The Cutting Edge


For all its influence on the visual arts and literature, advertising remains the field where Surrealism  (or its techniques anyway, the question of aims answers itself) has had the largest impact. In J.G Ballard’s (who was a former advertising copy-writer himself) 1970 experimental novel on the media landscape, The Atrocity Exhibition, which features Marilyn Monroe, JFK and Elizabeth Taylor as characters (or at least people the protogantists fantasies) there are also numerous references to the works of Dali, Magritte, Ernst, Bellmer and others. The inference is clear, the media landscape had been shaped to a large extent by Surrealism.

The clearest example of applied Surrealist techniques is the ad campaigns for cigarette brands Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut in the UK in the 70’s through to the 90’s. Faced with severe restrictions on the marketing of cigarettes; they couldn’t be shown to indicate status, youthfulness or sexual appeal and all ads had to carry the mandatory health warnings, the ad firms Collett Dickinson Pearce for Benson & Hedges and Saatchi & Saatchi for Silk Cut had to get creative. The results are some of the most iconic images ever created in advertising. The Benson & Hedges ads made use of the distintive gold packaging while Silk Cut plays with the brand name and the purple lettering on the box; the swathes of slashed silk hint at possible sexual allusions . Ironically the health warning is sometimes the only thing that alerts you to the fact that it is cigarettes being marketed.

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6 thoughts on “The Cutting Edge

  1. Striking images, I especially like the purple silk. Although the gold birdcage is pretty cool too. Off to the airport shortly. It occurs to me that though I will be in your time zone, our waking hours will probably be even farther off than they are now…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great cake! The Atrocity Exhibition is one of my faves by Ballard, no question. My absolute favourite is the unlimited dream company, have you read that? It’s his most surrealist work by far and I highly recommend. I totally agree that Ballard was channeling the surrealist ideology in Atrocity. It seems pertinent that the text itself is an ‘Exhibition’, this enforced through that crucial opening in which we are thrust into the paintings and artwork of psychotics – those who are most unaffected by the built-up Debordian landscape, most uninhibited by rationality, and able to freely express their unconscious minds. Dali did a number of ad campaigns too, to the disdain of Breton and many others, almost willingly absorbed into the very landscape his movement seeked to overthrow. But this idea of the surrealist ideology as being the key to overthrowing the capitalist landscape is perhaps the core premise of Atrocity

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    1. Thank you, Ballard aims are quite mysterious. The Situationist would say that surrealism had already been recuperated by this stage, but they had an agenda. The Exhibition definitely showed how surrealistic the world had become and would continue to become more so over time. Glad you enjoyed


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