I Have So Often Dreamed Of You

Lee Miller-Man Ray 1929

Robert Desnos was in many ways the archetypal surrealist spirit. Involved in Paris Dada he was in the literary vanguard of Surrealism and possessed an extra-ordinary talent for automatic writing during the Trance Period, rivalled only by Rene Crevel. Desnos, like many others, fell out with Andre Breton and joined the group centred around Georges Bataille and his magazine Documents and he was one of the signers of the anti-Breton polemic Un Cadavre.

During WWII Desnos was an active member of the French Resistance and he was captured by the Gestapo in 1944. He was deported to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald and finally Theresienstadt where he would die a few weeks after the camp’s liberation from typhoid.

I Have So Often Dreamed Of You

I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal.
Is it still time enough to reach that living body and to kiss
on that mouth the birth of the voice so dear to me?
I have so often dreamed of you that my arms used as they are
to meet on my breast in embracing your shadow would
perhaps not fit the contour of your body.
And, before the real appearance of what has haunted and ruled
me for days and years, I might become only a shadow.
Oh the weighing of sentiment,
I have so often dreamed of you that there is probably no time
now to waken. I sleep standing, my body exposed to all the
appearances of life and love and you, who alone still
matter to me, I could less easily touch your forehead and
your lips than the first lips and the first forehead I
might meet by chance.
I have so often dreamed of you, walked, spoken, slept with your
phantom that perhaps I can be nothing any longer than a
phantom among phantoms and a hundred times more shadow
than the shadow which walks and will walk joyously over
the sundial of your life.

Translation Mary Ann Caws

You Promised Me Paris

Brassai
Brassai

Do you remember?
Probably not,
Not rightly anyway.
I’ve listened to you reminisce,
Oh I don’t know
How many thousand times
And it only tangentially
Touches upon the truth:
Bears little to no resemblance
To any reality we ever lived.
You re-cast yourself as the hero,
The catalyst and centre-point
Of every scenario and situation.
You re-write the script,
The story changes in the telling
Every single time.
But do you remember?
Don’t you remember that

You promised me Paris
As a pendant,
Hanging from my necklace
Fashioned from falling stars.
You promised me the world
As a good luck charm,
Swinging from my bracelet
Wrought from light beams.
You promised me Paris,
You promised me Paris.

I wish I could forget
The years of careless neglect,
The constant evasions,
The way I avert my downcast eyes
As you smile once again
At some passing sweet young thing.
Look what you have made of me,
You could never help yourself.
You are always searching,
For someone to save you
From your own wretched self.
But you know it’s later than you think
Though sometimes I can almost believe
That you once believed
In you and me as a destiny,
In the words you spoke,
That I wish I could forget,
But I can never forget that

You promised me Paris
As a pendant,
Hanging from my necklace
Fashioned from falling stars.
You promised me the world
As a good luck charm,
Swinging from my bracelet
Wrought from light beams.
You promised me Paris,
You promised me Paris.

Wallpaper

Mimi Johnson, Dorothea Tanning, Martha Johnson-Seillans 1966

This charming, playful family photograph of American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning with her two nieces Mimi and Martha Johnson, taken at the home she shared with her husband Max Ernst in Seillans, France, features wallpaper, the only thing that happened in her childhood home in Galesburg, Illnois, prominently.

In several of her works, noticeably Children’s Games and the final masterpiece of Surrealism, Room 202, Poppy Hotel, the wallpaper conveys a sense of menace bordering on horror. In her concentration on claustrophobic domestic spaces Tanning anticipated a whole wave of female artists, noticeably the photography of Francesca Woodman.

Dorothea Tanning-Children's Games 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Children’s Games 1942
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

 

 

 

Angel

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Francesca Woodman-Untitled Rome 1977-1979

One of the most remarkable aspects of Francesca Woodman’s astounding photographs that she produced between the ages of 13 to 22 is that it forms such a cohesive body of work. There is no juvenilia (in the sense of immature work that shows future potential), no false starts or dramatic u-turns. It appears that as soon as she took her first self-portrait at 13 that she had her own unique vision which she followed for the next nine years, never wavering and never deviating from once.

Growing up in an artistic household, both her parents are artists, the precocious Francesca had a thorough grasp of Dada and Surrealism by the age of 11. Francesca acknowledged the influence of Surrealism on her work, particularly Man Ray’s portraits of Meret Oppenheim and Andre Breton’s seminal Surrealist novel Nadja which was accompanied by photographs by J. A Boiffard. One of her early photographs features herself dressed up as Alice In Wonderland, the influence of which upon the Surrealists cannot be over-estimated. Also evident is the influence of the Gothic novel. Francesca favoured slow shutter speeds and long exposures which resulted in a blurry, ghostly images inhabiting the ominous, decrepit buildings where she set her photographs.

The above photograph was taken during her student year in Rome. A stunningly stage-managed yet otherworldly self-portrait, her posture hanging from the door lintel suggests both an ascending angel and a crucifixion. This is not the only question this magnificently enigmatic photograph raises; every object in the room seems to hold a coded significance.

Tragically Francesca, suffering from depression which was exacerbated by a broken relationship and the lack of recognition that her work had received, committed suicide by jumping from a New York loft window at the age of 22.

Pornotopia

Brittany Markert-In Rooms-2015
Brittany Markert-In Rooms-2015

The couple I see
In the mirror angled
Just so
Reminds me of you and I
But as in some baroque phantasy
A hazy half remembered reverie
Of some dismal grey afternoon
It could be us
At some point in the past
Or maybe a tangential future
Or even right now
Just there

But though the faces I see
Resemble ours in every detail
And the bodies in motion
Seeking contact
Greater more intense unity
Are an accurate reflection
Of our writhing limbs
It is not us
For they have gone over
Broke on through to the other side
Into a pornotopia
Heard the call of the orgy
Answered panting and howling
Stepped into the circle naked
Submitted to the ritual
Endured the terrors of rebirth
Suckled on the sweetmeats
Of the pornocopia
Greedily drank
The darkest of red wines
Sated every sensation
Until asleep dream
Of daring new combinations
The wildest variations
Paroxysms of inventive carnality

Open your eyes
Do you see?
Come with me
Take me by the hand
Lets step on through
To meet our true selves.