/ [Accessed 27 November 2014].