miércoles, 19 de diciembre de 2012

Surrealismo en Australia (2)

En un artículo anterior abordamos la historia del surrealismo en Australia entre 1923 y 1948, y en otro nos detuvimos en la figura de Dusan Marek. Por lo que respecta al período que se abre en los años 70, damos hoy la palabra a Michael Vandelaar, la figura más representativa de la aventura surrealista en aquellas latitudes y que actualmente prosigue en dicha aventura, incluso participando no hace mucho, como señalamos puntualmente, en las actividades de la Cabo Mondego Section of Portuguese Surrealism, a su paso por Coimbra. Este texto, de enorme interés para la historia del surrealismo, lo elaboró en este mismo año para el monumental libro de Arturo Schwarz que anuncia su salida en Skira, pero ha tenido la amabilidad de facilitárnoslo. En la carta con que nos lo enviaba, decía también:
“Too many commentators on surrealism in Australia are happy to find connections where none exist. It is not hard to find similarities of imagery to support their argument but there were very few people in Australia who can rightfully be called surrealist.  I am happy with James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, James Cant & Dusan Marek. At some point or other, they either called themselves surrealists or they participated in some action (collective or individual) that can easily be called surrealist.  I just am not sure about the others.
There was also a group in the 1970s who called themselves Anarcho-Surrealist Insurrectionary Feminists. Here is their manifesto:
A copy of their magazine can be downloaded here:
They reprint a text from the surrealist group in Chicago. I am not sure if they were in contact or whether it was found at an anarchist bookstore perhaps.
Anyway these are at least curious detours that are worth exploring.”

Michael Vandelaar

This article is not a history of the surrealist presence in Australia. It is merely a short outline of the activities of a small group of individuals who, for some reason or other, identified themselves as “surrealist” and joined together, from the 1970s through to the 1990s, in a group that called itself “The Surrealist Group in Australia”.
There were many others before us who are deserving of mention, most notably the artists James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, James Cant and Dusan Marek. These four especially understood the true meaning of surrealism. James Gleeson and Robert Klippel both visited Paris in the 1940s and made contact with the surrealist group around Andre Breton. And there are numerous artists, poets and revolutionaries who have understood the primacy of imagination and dreaming as part of their practice. It is not my intention to provide an exhaustive history here of their activities.
The Surrealist Group in Australia was formed in Adelaide in 1977. I had initially made contact with Franklin Rosemont in Chicago in 1975 after reading the section edited by “The Surrealist Movement in the United States” in City Lights Anthology (edited by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Francisco, 1974). My initial intention was only to buy some of their publications but as the correspondence grew, Franklin invited me to participate in the World Surrealist Exhibition, which the group in Chicago was then organising, and which opened in May, 1976. I moved to Chicago for three months to attend the exhibition and participate in the group activities. It was out of these collective activities that the idea was born to organise a group in Australia.
After leaving Chicago, I travelled on to Europe where my brother, Ronald Vandelaar, joined me. We engaged in further discussions with surrealists in Paris, especially with the Arab group in exile, around Abdul Kader El Janabi. We also made contact with Edouard Jaguer and Anne Éthuin from the Phases movement.
On our return to Australia, the germ of a group formed around Anthony Redmond, Ronald Vandelaar and myself. It was only when Hilary Booth came in contact with us that we made the move to “officially” form a group and we called ourselves “The Surrealist Group in Australia­”. It was 1977. Our first tract (and defining moment) was a call to support striking miners in the coal industry. Curiously, this tract put us at loggerheads with other socialists in Australia who felt that we were taking over their role. From the outset, the group was highly politicised. We did not want to be seen as “merely” artists. Like all surrealists before us, we felt the need for social revolution as a prerequisite for the surrealist revolution.
As we declared in the “Manifesto of the Surrealist Group in Australia”:
“Devoid of any interest in the maintenance of such a social regime, we thus find ourselves inextricably linked with all others who form the vast base of the pyramid of oppression. Acutely aware that the emancipation of thought and the emancipation material life constitute an indissoluble dialectical relationship, our alignment with the struggle of the working class against the continuous plunder conducted by the ruling financiers, the struggle of women and children against the fetters of patriarchal ideology, the struggle of colonized people against imperialist exploitation – our alignment that is, with the struggle of all oppressed beings against all forms of oppression - is incontestable.”
With the formation of the group in Australia, our collaborations with our international comrades grew, and the connections between us and the group in Chicago became stronger. We contributed to the exhibition, “Surrealism in 1978 : 100th Anniversary of Hysteria” (March-April 1978) and also to the one-off newspaper, “The Octopus Typewriter” (October 1978).
As our activism grew, it was not long before new members joined the group, notably Leon Marvell and Ian Jones. What is it that produces this community of spirit and mayhem that attracts such like-minded people? I think Pierre Mabille expressed it perfectly:
“The authenticity of surrealism is proved by the spontaneity of its origins. Before the appearance of any communication among the surrealists, there were those who had turned away from the life-aims of their contemporaries... Surrealism achieved this miracle, that when these people met they found themselves from the first moment in a communion of outlook, loving and detesting in common, ready to bind their lives in the same undertaking.”

As the group grew, we were desperate to create and publish a journal of our own. We had hardly any funds and printing costs in Australia were exorbitant at the time. Even so, in 1979, the first issue of “The Insurrectionist’s Shadow” was published. By all criteria, it was a modest publication. It was only 16 pages in length, not typeset and all the reproductions of art work were of low quality. But what it lacked in production standards, it made up for in passion. It was full of everything that preoccupied us at the time; our definition of surrealism, examples of poetry and creativity from all members of the group, collective works, games, etc. And central to the publication was an important essay by Hilary Booth, “The Phantom of Liberty”, a brilliant and personal exposition of the scientific method, objective chance and the liberation inherent in love and poetry.
“The phantom of liberty, and the science of passion – or science taken to its passionate extremes. Although we see, all too clearly, that it can only be cowardice to discard what has been learnt through materialist investigation of the outer and inner realities, still science is obviously inadequate in its present (understood) state. Inadequate in its refusal to approach anything that is really important subjectively. And so we will extend and extrapolate as each day, or night, seems to tell us of something that stammers its way into consciousness, haunting us towards freedom:
‘The world has long had a dream of something and must only possess the consciousness of it in order to possess it actually.’ - Karl Marx.”
Alongside our political activism and our poetic practice, a deep love of the poetry and music of African-Americans, especially those who found themselves at the leading edge of experimental musicking (a term coined by Christopher Small), under the banner of Great Black Music (the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Chico Freeman, etc.), inspired us. Already in the first issue of “The Insurrectionist’s Shadow”, there are multiple references to our influences; Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron and Bob Marley. There would not be a social gathering of the group that was not enhanced by the playing of the latest record by any number of black musicians.
This indebtedness never waned and it was further expressed in “The Eye’s Shadow : Surrealism & Black Music”, an essay I wrote for the special edition of “Cultural Correspondence : Surrealism & Its Popular Accomplices.” (Providence, RI, Fall 1979).

It was at this point that Craig Marvell joined the group. Within months, around the middle of 1980, the second issue of “The Insurrectionist’s Shadow” was published under the moniker, “Like A Thief In The Night.” As Hilary Booth and Anthony Redmond wrote in the introductory essay, “Burning Spears, Volatile Spirits, Conflagrations Of Freedom”:
“This second issue of The Insurrectionist’s Shadow is dedicated to Black men and women struggling for their freedom; specifically to the Aboriginal people of Australia, the people of Afrika and Afro-America, all of whom are in constant search for their own past and futures. Especially do we celebrate those sublime carvers of totemic fire, within these cultures, who have become consciously aware of the absolute necessity of myth-making, imagining and dreaming as the means to that freedom. Those who practise these means with the aim of re-uniting their people in an insuppressible drive to materialise the amorous possibilities of a grand future.”­

Since its inception, all the group members had lived in Adelaide. By 1980, several members had moved interstate. At a time when almost all communication was via letter (the cost of using the phone was still high), the cohesiveness of group activity started to fray. It was not as easy to include the whole group in collective activities. Even so, a group consisting of Hilary Booth, Sabina Carney, Ian Jones, Craig Marvell and Anthony Redmond, together in Sydney, were meeting regularly and gathering contributions for a third issue of the Insurrectionist’s Shadow. This was never to be published.
Independent of this grouping, however, other pockets of surrealist activity started appearing elsewhere in Australia. In 1980, in Melbourne, the journal, “Aquapsyche / Surrealist Regime” published the activities of Charles Henri Trevillyan, Scott Bolton and Stephen Purcell.
In 1981, in Canberra, Tim White, John Tarran and Kate Griew collaborated on poetic experimentations which were subsequently published in two issues of “The Submariner’s Dream”. In the manifesto that introduced the first issue, “Surrealism Under Water (Manifesto 222)”, the group wrote, “In the grip of irresistible temptation we rekindle the flame of universal desire,” and called for “FREEDOM ABOVE ALL ELSE.” For the second issue, Tim White and John Tarran declared:
“We are surrealists because we are not prepared to compromise our creativity nor trivialise what remains a revolutionary struggle for the creation of a new consciousness. We can no longer tolerate the neglect of the vital dialectical interaction between dream and material, social reality.
Mythical heroes ride with us against the oppressor in all his forms. We will seek him out from every social institution and mask behind which he hides.
We have no wish to merely imply treason in our activities, we embrace it wholeheartedly for it is the future knocking at the gate of the present demanding entrance!”
Over the ensuing years, collective activity was sporadic, reflecting the geographical distances between all members of the group. By the mid 1980s, there were surrealists in four cities, separated by thousands of miles. Tim White had started a nomadic existence, spreading his poetry and defiance to every capital city on the mainland.
As Hilary Booth wrote at the time:
“it is an age where footholds are few and far between,
a revolutionary context is difficult to maintain,
yet we continue to seek and hold tight to the free spirit.”
In March, 1984, Tim White and Michael Vandelaar collaborated on a single issue of “The Depth Charge”.
In the same year, Ülex Xane started releasing music and poetry under the Extreme label. In the introduction to his volume of poetry, “Vas Deferens” (Extreme, Melbourne, 1984), he wrote:
“This volume is offered as an individual contribution to the kollectiv deviance of the anti-authoritarian offensive; to each according to his own desire. We extend fraternal greetings to all free spirits. Stop at nothing.”
The Extreme label went on to fill the air with noise and lust. In 1985, it released “THE MORALUNARY CLASS - Passional Attitudes”, realised for a sound project on the theme of Abnormality. Quoting Ambrose Bierce on the cover, “in matters of thought and conduct, to be independent is to be abnormal.” Numerous records and publications followed.
In 1985, group activity exposed itself in a one-off journal, “The Revenge Of The Shadows”, gathering contributions from Scott Bolton, Stephen Purcell, Michael Vandelaar, Tim White and Ülex Xane.
The much talked about “tyranny of distance” meant that we, in Australia, did not receive many surrealist visitors from other countries. In 1988, this changed with the arrival of Johannes Bergmark and Bruno Jacobs from Sweden. This encouraged close collaboration between the two groups, a collaboration which continues to this day though only on an individual level.
Although the 1980s were lean times for collective activity, the group came together for “special” occasions. Hilary Booth, Anthony Redmond and Michael Vandelaar participated in the exhibition, “L’experience continue, 1952 – 1988” organised by Edouard Jaguer and the Phases Movement.
In 1988, the fourth issue of “ARSENAL: Surrealist Subversion” appeared, published by the Surrealist Movement in the United States. It contained the essay, “ANTIPODEAN ATTRACTIONS : Surrealism in Australia at this very moment,” by Michael Vandelaar, alongside poetic contributions from Tim White and newcomer, Michael Loosli. 1988 also marked the bicentenary of the occupation of Australia by the white colonial class. All of the group participated widely in protest activities.
Collective surrealist activity always gathers new proponents. By the early 1990s, John and Claudia Lloyd-West joined the group ... by then, it could easily be called a loose orbit of lost souls. The collective activity was becoming less and less.
The group joined together in 1992 to co-sign an international declaration protesting the 400th anniversary of the "discovery of the Americas” by Christopher Columbus. The signatories, calling themselves the Surrealist Group in Australia, were Rita Golanski, Claudia Lloyd-West, John Lloyd-West, Catherine Nelson, Anthony Redmond, Michael Vandelaar, Ireen Van Den Driesschen and Tim White.
Since then, the group has not really existed. It didn’t officially end. It just dissipated to the four corners of the pluriverse. Individuals have continued pursuing surrealist activity, including collaborations with other individuals and groups around the world.

Ronald Vandelaar, "El corazón salvaje", 1977