The Impact of Surrealism on Contemporary Female Corporeal Imagery #2

9 December 2021, 12:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

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

Session Moderators

Dr Mimi Kelly, The University of Sydney
Dr Victoria Souliman, The University of New England

Session Speakers

Dr Léa Vuong, University of Sydney
Dr Klem James, University of Wollongong
Michael Moignard, La Trobe University

Dr Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia
Dr Mimi 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
Caring for bodies: Louise Bourgeois’s Arch of Hysteria

PRESENTER
Dr Léa Vuong, University of Sydney

This paper examines the work of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) and its reception as a feminist subversion of Surrealist tropes through a close analysis of her bronze sculpture Arch of Hysteria (1993). For this sculpture, the artist cast the body of her assistant Jerry in the curved position of hysterical female bodies, a shape made familiar in part by Regnard and Bourneville’s Iconographie Photographique de La Salpêtrière published in the 19th-century. In his 2002 article ‘Loving Freud Madly’, Jean-Michel Rabaté notes that ‘hysteria’s main question according to Lacan (“Am I a man or a woman?”) leads to a troubling and productive doubt — since, indeed, it took two sides, the seduced interns and the enraptured hysterics, to produce the ectasies so much admired by the Surrealists’. This article looks at Bourgeois’s Arch of Hysteria as multi-sided object, one that subverts Surrealism’s male erotic gaze while embracing the ecstatic shape that produced it — questioning our own willingness to be confronted with the spectacle of hysteria. This article argues that Bourgeois’s gender-bending forms are not only about reversing gender roles, but also about the ethics of care, reflecting on what the artist can show and what the viewer can see.

PAPER #2
Re-visiting Surrealist Hysteria: From Female Objectification to a Fragmentation of Identity

PRESENTER
Dr Klem James, University of Wollongong

While recent scholarship has drawn attention to the more transgressive and erotic strands of late Surrealist art and thought, these frequently emerged at the expense of the female subject. Surrealism’s treatment of the female ‘hysteric’ is a case in point, her role being theoretically reclaimed by Breton and Aragon to assist in Surrealism’s revolutionary campaign to change to society and subvert societal mores. In practice, however, her role was used to forge a sexual fantasy of womanhood, as that of the maverick, impassioned and sexually free female. Ernst, Dalí and Paalen and other male Surrealists thematised female hysteria in their visual works in a manner that often objectified and fetishised the female form. This paper examines how such sexualised conceptions of female hysteria were gradually challenged and supplanted by Claude Cahun, Djuna Barnes, Louise Bourgeois and other modern artists, whose visual works and installations allied the concept to a more fluid, more fragmented and less idealised view of female identity. The ultimate riposte to the male fantasy of female hysteria is identified as Bourgeois’ Arch of Hysteria (1993), a bronze figure with male characteristics, yet so polished that onlookers of either sex can see themselves in it.

THE TWO PAPER PRESENTATIONS WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS
Dr Mimi Kelly, University of Sydney 

Dr Victoria Souliman, University of New England

Michael Moignard, La Trobe University

Dr Lucina Ward, National Gallery of Australia
Dr Léa Vuong, University of Sydney
Klem James, University of Wollongong

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Biographies

Dr Mimi 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. 


Dr Léa Vuong, University of Sydney

A lecturer in French Studies at the University of Sydney. Dr Léa Vuong research focuses on word and image interactions in modern and contemporary French and Francophone culture. They are currently preparing a monograph on Louise Bourgeois’s writings and the relationship between her visual oeuvre and the literary realm. Dr Léa Vuong recent publications include a forthcoming special issue of Word & Image on Bourgeois’s archival writings, an article discussing her collaboration with documentary maker Brigitte Cornand in relation to Russel’s concept of archiveology (AJFS) and a study of the sisterhood in text and image between Bourgeois and Simone de Beauvoir (Loxias). 


Dr Klem James, University of Wollongong

Dr Klem James completed a Ph.D. in French at the University of Manchester (UK), focussing on the expression of desire in the early twentieth century avant-garde, particularly in surrealist art and literature. Their recent book ‘Against Repression: Surrealism, Sublimation and the Recuperation of Desire’ (published 2019) draws on aspects of this research. From 2011 Dr Klem James pursued their academic career in Australia first as a lecturer of French at the University of New England (2011-2015) and then at the University of Wollongong (2015-present). At both institutions they researched intersections of psychoanalysis and science with surrealism as well as publishing on modern French literature.