Sens-Plastique

Malcolm de Chazal
Malcolm de Chazal

Born into a wealthy colonial  family with roots in the French aristocracy and which included several Rosicrucians and Swedenborgians, the writer, painter and visionary Malcolm De Chazal (1902-1981) spent his whole life on the island of Mauritius, with the exception of six years in Baton Rouge, where he completed his secondary education before attending Louisiana State University as an engineering student. Upon his return to the island he worked as an agronomist in the sugar plantations before quitting the field after he published a scathing critique on the methods and economy of the industry. He then worked as a civil servant before retiring at the age of 55. From 1940 however he increasingly dedicated himself to writing and later painting.

His most famous work is Sens-Plastique, a collection of thousands of aphorisms. The work was suggested after a visionary encounter with an azalea. While out for a walk, de Chazal observed the flower and then realised that the azalea was looking at him. He was then struck with the revelation that: “I became a flower while being myself all the time“, and that everything in the universe, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or human, was analogous. The aphorisms is Sens-Plastique are a riot of poetic analogy and concrete, visual metaphor.  It was hailed by the Surrealists; Andre Breton, Jean Paulhan, Georges Bataille and the originator of the term Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet all lauded de Chazal as a genius. Outside of French artistic circles the poet W.H Auden also championed Sens-Plastique.

In the 1950’s De Chazal took up painting at the suggestion of Georges Braque. His paintings are charmingly emblematic images of the landscape, flora and fauna of his beloved island home, the bold colours blazing with a visionary intensity.

An early supporter of Mauritian independence and the dismantling of a racial caste system that allowed vast inequalities to exist, de Chazal also wrote a ‘spiritual history’ of the rocks and mountains of the island. He became increasingly reclusive in his later years

Below are a selection of aphorisms from Sens-Plastique and a slideshow of his fauvist flavoured paintings.

Sens-Plastique

A fish in fear of its life turns into water. In the mutual pursuit of sexual pleasure—the fear of joy and the joy of fear—our bodies liquefy each other in the waters of the soul, becoming so spiritual that hardly any corporal self is left. When we wake up after love, we look around desperately for our lost body.

If our five senses didn’t serve as brakes to slow us down and filter our sensations, sexual pleasure would strike us like lightning and electrocute our souls.

We see a friend’s eye as one and indivisible. A stranger’s eye we take in part by part: the white, the iris, and the pupil.

Silence is a lawyer who pleads with his eyes.

A flowing river is an infinity of superimposed production belts.

The sunflower keeps its eye on the sun with its back turned to the shade. We die facing life with our backs to death, as if we were walking out of a room backwards.

Petals are a plant’s eardrum. Distant sounds make them quiver like the needle of a seismograph.

The kiss ends at the point of a needle. Sex ends fanning out. The kiss is an arrow. Sex is a fountain.

All the colours ‘rot’ in maroon, the rust of all rusts, the putrefying corpse of all dead colours, the sun’s humus, earth-color, resurrection’s winding-sheet, the shroud of life itself, the mound of eternity, the tomb of Light, Eternity’s burial vault.

Look too intensely at blue and your eye sees indigo. Look too intensely at red and you see garnet. If you look too intensely at yellow it turns green. A hypnotic stare injects blue into everything.

Water meanders on a completely smooth surface and toboggans down the glossiness of leaves.

The idealist walks on tiptoe, the materialist on his heels.

Ah is the shortest of human cries, Oh the longest. Man is born in an Ah and dies in an Oh, for birth is immediate and death is like an airplane taking off.

I am the owner of my shoulders, the tenant of my hips.

No matter how much leaves are fixed face to face they always look at each other aslant, whereas all fruits end up head-on however carelessly jumbled. A bunch of flowers is a house of coloured cards. A heap of fruit is a hive of coloured bees.

The flower has no weekday self, dressed as it always is in Sunday clothes.

The light would reach us more quickly in the morning and fade more slowly at night if the whole earth were divided into vast flower beds that called forth the light at dawn and clutched it longer at nightfall. Nature instituted summer for flowers long before man took summer over for his own uses.

To ‘hang on every word’ means to suck the eyes of the speaker.

The diamond scintillates less brilliantly when the fingers move rapidly than when they undulate and pivot. Glossy leaves throw off less light in a high wind than under the calm wavering of a breeze. Brusque movements of the eye cast a single gleam, and slow movements add a thousand others.

from Sens-Plastique

Malcolm de Chazal 1947

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The Voyeur

Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

I saw you clearly, as you are,
For the first time in a long while
From the perspective of the hallway
In the stillness of the afternoon
The bedroom (our bedroom) door
Wide open of any passing voyeur
To see and stare at the scene
Spot-lit by a pellucid light
Glaucous and migraine inducing
Nearly naked but of an undone bra
Twisted black satin and frilled lace
Lying almost still on the bed (our bed)
Pale flesh limpid in the peculiar glow
Your limbs entwined entangling
Intimately with his legs and arms
I flatten myself against the wall
But never for a second avert my gaze
Still my breath, strain to catch
Any stray whispered endearments
Sweet nothings or talking dirty
Hypnotic mesmerizing scandals
From this vantage point, this angle
I am unsure as to the identity
Of my lover’s lover, he could be
My brother, best friend or any
Stray random other, my betrayer
I am enraged, ashamed, enraptured
After all these years how could she?
The shame should be theirs but I’m
Intruding on an illicit secret passion
My skin burns hot with rushing blood
Perversely enjoying the raging hellfire
Of a jealously never to be quenched
Fanning ever anew with fierce delight
At the thought of this vivid tableau
Unknowingly arranged and presented
For my vast ever constant delectation,
A whole world of infinite heartbreak
In a pair of hastily cast-aside shoes.

Unreal Estates

The Fatal Temple-Giorgio De Chirico 1914
The Fatal Temple-Giorgio De Chirico 1914

The lassitude at the journey’s end
More tired now than before we left
Over there thoughts tend towards
The infinite, the eternal, the ineffable,
The sky and sleep, the deep and dreams,
Although we observe fleeting impressions
We cannot see things in their totality
We hear but we cannot comprehend
Once I was briefly mistaken for a native
But I am a true citizen of Nowhere

Resident only of wholly imaginary cities
Shimmered reflections in the mirror
Of the lake surrounded by mountains
An agent dealing in unreal estates,
The pregnant stillness before the flash,
The languid ease of definite uncertainty,
Hovering between three distinct stages
That could in the commotion and confusion
Of false memories and vanishing places
Merge and flow together inseparable.

Everybody loves the limpid sunlight
Causing the motes and angels to dance
But close the blinds, shut out beyond
And in the gloom come over to me,
Maybe we can step into that river again?

The Surreal World: Papua New Guinea

Andre Breton Apartment , 42 Rue Fontane
Andre Breton Atelier , 42 Rue Fontane-Gilles Ehrmann 1968

Andre Breton’s apartment at Rue Fontane, above the strip clubs and clip joints of the Pigalle red light district was by most accounts almost a work of art in its own right. In 2003 the French auctioneers Calmels Cohen put over 5,300 lots under the hammer from Breton’s vast collection of books, manuscripts, works of art and objects at Drouot-Richelieu; the catalogue alone extends to 8 volumes. The sale included 150 items of Oceanic art, the most important being the magnificent Uli statue from Central New Ireland, Papua New Guinea that graced his desk for many years.

Once again it is instructive to look at the Surrealist Map of the World (reference my previous post Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality) to see the importance official Surrealism attached to the islands of the Pacific. In this idealised rendering of how the world should be according to the Surrealists, Papua New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago is centrally located and larger than both Europe and Africa and truly dwarfs Australia.

Central to Papua New Guinea artistic reputation within Surrealist circles were the Uli, ancestor figures used for rites and endowed with immense magical powers. When a chieftain died his skull was buried and a tree planted on top of the burial place. After the tree had matured it was then cut down and the Uli was fashioned from the wood. The Uli are often bearded with protruding jaw and phallus to represent the traditional masculine attributes of strength and protection, while also possessing breasts as the ideal chieftain must maternally nurture and provide. When the Uli wasn’t participating in fertility, initiation and funerary rituals it would be kept in its own special enclosure away from prying eyes.

Breton was very taken with the Uli, naming a beloved Skye terrier Uli and dedicating a poem which I have included below. I have also included photographs for some of the most outstanding examples of this figure that Breton calls Grand Dieu, as well as the Future Sound of London’s seminal dance track Papua New Guinea, the video of which doesn’t include either the Uli or Papua New Guinea much as far as I can see, but does have some magic squares.

ULI

Surely you are a great god
I have seen you with my own eyes like no one else has
You are still covered with earth and blood you have just created
You are an old peasant who knows nothing
To recover you have eaten like a pig
You are covered with the stains of man
One sees that you have stuffed yourself to the ears
You listen no more
You leer at us from the bottom of a seashell
Your creation tells you hands up, and you still threaten
You frighten, you astonish.

Andre Breton 1948

Uli-previously of the collection of Andre Breton
Uli-Previously of the collection of Andre Breton
Uli-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli Statue-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Uli Statue-Central New Ireland Papua New Guinea
Statuettes Uli
Uli Statues

Strikethru

Napoleon in the Wilderness-Max Ernst 1941
Napoleon in the Wilderness-Max Ernst 1941

Eyes to the sky but noses ground down
Right coming up soon another year 2020
Visibility is poor it’s not getting any clearer
Skies are overcast the deluge is approaching
The water is rising temperature climbing
We can dream of a Third Summer of Love
But it will be just another Festival of Hate
Ah well fuck it anything to release energy
A force field of unruly total abandon
In time we will have to beat a hasty retreat
Escape and fortify the cave in the cliff-face
Welcome to my world girl you’re in my hut now
Grunt grunt a little louder I can’t hear you
Jump jump a little higher how low can you go
Down on your knees but please don’t pray
Though I would like to be in your thoughts
As much as you pollute my dreams phantasies
There is no salvation up above only submission
But we can strike on thru to the other side
Storm paradise and lay siege to pleasure