Even by the standards of David Lynch the Surrealist sit-com (with Noir accents) Rabbits from 2002 is startlingly bizarre. First released as a digital web series of 8 short episodes with a total run-time of 50 mins and later edited and re-released as a DVD of 42 mins, Rabbits features Scott Coffrey, Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts as Jack, Jane and Suzie, a family of humanoid rabbits who reside in a nameless city deluged with constant rain and who live with a fearful mystery.
The setting is a dismal living room which we will never leave. Suzie is ironing a piece of clothing which she will constantly iron throughout the movie, apart from the times when she leaves to summon (or exorcise) a demonic presence that appears in the wall and talks in a harsh and unintelligible language. Jane wears a dress and sits on the couch. Jack wears a suit and is the only one to regular leave the apartment. Whenever a character enters the apartment canned applause bursts out. Another alienating device is the use of a laugh track at random and often wildly inappropriate moments. The dialogue is oblique, to say the least. Clipped phrases, both banal and portentous, reminiscent of Samuel Beckett or Alain Resnais’s art house classic Last Year In Marienbad, are followed by long pauses then a non sequitur, which gives the impression that if it was ordered just so everything would fall into place. All three characters have a solo piece where they recite abstract poetry that has tantalising references to dogs and dark smiling teeth.
Rabbits is short movie where nothing happens yet is redolent with atmosphere, helped by a dank soundtrack by frequent Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. Oppressive, shot with a dark humour, sometimes boring but always terrifying, Rabbits was used in a study by University of British Columbia to induce a feeling of existential crisis in subjects.
Guiseppe Arcimboldo is a hazy peripheral figure in art history. Enjoying noble and royal patronage he was honoured during his lifetime before completely falling out of fashion during the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries only to be rediscovered by the Surrealists in the 20th. Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and Man Ray were all admirers and Arcimboldo’s visual puns and double meanings undoubtedly influenced Dali’s infamous paranoiac-critical method. Other art historians posited Arcimboldo as the most mannered of all the Mannerists. His composite portraits certainly show the period’s taste for enigmas and riddles taken far into the hinterlands of the grotesque and the whimsically bizarre.
Vertumnus is Arcimboldo’s most famous painting, a composite portrait of his patron, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia Rudolf II as Vertumnus, the Roman God of metamorphosis, the seasons, gardens and vegetable growth. The plants, flowers and fruits that form the portrait of Rudolf II are from every season and are taken to represent the perfect harmony and balance with nature that his reign would re-establish. Unfortunately events and history had other things in mind for the studious, occult inclined Rudolf II and his notably tolerant court of Prague, leading eventually to the calamity of the Thirty Year War between competing Catholic and Protestant states before engulfing the majority of European great powers.
Other notable composite portraits painted by Arcimboldo include the Four Seasons, the Four Elements and the witty The Librarian (below).
The masterpiece of the exceptional Surrealist Wifredo Lam, The Jungle from 1943, presents in its densely populated canvas a nightmarish, claustrophobic vision of riotous growth and rapid decay. Blending the human, animal and vegetation within his totemic masked figures with their proliferation of limbs and orbed protuberances, TheJungle exudes a sinister atmosphere of ritualised aggression and menace.
Lam was born in Cuba of mixed Chinese and African descent. His godmother was a famed Santeria practitioner and both his Afro-Cuban heritage and the orisha (the spirit deities of Santeria, the Cuban equivalent of Vodou) would play an integral part in his mature work. His association with Andre Breton would led to Lam illustrating Breton’s collection of poems, Fata Morgana and Lam was one of the artists and intellectuals that would contribute to the Surrealists re-design of the card deck (see Le Jeu Du Marseille-A Surrealist Pack of Cards) while holed up in a Marseilles mansion while awaiting to escape Europe after the Nazi invasion of France. Lam would also accompany Breton and his wife Elise on his visit to Haiti (see Desire in a Different Climate).
The sixth and final volume of Edition 69, a series of erotic publications combining art and literature that showcased the talents of Jindrich Styrsky, Toyen and others of the Czech avant-garde, saw the publication of Jindrich Styrsky’s Emilie Comes To Me In A Dream, an Surrealist erotic text with accompanying explicit collages, that featured images culled from French and British pornographic publications of the period. Because of censorship, the magazine was strictly limited to subscribers, in the case of Emilie Comes To Me In A Dream the number of copies issued was, appropriately enough, 69, of which only 20 now survive.
Here is a brief excerpt from the text, which is as disturbing, dreamlike, erotic and Surreal as the accompanying image above:
Later I placed an aquarium in the window. In it I cultivated a golden-haired vulva and a magnificent specimen of a penis with a blue eye and delicate veins on its temples. In time, however, I threw in everything I had ever loved: shards of broken teacups, hairpins, Barbara’s slipper, light bulbs, shadows, cigarette butts, sardine tins, my entire correspondence, and used condoms. Many strange creatures were born in this world; I considered myself a creator, and with justification. When I later had the box sealed shut, I gazed with satisfaction at the putrefaction of my dreams, until the walls became so covered in mould it was no longer possible to see anything. Yet I was certain that everything I loved in the world existed therein.