LEEDS SURREALIST GROUP
Leeds Surrealist Group was founded in March 1994, stimulated by exchanges with surrealist groups and individuals throughout the world with whom we had come into contact. Ours was perhaps the first significant attempt at establishing a collective surrealist presence in Britain since the group around the magazine Melmoth, which broke up in 1981. The Leeds Group was formed, or rather came into realisation, after an invitation from the Stockholm Surrealist Group to participate in their game, The New Man, which involved the exploration of urban spaces in search of poetic evidence of utopian vision. Since then, games of dérive (chance meanderings through our city streets) and explorations of place have continued to be a dominant feature of the activities of the Leeds Surrealist Group, with Revolution (1994), Game of Slight Disturbances (1995), Explorations of Absence (2000-01) and Two Heads (2005) being pivotal to our development, advancing new researches into surrealist objects and their relation to place, and not least to the inter-subjectivity of the players involved. Our researches into place were also extended into sound, using field recordings as stimuli to creative responses to places that were known only through their auditory presences. Many of the group’s early games and experiments were recorded in the ten issues of Black Lamplight (1995-98), an internal quarterly journal distributed solely within the international surrealist movement, as well as in various albums dedicated to some of our more-extensive games. The invention and playing of surrealist games continues to be central to our collectivity, with smaller, self-contained games usually being played at our weekly group meetings.
Our first foray into the public sphere came in the autumn of 1994, when we programmed a major season of films, spanning seven weeks, Surrealists Go To The Cinema, at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, in the nearby city of Bradford. The season included screenings of twenty-four films made by or admired by surrealists, including selections by contemporary surrealist groups, as well as four evenings of short films. We participated as a group in the exhibition, Curiouser & Curiouser: les surréalistes et leurs amis en Grand-Bretagne depuis 1967, held in the Hourglass Gallery in Paris during April 1995, under the direction of Peter Wood, an event significant to the development of Surrealism in Britain over the ensuing decade. This exhibition drew together a number of individual surrealists, strengthening the ties between us, and leading to further exchanges. Since then, collective games amongst many of the exhibition’s participants have defied geographical distance and collaborations on games and enquiries have continued over the years. We cannot, of course, speak about the present and future of Surrealism in Britain without expressing our indebtedness to those surrealist comrades who sadly are no longer with us and who, through their encouragement, support and friendship, exerted an enormous influence upon us, notably, Anthony Earnshaw, Conroy Maddox, Philip West and Peter Wood.
In September 2005, we held an important exhibition, Profane Revelation: the Surrealist Movement in Britain, at the Granell Foundation in Santiago de Compostela, with over 80 works by twenty-three surrealists, including that of seven members of the Leeds Group. Profane Revelation, the most high-profile public event that we have organized to date, was undoubtedly a landmark in the recent trajectory of Surrealism in Britain, drawing upon current, rather than ‘historical’ work, all selected from the previous five years of activity. What also characterized our exhibition was that many of the works had resulted from collective visual games, in some cases taking a ‘found’ image that was then interpreted by each of the players.
As well as Curiouser & Curiouser and Profane Revelation, members of the Leeds Group have participated in numerous collective exhibitions, including Sacrilege: the Magical Against The Sacred (Prague, 1999), Eveil paradoxal (Conches, France, 2000), Sfera Snu (Hrad Sovinec, Czech Republic, 2001), The Persistence of Memory: Homage to Robert Desnos (Památník Terezín, Czech Republic, 2002), Annexations II (Jindrichuv Hradec, Czech Republic, 2004), Screaming & Kicking (Squatted Nursery, Leeds, 2006), As Far As Our Legs Can Carry Us (Památník Terezín, Czech Republic, 2008), O Reverso do Olhar (Coimbra, Portugal, 2008) and Svět Je Strašlivý Přírodopis / The World is a Terrible Natural History (Prácheňské Museum, Písek, Czech Republic, 2008), and Jiný Vzduch / Other Air (Old Town Hall, Prague, 2012).
Internal collective research has always been a strong focus of the Leeds Group’s projects, but we also regard communication and encounters with other surrealists, both in our own country and throughout the world, as of vital importance. From the very beginning, we were warmly welcomed into the international surrealist movement, and have had close relationship ever since with, in particular, the groups in Paris, Prague, Madrid, Chicago and Stockholm, having visited these cities, some of them frequently, to spend time with the groups there and have also enjoyed visits from Czech, French, Greek & Swedish surrealists in Leeds. Our collaborations and individual contributions have appeared in various surrealist journals throughout the world, including: Analogon (Prague), Intervence (Brno), S.U.R.R. (Paris), Salamandra (Madrid), Stora Saltet (Stockholm) and Cahiers de l’umbo (Annemasse, France).
As well as our internal group activities, we have also organized a number of public events – incorporating talks, readings, film screenings, and presentations of our publications – at various social centres, squats and universities in our region.
The Leeds Group’s first external publication, a large-format broadsheet entitled Manticore/Surrealist Communication – containing short articles, reviews, poems, images and examples of games both from the group and fellow collaborators – appeared in 1997 and ended with its eighth and final number in 2006. Following Manticore, we developed a more ambitious group publication, a new surrealist journal, Phosphor/A Surrealist Luminescence, the first issue of which was published in 2008 (on the theme of ‘Narratives of Absence’), the second in 2009 (on the theme of ‘Phantom Objects’) and the third in 2011 (on the theme of ‘Memory Reclaimed’). We have also produced a small occasional newsletter, Prehensile Tail, which is distributed freely, the fourth issue having been published in 2007, and the fifth in a long incubation. In 2007 we also set up our own imprint, Surrealist Editions, with its first title, Down Victory! by Peter Overton, launched at the Hay Festival Fringe on 27th May 2007, at an event, ‘Surrealism Here & Now’, which incorporated talks, short films, and poetry readings. A second title, The Bridge of Shadows by Stephen J. Clark and Bill Howe, was launched on 13th October 2007 in The Cross Keys, Leeds. Our third title, Less of That W or I’ll Z You!, a poetry pamphlet by John Hartley Williams, was published in 2011 and our fourth, Waterloo Or Elsewhere by Peter Overton, in 2015
At present, in December 2018, there are currently eight members of Leeds Surrealist Group who meet up in the city, but with ‘satellite’ members and close friends of the group with whom we collaborate, mostly in the north of the British Isles. We meet up on a weekly basis for discussions, surrealist games, enquiries, interventions, laughter, etc., and are open to invited guests who are genuinely interested in Surrealism as a living movement.