The Impact of Surrealism on Contemporary Female Corporeal Imagery #1

8 December 2021, 10:00:00 pm

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Session Convenors

Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England
Dr Amelia Kelly, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England
Dr Amelia Kelly, University of Sydney

Session Speakers

Michael Moignard, La Trobe University
Dr Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia
Dr Amelia Kelly, University of Sydney
Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England

In 1929 founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, stated that “the problem of woman is the most marvellous and disturbing problem in all the world.” The female body was a central motif of Surrealism. Its appropriation was used by the (mostly) male artists of the period to project concepts of violence, metaphoric breakdown of societal morals and their own repressed fears and desires towards the female body. Representations included the augmented, fragmented and violated body, and woman as infantised, eroticised and fetishised. While female surrealists similarly used recurring surrealist tropes, they often co-opted them in order to subvert male privilege and significantly bring new insight to female selfhood.
Today, contemporary artists and cultural producers continue to draw on surrealist aesthetics and individual conceptual logic in their portrayal of the female experience. This session examines the impact of Surrealism on art and popular visual culture of recent decades, particularly on corporeal imagery. This panel asks: where can those traces of Surrealism in contemporary depiction of the female body be identified? The speakers discuss the ways visual artists, performers and social media figures make use of surrealist tropes to communicate counter-hegemonic discourse on female subjectivity and fluid notions of femininity.

PAPER #1
Picasso, Surrealism and Maie Casey in the 1930s: Le Repos and its resonance in contemporary Australian Art

PRESENTER
Michael Moignard, La Trobe University

The first privately owned Picasso to be exhibited in Australia came from the collection of Maie Casey (1892-1983). Casey was an author and artist and her collection of International and Australian art from the 1930s contained several surrealist pieces by Australian and European artists including works by Drysdale, Purves Smith, Thake, Picasso and Wood. The Picasso's Le Repos was painted in 1932, during Picasso’s surrealist period. It shows a sleeping Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s mistress at the time. It belongs to a series of works that Picasso painted about sleep and dreams, which were the focus of a recent Tate exhibition, Picasso 1932. The work was exhibited in Melbourne and Sydney in 1937 and 1938 to mixed reviews. Casey introduced this picture of a surrealist sleeping woman to Australian art in 1937, and this image continues to resonate with artists today. This paper examines the work of three Australian contemporary artists: Pat Brassington, who uses dream images to show what might be the subconscious thoughts of the sleeping woman; Anne Wallace, who examines the sleeping figure and the surrealist dream, in a remote disturbed setting; and Petrina Hicks, who mixes gothic and surrealist images in her otherworldly photographs of sleeping women.

PAPER #2
Approach with caution: from Please touch 1947 to Oppenheim and Lucas

PRESENTER
Dr Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia

This illustrated paper traces a path from Please touch, Marcel Duchamp’s and Enrico Donati’s cover for Le Surréalisme en 1947, the catalogue for first post-war Surrealist exhibition, to Meret Oppenheim’s Squirrel 1969 and Sarah Lucas’ TITTIPUSSIDAD 2018. It examines the ‘push-me, pull-me’ tactics of Oppenheim’s and Lucas’ works, their use of usual materials, surprising combinations and appeals to the tactile. The 1947 exhibition, staged at Maeght Gallery in Paris, announced a new direction for Surrealism: myth and the occult as a vehicle for change and a means for understanding human existence after the horrors of World War II. From a staircase the audience ascended to the Room of Superstitions, passing through the Rain room to the Labyrinth of Initiations. Le Surréalisme en 1947 incorporated works by Maria Martins, Kaye Sage, Dorothea Tanning, Toyen and others, with some spaces conceived as ‘female’ and primordial. Did the work of these women artists suggest a means of departure, some ways forward from André Breton’s ‘most marvellous and disturbing problem in all the world’? What insights might these earlier instances of corporeal fragmentation and sculptural fluidity offer for the experience of being female in an artworld continuously dominated by men?

PAPER #3
Reclaiming Surrealist aesthetics in popular visual culture : the music videos of St Vincent, Angèle and FKA Twigs

PRESENTERS
Dr Amelia Kelly, University of Sydney and Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England

In 1929 founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, stated that “the problem of woman is the most marvellous and disturbing problem in all the world.” The female body was appropriated as a central motif of Surrealism, particularly as metaphoric representation of transgression. This included the fragmented body, and woman as eroticised and fetishised. While female surrealists similarly used recurring tropes, they often co-opted them in order to subvert male privilege and significantly bring new insight to female selfhood. Today, artists continue to draw on surrealist aesthetics in their mediation of female experience. This can particularly be observed in the music videos of popular female musicians. This paper examines examples by St Vincent (US), Angèle (Belgian) and FKA Twigs (UK), to demonstrate how Surrealism has expanded into popular visual culture as an effective means to convey subversive feminist commentary. It discusses the manner in which these contemporary artists draw the modernist avant garde, less as simply a style but also ideologically. In doing so, the paper sheds light on the powerful legacy of Surrealism and its enduring value in addressing potent topics relating to the logical/illogical realm of the subconscious, body politics concerning genders and race, and the psychosexual.

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Biographies

Dr Amelia Kelly, University of Sydney

Dr Mimi Kelly is a lecturer in Art History at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her knowledge field sits at the intersection of art, popular culture and gender studies. Her specialisation focusses on curatorial pedagogies, object-based learning, digital installation, performance art, photomedia and global encounters via social media platforms. She also participates in research projects focussing on audience engagement and public cultural spaces. She completed her PhD through Sydney College of the Arts in 2019. She is a member of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand and Photographic Cultures Research Group.


Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England

Dr Victoria Souliman is a lecturer in French studies at the University of New England, Australia. She completed her PhD in Art History at the University of Sydney, Australia, and in Anglophone Studies at Université de Paris, France, in 2019. Her research focuses on issues of national identity, expatriatism and women’s agency in the artistic exchanges between Australia, France and Britain in the early 20th century. Prior to joining UNE in 2020, she lectured in Art History at the University of Sydney.


Michael Moignard, La Trobe University

Michael finished a PhD at La Trobe University in 2021, on Australian Art Collectors and their Collections, 1920-1940. He has presented papers to the Australian History Association conference in July 2016, to the University of New England in November 2016, and to the AAANZ conference in December 2017. He has given presentations on the Howard Hinton Collection at the New England Art Museum in 2016 and 2019 and to the Hazlehurst Regional Gallery in 2016. His interests include Australian art between the wars, and the Australian response to modernism in the 1930s.


Dr Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia

Dr Lucina Ward is Curator of International Painting and Sculpture at the NGA, Canberra, where her projects include: Love & desire: Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces from Tate (2018–19); American Masters 1940–1980 (2018); Versailles: Treasures from the Palace (2016–17); James Turrell: A retrospective (2014–15); Masterpieces from Paris (2009–10) and Soft sculpture (2009). She worked with Turrell on Within without 2010, the Skyspace for the Sculpture Garden, and regularly publishes and lectures on many aspects of the collection. Lucina’s doctorate was granted by the Australian National University, and she is also a graduate of the Canberra School of Art and the University of Canberra.