There always comes the moment
When you receive the confirmation
Of what you half intuited all along
No more evasions or denials
The truth is written on the wall
Writ large and quite plain to see
You are entangled within the trap
Held fast now there is no escape
It was all a set up a complete illusion
A vast conspiracy centred on you
Always and forever you alone
How can you ever begin to fathom
The depths you are plunging into
You never even knew it was a game
Until I showed you the aces in the hole
And demanded payment or satisfaction
So many questions you wanted to ask
But crumpling beneath the realisation
Of all I had in store you remained silent
Submitted docilely to my desires
However perversely strange or subtle
All your striving had come to naught
Think of this as a complete education
Now maybe you will understand
What I would sacrifice for pleasure.
The figure of Jean-Jacques Lequeu, with his bizarre architectural fantasies, disconcerting self portraits and obscenely lascivious figures is an enigma. In some respects Lequeu seems very much of his time, a Utopian Neoclassical architect working in the tradition established by his more famous revolutionary contemporaries Claude-Nicholas Ledoux and Étienne-Louis Boullée, whose visions also largely existed only on paper, forever unbuilt, and yet also strangely Modern, indeed Post-Modern. This Proto-Surrealist aspect of Lequeu led one art critic to conjecture that Marcel Duchamp himself altered Lequeu’s work while working in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in order to create a suitable precursor as well as enacting some form of recondite revenge on Le Corbusier. Unfortunately for this rather droll conspiracy theory, Duchamp worked at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and not at the Bibliothèque nationale.
The little we do know about Lequeu does nothing to dispel the mystery. Born in Rouen he worked under several architects in that city, carrying out projects on civil and religious buildings. He won a scholarship to study in Paris where he remained for the rest of his life, living above a brothel. He prepared a book that was to remain unpublished, Architecture Civile; however the projected buildings and gardens with their phantasmagorical blending of Classical, Egyptian and Chinese styles, monstrous Rococo excesses of ornamentation and wanton disregard of expense bore no relation to prosaic reality and Lequeu’s career stalled. He found work in the civil service as a surveyor and cartographer until his retirement in 1815. During the Revolutionary period he entered competitions organised by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where the various architects out-did each other in envisaging ever more grandiose schemes.
Towards the end of his life Lequeu, finding himself broke tried to sell his drawings without success and decided to donate 800 works to the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Dying in penury in 1826 it is discovered that his wardrobe contains a large collection of expensive women’s clothing, quite in keeping as Lequeu had produced two self portraits in drag.
The more explicit pornographic material mouldered in the the Enfer (Hell) section of the library. The Petit Palais, Paris recently held the first ever retrospective and the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, has the entire Lequeu oeuvre online.
I have below some of the mind melting architectural drawings, a few of the startling self portraits and a little of the explicit erotica, though in a sense almost everything, especially architecture, is erotic and libertine in Lequeu’s work.
Maybe it’s the answer but sleep
I feel is out of the question
As your skin crackles with electricity
Surging through the nerve endings
Generating a force field that shocks
When our skin and flesh intersect
I know you want to play once again
Those night games in earnest
My wanton snake eyed charmer
Dancing only to the best tunes
Sinuously moving to a rhythm
Hypnotically vicious as a wet dream
Compulsive as the masturbator’s motion
As compelling as a large scale disaster
We don’t dare pause to consider
That our impulsive night games
Are careering right out of control
Skidding towards the concrete barrier
Even if we did do you doubt
That we would press down hard
Accelerating loosening seatbelts
Elatedly bracing for the impact
Of the ultimate folie a deux
A drastic re-configuration of identity
But come there are so many more
Games we could play in the darkness
I see you staring back at me in the bar
We are strangers meeting for the first time
That illicit thrill a depth charge to the core
I know of a hotel around the corner
A fine and private place I’m assured
Once alone together I promise
To do you so good to do you so right
Make you experience the exquisite
Head fucking psycho-drama of attraction
Once again this time with renewed emotion
Believe me I am never more serious
Than when I am playing night games
The Swiss artist H.R Giger stated that the initial impetus behind his early paintings (I to IX) in his Passagen (Passages) series was a recurring nightmare in which he found himself in a large room without windows or doors, the only opening being a dark metal hole obstructed by a large safety pin. After getting stuck while passing through this opening he would see a tiny point of light at the end of a long chimney, however he was blocked by an invisible power and he would be unable to move backward or forward with his arms pressed against his body, unable to breath, his only thought being, ‘Oh my God, why am I here?’.
In addition to the dream inspiration the later paintings in the series would feature re-workings of a photograph he had taken of a garbage truck in Cologne, Germany in 1971. Giger was fascinated by its representation of a ‘mechanical-erotic act’, which sounds reminiscent of J.G Ballard’s Crash.
Giger always considered himself a Surrealist and the Passages series. created from the dredging of the unconscious and chance encounter richly deserves to belong in the Surrealist canon. Minimal, obsessive and claustrophobic, it is a truly unsettling experience by a master of the macabre.
A leading theoretician and proponent of the Czech avant-garde during the very active decades of the 1920’s and 30’s, Karel Teige was involved in Devětsil and was a co-founder of the Czech Surrealist Group along with Toyen, Jindřich Štyrský and Vítězslav Nezval.
Teige created over 300 collages in private during the last two decades of his life, frequently featuring elements of a female figure forming part of the landscape. Subject to a brutal smear campaign and constant vilification, Teige was hounded to an early death by the Stalinist controlled government in 1951. Even this didn’t satisfy the authorities who ransacked his house, destroyed suspect unpublished writings and continued to suppress his published writings for decades to come. These factors probably contributed to the suicides of both his wife and mistress shortly afterwards.
The collages only came to light after samizdat surrealist publications ended up in Germany during the 1960’s.