This symposium takes as its starting point Brassaï’s 1933 photo-essay ‘Sculptures involontaires’ as a means of opening up a debate about ‘surrealist sculpture’ and its legacy in later twentieth-century and twenty-first century art. Brassaï’s photographs show the ‘involuntary’ formations of small pieces of debris and household substances (paper tickets, bread, soap, toothpaste), whose slight, neglected presence is amplified through photographic lighting and magnification. These ‘found objects’ are of interest primarily for their formal and decorative qualities, as well as bearing psychological connotations suggested by Dalí in his accompanying captions and article. Sculpture’s traditional technical requirements did not sit happily with the surrealist interest in spontaneous and uncontrolled art-making. In his 1931 article ‘Objets à fonctionnement symbolique’, Dalí was wary of the ways in which sculptural concerns could detract from the surrealist object, as the movement’s dominant three-dimensional artistic form. Indeed, one might ask what form surrealist sculpture could possibly take? How could a technically complex medium lend itself to automatic practices? How could the fleeting nature of the chance encounter, or the cerebral eroticism of the surrealist body, be reconciled with the insistent materiality of bronze, marble, stone, wood or metal? Why does the earthy biomorphism of the sculpture of Arp, Moore or Picasso in the 1930s seem to at once extend and contradict surrealist activity? Discussions of surrealism’s legacy in three-dimensional practice have focused predominantly on the object and on the excessive corporeality of the body. This symposium will examine a range of alternative questions raised by involuntary sculpture. It will provide new perspectives on the changing status of contemporary sculptural practice and on the relationship between viewer and art object. Themes addressed will include: the tension between materiality and immateriality; the role of chance/involuntary natural and supernatural phenomena; temporality and performativity in three dimensional objects; the interplay between site, spatial presence and photographic representation.
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