We seek what is hidden, encrypted in the scattered detritus of our everyday lives, compelled to look beneath the surface. Peeling back the skin of the world, we uncover what is latent in the places and the spaces that we explore, and, through these discoveries, can encounter the desires latent within ourselves. Our eyes diverted from the glass façades, the rows of window-dressed merchandise, we look down into the gutter and sometimes catch the light falling from distant stars. This surrealist way of seeing, an enthused receptivity and interpretative openness towards phenomena, is, in itself, an embodiment of freedom and dares us to explore forbidden possibilities that are obscured by consumerism’s safeguarded gaze. We refuse the squandering of time on the deferments and market-researched platitudes of capitalist salvation. Ours is a profane revelation.
This profane revelation signifies a particular relationship between subjective consciousness and objective reality, the reconciliation of imagination and perception, of the mental and the physical. It entails the opening up of oneself to the possibility of chance encounters between the material and the imaginary – and all of the delirium, disorientation or disruption that this might bring. Whether arising spontaneously or provoked by intervention, our experiences of what we describe as profane revelation challenge an understanding of the world based on intellectual, experiential and emotional polarisation, with a demand that imposed arbitrary opposites turn to face each other and speak the language of dreams. Such surrealist experiences make explicit the continuity between conscious and unconscious life, whether they take the form of a drawn interpretation of a photograph or wandering the streets with no intended destination. Our knowledge has been found, amongst other things, in lost or abandoned objects, in the layers of torn posters or toppling, blistered walls of dilapidated buildings, revealing the latent poetic content of everyday life.
The revelatory experiences of which we speak are not born of ‘higher’ states of consciousness; they do not require years of ascetic mortification or blind belief in ideologies. Nor are we referring to the progressive uncovering of scientific ‘truths’, so often raised in support of a ruling order. For surrealists, all revelation is profane, and we regard all claims to the contrary as various forms of psychological manipulation, delusion, dogma, mystification, elitism and social control. We do not seek refuge in the transcendental, nor do we accept the confines of narrow uses of logic. It is within the material world, and not in retreat from it, that profane revelation occurs. While the notion of revelation (closely related to that of illumination)(1) carries unavoidable connotations of the religious, we counter these with the qualification of profane (as opposed to sacred), which denotes the everyday, the worthless, the unhallowed or forbidden. These are personal revelations, arising from collective experience as much as from solitary moments of creativity, which give us an understanding of surrealism as a living, dynamic movement, at variance with the caricatural misrepresentations promoted by museums, galleries and the media.
There is a sense, then, in which our creative responses, whether visual or verbal, are embodiments of revelatory moments, if only as the residue left over from the processes by which they were brought into being. The exteriorisation of the surrealist image is not something separate from revelatory experience; it is part of it, and, indeed, can act as a precipitate to further such experiences. The artefacts thus uncovered are integral to profane revelation and can be recalled and remade, becoming significant parts of our memories, part of the morphology of what we become. Creativity, for us, is an impulsion to record, explore and communicate the interplay of imagination and perception, leaving traces of the experience that provoked it, as evidence of something that happened once upon a time to come. Arising from creative experiences that disrupt mental and social habits, such surrealist evidence demands an intimacy with the world and a burning desire to transform it.
Revelation for surrealists is a dynamic activity that inspires exchanges; it involves the renewed invention of ludic methods and draws upon spontaneous, associative links and analogies in the search to re-enchant communication, expression and analysis. So, it is with the introduction of play into our lives that we seek out poetic moments of insight. Surrealist play takes many forms, from games of interpretation with found pictures or texts, the creation of portraits from found objects, to meandering through cities searching for abandoned places of poetic resonance. Ours are games of revolt open to all; secular, heterodox rites of passage whereby the scope of experience and communication is widened to explore what the imagination can mean in communal life and collective activity. Here we trace where the mental processes of intuition meet their material conditions; the dialectics of the imagination. It is with these insights, these encounters, that experience can be found anew, reinterpreted and changed. We commit ourselves, in the spirit of revolt, to profanities against the established order, accepting the mantle of malcontents, dreamers, critics, fools; evolving, inventing, and intuiting our own anti-aesthetic from a glimpsed, anarchic beauty. Profane because we seek and acquire this knowledge from experiences gathered on the streets, encountering the extraordinary latent in the ordinary, scattered among the mundane and everyday. We tear off and re-draw the maps that were once our blindfolds.
LEEDS SURREALIST GROUP
Stephen Clark, Kenneth Cox, Bill Howe, Sarah Metcalf, Peter Overton
22nd June 2005
1) Our use of profane revelation draws on the expression, profane illumination, coined by Walter Benjamin in his 1929 essay, “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia”. In speaking of surrealist experience, as opposed to religious or drug-induced ecstasy, Benjamin writes, “…the true creative overcoming of religious illumination… resides in a profane illumination, a materialistic, anthropological inspiration…”