Exquisite Corpses

Exquisite Corpse-Valentine Hugo, Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, Greta Knudsen-1933
Exquisite Corpse-Valentine Hugo, Andre Breton, Tristan Tzara, Greta Knudsen-1933

“The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”

This was the phrase that was produced when the Surrealists first sat down to play the game that was to later be christened Exquisite Corpse. It was one of those happy accidents so beloved of the Surrealists and seemingly dictated by the collective unconscious mind ready to reclaim its rights.

The most celebrated of Surrealists techniques,  it tied in nicely with several key tenets of Surrealism; namely artistic collaboration and the belief that was first stated by Lautreamont that “Poetry should be made by all.” Originally played with words it soon become apparent that the technique could extend to drawing and collages. The examples from the Golden Age of Surrealism are numerous and feature some of the most illustrious names in 20th Century art and letters.

Below are some of the most notable Exquisite Corpses from that era. I have also included work from the YBA artists the Chapman Brothers who have produced a number of drawings using the technique.

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Twice As Nice (or Disintegration)

Alexandra Levasseur
Alexandra Levasseur

Because this is all a game to you
I’m willing to play along this once
Who knows it might be twice
As nice as ever before or since
Yeah wouldn’t that be fair
Wouldn’t that be right tonight
As the weather is heating up
Something fierce something wild
Time to lose that dress stop allow me
Now now isn’t that better I want to
Look at you for a while drink you in
Pour me a measure fill the glass
Let me take a sip savour it slowly
Lets luxuriate in the anticipation
Of our joint venture this enterprise
A combination of hands mouths
The amalgamation of limbs flesh
Are you bored with symmetry
Time to take a different tack
Approach from an acute angle
Map out all the possible routes
Trace the outline of an imagined
Country outside the constricting
Confides of defining destroying
Memories and emotions those
Dead weights of ego and id
I am sick of making sense
Together we can regress
Wouldn’t that be sheer idiot bliss
Reduce everything to the now
Wait serenely for the inevitable
Exhilarating disintegration

A Ritual Assignation

Alison-Blickle
Alison-Blickle

You’re looking out of the window
seeing all the opportunities spread
before you like a heavenly banquet
and you’re wondering whether
to dare and make that leap.
Well do you believe in what I say?
Have you faith in my vision?
Will you be ready intime
for our long delayed assignation
to give yourself completely
Over to the dream I dreamt for you?
Falling is such bliss, those seconds
Of recall, clarity, then impact.

You’re trembling like a fine-veined
leaf in a lashing storm, come,
no need to be nervous though
it does initially add to the frisson.
Still I understand your concern,
you’re unsure whether I will be
cruel, tender, or even distracted.
You gather from some of my actions
that I can be wanton and crude
or maybe wayward and perverse.
However if you want the exaltation,
(and I know that’s your desire,
I’ve been around, I know
a thing or two and you wouldn’t
be the first that I have turned
inside out and tied up in knots)
then you must relax and let
what is going to happen, happen;
whether I serve you like royalty
or you find freedom in sacrifice,
the ecstasy of divine debasement,
a savage joy in effacing and erasing
the burdensome wearying self.
I will let you play your games
until it is time for the ritual
to commence in earnest,
revealing the solemn mystery,
contained in your unveiled body;
both the map and the territory:
the exit and the gateway.