LEEDS SURREALIST GROUP
Leeds Surrealist Group was founded in March 1994, stimulated by exchanges with surrealist groups – notably in Chicago, Madrid, Paris, Prague and Stockholm – 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 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 our collective activities, with Revolution (1994), Game of Slight Disturbances (1995), Explorations of Absence (2000-01), Two Heads (2005), Memory (2010-11), Deserts In The City (2012), and New Leeds (2018-20) being illustrative of our group’s continuing development, advancing new researches into surrealist objects and their relation to place. 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. Not least, these games explore the inter-subjective relations of the players involved, creating collective experiences that are the lifeblood of surrealism.
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 albums dedicated to some of our more extensive games. Further to these substantial albums, we have also privately circulated smaller booklets of our games and enquiries, including Three Lost Walks In Stockholm(2001), The Big Clam (2007), A Quiet Mermaid (2007), Into The Land Of My Dreams (2007), First Encounters With Surrealism (2010) and Mike’s Last Game (2015). The invention and playing of surrealist games continue 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 feature films made by or admired by surrealists, with selections made 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 organised 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 one of the landmarks in the trajectory of Surrealism in Britain this century, drawing upon current, rather than ‘historical’ work, all selected from the previous five years of activity. What also characterized this 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. Such was the case, but even more so, for our two group exhibitions at Inkwell Arts in Leeds: Derelict Marvels (2018) and Encounters Under Black Lamplight (2019), which drew exclusively on our group’s activities and which were not conceived as ‘art’ exhibitions, but as presentations of surrealist evidence.
As well as the above exhibitions, 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), Svět Je Strašlivý Přírodopis / The World is a Terrible Natural History (Písek, Czech Republic, 2008), Jiný Vzduch / Other Air (Old Town Hall, Prague, 2012), Hic Sunt Dracones (Trutnov, Czech Republic, 2013), La Chasse à l’objet du désir (Montréal, 2014), The Little Shop of Magic (Stoke-on-Trent, 2015), Loitering With Intent (Manchester, 2016), Já Je Někdo Jiný / I Is Other (Pribram and Aš, Czech Republic, 2016), The Archeology of Hope (Isle of Wight, 2017), Le Collage Surréaliste en 2018 (Paris, 2018), Little Shop of Magic 2 (Stoke-on-Trent, 2018) and Le dessin surréaliste en 2019 (Paris and Saint-Cirq Lapopie, 2019).
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 relationships ever since with, in particular, the groups in Chicago, Paris, Prague, Madrid and Stockholm, having visited these cities, some of them frequently, to spend time with the groups there, and have also enjoyed visits to our city from Czech, French, Greek and Swedish surrealists. Our collaborations and individual contributions have appeared in various surrealist journals throughout the world, including: Analogon (Prague), Cahiers de l’umbo (Annemasse, France), Intervence (Brno, Czech Republic), Peculiar Mormyrid (Atlanta, USA), Oystercatcher (Denman Island, Canada), S.U.R.R. (Paris), Salamandra (Madrid), Siames (Santander, Spain) and Stora Saltet (Stockholm).
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. From time to time, we have also issued collective statements, such as that written for the opening of the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in 1996, Arm Yourself!
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’), the third in 2011 (on the theme of ‘Memory Reclaimed’), the fourth in 2015 (on the theme of ‘The Oneiric City’) and the fifth and final issue in 2019 (on the theme of ‘Language & Liberty’). We have also produced a small occasional newsletter, Prehensile Tail, which was distributed freely, the fourth issue having been published in 2007.
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.
In October 2020, we launched a new journal – S – a smaller, more intimate and immediate publication that draws largely upon our collective activities and research.
At present, in November 2020, there are currently ten members of Leeds Surrealist Group. We meet up on a weekly basis in a small pub for discussions, games, enquiries, interventions, laughter, etc., and are open to invited guests who are genuinely interested in Surrealism as a living movement.
Due to the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic our weekly meetings were suspended on 11th March 2020, but we have since been holding ‘virtual’ meetings each week to continue our discussions, games and projects.
The current members of Leeds Surrealist Group are: Gareth Brown, Stephen J Clark, Kenneth Cox, Luke Dominey, Amalia Higham, Bill Howe, Sarah Metcalf, Peter Overton, Jonathan Tarry, Martin Trippett.
(Past members: Andrew Boobier, Denise Boobier, Jan Drabble, Caroline Jeffs, Helena Pope, Josie Malinowski, Mike Peters.)