Do Blue Roses Wilt?

“Surrealism is the ‘invisible ray’ which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. ‘You are no longer trembling, carcass.’ This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live that are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.”

1. Subversion

This essay’s exergue is taken from André Breton’s first manifesto of Surrealism, which turns 100 years old this year. The revelation of the unseen in everyday reality; the integration of the imaginary and subjectivity into the understanding of the world’s objects; a new individuality that promises to shatter rationality: these aspects of artistic creation are united by two outcomes. Firstly, they herald a motif of modernity: art (and architecture) are tasked with unveiling the new and the unexpected, a “complete nonconformism”1 within the dialectic between critique and innovation, nihilism and affirmation. Secondly, they signal a shift from a culture built upon a substantialist relationship between the self and reality, to a much more problematic understanding of subjectivity as coextensive with its outside.

Surrealism’s main objective seems to have been the subversion of our relationship with the world as we perceive it, inspired by Freud and revolutionary politics. All Surrealist artists, whether followers of Breton or his ‘archenemy’ Georges Bataille, actively participated in a revolutionary movement by developing new artistic methods, in all media. Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, and Paul Nougé unleashed the subconscious in poetry and literature. Thanks to Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst, the canvas became a portal to the absurd and the unsettling by means of delirious associations, reimagined myths with a modern twist, illusionism, childlike symbolism, enigmatic compositions and automatisms. Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti transformed sculpture into a manifestation of biomorphic and ghostly visions. Luis Buñuel demonstrated the ability of cinema to challenge bourgeois sensibilities, while Jacques-André Boiffard and Claude Cahun showcased photography’s capacity to interrogate sexuality and identity. Even our practice and field, despite its functional nature that makes it hardly surreal, found surrealist representations: Tristan Tzara’s intrauterine architecture, imagined against bourgeoise’s “coercive will”.2

For some, nature was a necessary point of controversial comparison. This became the reference for new artistic expressions, a battleground of beauty and contention: Breton’s glass wood and the blue roses, or Leonora Carrington’s animalistic visions. For others, history loomed as the past’s specter, a mosaic of shattered memories awaiting artistic resurrection and signification (de Chirico). The history of Surrealism cannot be confined to a couple of paragraphs, as it is a story full of ideological excesses, internationalism, and conflictual relationships such as the controversial connection between Breton, Tzara, and de Chirico. However, something emerges quite clearly even from a superficial excursion into the movement’s evolution over time: aligned with the other avant-garde movements, the Surrealists pursued novel modes of interpreting and expressing a changing reality. As the wheels of industrialization turned faster and faster, and global assets multiplied, avant-garde artists either sought solace in their inner worlds, or confronted changes by waging a symbolic (but not only symbolic) war.  In any case, the arts were confronted with a whole new reality, compelling change.

“Industrial things take the place of Classical Nature, of the Illuminist cult of man, and even of Reason: they are the result of the pitiless logic of Capital that has destroyed, paradoxically, the faith in anthropocentrism. In this sense they are new nature.”3

Within this new world, there have been those who forged proud subjective modes of expression, and others who happily cultivated new communal bonds. Some have tenderly advocated for refuge in their memories, while others have conceptualised severe forms of rationalism. Essentially, with the other avant-gardes, Surrealism produced a broad spectrum of artistic objectives, spanning across genres and disciplines, all concerned with a shift in the arts’ stance toward both natural and societal realities, encompassing new cultural and technical dimensions.

2. Intertwinement

Over the past hundred years we have become increasingly aware that this world of machines is intimately bound up with natural resources, the exterior of subjectivity, and the regime of commodity production. The artistic, cultural and political movements of the 1960s and postmodernism represent the first steps towards this recognition: psychogeography, the nonlinear stratifications of history, the realization of utopia’s downfalls, the development of liberalism and its crises. Consequently, nature, the arts, and technology have slowly become a chimera that eats up any new push towards the future, spitting out goods.

A testament to this lies in the transformation of Surrealism itself over the decades. This movement emerged as a revolutionary force, with Leon Trotsky writing to Breton that “the struggle for revolutionary ideas” is inherently related to “the immutable faith of the artist in his own inner self.”4 Nowadays, anything labeled ‘surreal’ seems to whisper through the corridors of advertising agencies, its once eerie voice suggesting hashtags to seduce consumers. Obviously, this is because our economic and capitalist system has the capacity to assimilate everything, particularly its own critique. Also, there has been the realization of the illusions harbored by the dreams of the avant-garde, of the self’s and artistic methods’ revolutionary force, and the seemingly impossibility of changing a world enmeshed within an increasingly complex system. Comprehending the reality within which an artist works appears as a heroic deed, exemplified by the preference for hysterical realism’s “glamorous congestion” over surrealism.5 In their absurdist narratives, authors like Don DeLillo and Charlie Kaufman have best depicted this condition, respectively in White Noise—a hyperreal world filled with consumerism, media saturation, and existential dread—and Synecdoche, New York: the depiction of life as a theatrical play made of recursive narrative layers. In architecture, no one has formalized such condition more poignantly than Rem Koolhaas. Often associated with Surrealism, Koolhaas’ work epitomizes a new kind of nonconformism, an architecture at once literal and alienating, best represented by the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, Villa dall'Ava in Paris, and many other buildings.6 It is a Dalì-esque, paranoid, response to an ever-expanding plurality of forms, ideas, aesthetics, and needs, akin to the iconic imagery of naked boxers eating oysters next to a pool within a skyscraper.

Surrealism thus transforms from Breton’s “perpetual excursion into the midst of forbidden territory”7 into a method for the paradoxical combination of the present’s divergences. Until relatively recently, the difference between changing the perception of the world and its material transformation seemed minimal. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it”;8 when Marx wrote these words, the relationship between classes, like that between subject and object, seemed as immediate as susceptible to revolution. Breton’s characterization of Surrealism’s political stance as an “invincible force of that which must be, of human becoming”9 arose amidst the stifling censorship of anything avant-gardist in Nazi Germany, and in the unawareness of the atrocities perpetuated in Soviet Union (although, it must be acknowledged, Breton would break away from the French Communist Party in disagreement with its support of Stalin).10 In the last decades, a different kind of feeling seems to have swept over us, at least in the West, akin to navigating an endless labyrinth where Artaud’s Révolution Surréaliste has become a theater of the absurd à la Ionesco. Artistic expressions—from painting to fashion, from architecture to music—have been engaging for a long time in a direct confrontation with an ever more complex information system. This dynamic has prompted a virtually infinite number of approaches, ranging from the artistic elevation of products, goods, and media, to the production of interreferences in the transmission of aesthetics, forms and their value: Pop and minimalism, Dara Birnabaum and Ruth Francken, Takashi Muakami and Hans Peter Feldmann, Superflex and Hito Steyerl, Cao Fei and  Raqs media collective. Something similar has been happening in architecture as well, with the multiplication of techniques, symbolisms, markets, and practices.

In any case, and whatever the specific choice, it is virtually impossible for contemporary artistic expressions not to thematize the Global Communication System, its hyperrealism, simulacra, fetishes, and latencies, whether embracing this condition or rejecting it.

3. Twist

In front of this, it is at the very least justified to question the significance of Surrealism’s centenary: what is the point of discussing Surrealism, today? The most obvious answer to this question is that Surrealism has both failed and triumphed. In losing its revolutionary edge, Surrealism has become today’s vernacular: the common language of all artistic expressions, today’s banality—as actually already anticipated by Walter Benjamin in 1927:

“[Surrealists] seek the totemic tree of objects within the thicket of primal history. The very last, the topmost face on the totem pole, is that of kitsch. It is the last mask of the banal, the one with which we adorn ourselves, in dream and conversation, so as to take in the energies of an outlived world of things.”11

Today, one might also mention remix culture (a daily practice among teenagers on social media), nostalgia, Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Postproduction", vaporwave, and Valentina Tanni’s “Memeaesthetics": the art of memes, copies, appropriations, and constant transformation.12 Yet, the underlying message remains more or less the same. Surrealist practices based on unexpected assemblages and combinations stand now as the prevailing and overt methodologies within the contemporary cultural and artistic industry, as also exemplified by the resurgence of simplified surrealist techniques through the integration of Machine Learning in the arts, reminiscent of a visual reimagining of Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de Style, where 99 distinct renditions of the same narrative are showcased in various stylistic measures.

Some might view all this with disdain and witness a revival of bad taste as the arts may seem to succumb yet again to rampant commercialization, loss of genuine creativity, and unabashed kitsch. And there is more than one reason to cast a skeptical eye on today’s condition: compared to Dali’s “objects that operate symbolically”, many of today’s artistic and designed products parade in fairs and festivals as either alarmingly didascalic, or obnoxiously pretentious.13

But things are never that simple. One cannot expect resolution to spring forth from the dialectics of opposing concepts: either avant-garde or kitsch, either abstract or figurative, unknown or familiar, auratic or non-auratic—good or evil. The real challenge is navigating the role of an eternal bachelor within creative dynamics: to constantly reinvent modes of expression that stir meaningful turbulences within our imageries, contextually and otherwise.

Despite everything, Surrealism might still have lessons to impart. The unexpected materiality of Meret Oppenheim’s work, the magical naturalism of a painting like Pierre Roy’s Visite d’un moulin à vent, Wifredo Lam’s ethereal figures, Pang Xunqin’smetropolitan visions, Winsor McCay’s proto-surrealist illustrations, or Abdul Kader El Janabi’s libertarian poetry, are all different examples of a similarly speculative inquiry. Their materiality, form, imagery, language and aesthetics are signifiers of uncertain and unexpected possibilities within the social imagery by means of art’s rhetorical abilities. They all estrange and draw unexpected combinations, but they do so by instigating a twist—“an event and a meaning”:14 a reactivity, a rage, and a more or less hysterical irony. If properly reimagined in light of current problems, this avenue may offer a chance for the reconceptualization of imaginative constructs, which is as imperative today as reconsidering the objectives and commercial orientations of our practices.

Certainly, each twist involves an ethical and political decision to prioritize authentic needs, both material and symbolic. Greenwashing, neoliberalist architecture, traditionalism, hyper-capitalist development, identitarianism, smart innovation, and zombie formalism are just some of the names typically given to the twists oriented toward suffering and violence, whether by means of exploitation or oppression.

Against these, the task at hand is to choose carefully from the myriad of creative imageries available to us, in an “open way of looking at the world and at things in the world, our world”,15 as already explained by Susan Sontag. Architecture is also political in this sense, not only as practice and technique. Like the other arts, architecture too establishes a connection with the sense of reality, assuming a fundamental role in forming the social imagery, in turn “the logical and ontological condition of the ‘real’".16

In a world increasingly intricate and multifaceted, art and architecture aiming to encapsulate the cognitive, material, and technical diversity of the real necessitate a ceaseless reconstitution of their expressive styles. This is because representation, expression, and formal articulation are decisive for ethical and political choices so to acquire a sense of their own. From this point of view, a surreal approach of sorts may blend again readability with strangeness and political objectives, as Surrealism has originally done, so to create a critical conformity that is both imaginative and true to life’s authentic needs.

We must learn, forever again, how to carefully and thoughtfully give form and sense to the fragments and remnants left behind by a century of exploitation and destruction (and, in turn, critical judgment should confront each individual choice and its specific purpose). Each single formal expression is a way of presenting values and ideals. It may formalize a reality seen from a point of view that focuses on the edges and on the broken pieces of the world’s fragmented perceptions. Whether artists, designers, writers, or architects, we can indeed still work by means of re-interpretation, re-imagination and the interplay of differences, using any instrument at our disposal: the latest technique and technology, a pencil, raw materials—or maybe all of these at once. Breton’s blue roses have long since wilted due to the pervasive commodification of aesthetics, the trivialization of imaginaries, and the commercialization of practices. It falls to us, if ‘we’ can ever look at the world as ‘ours’ again, to breathe life into new chromatic possibilities.

Do Blue Roses Wilt?

5/29/2024

The Aftermaths of Surrealism

“Surrealism is the ‘invisible ray’ which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. ‘You are no longer trembling, carcass.’ This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live that are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.”

André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism, 1924.

1 André Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism”, in: André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, Ann Arbor, ed 1972, p.47.

2 Trista Tzara, Minotaure, 12 décembre 1933, p.82.

1. Subversion

This essay’s exergue is taken from André Breton’s first manifesto of Surrealism, which turns 100 years old this year. The revelation of the unseen in everyday reality; the integration of the imaginary and subjectivity into the understanding of the world’s objects; a new individuality that promises to shatter rationality: these aspects of artistic creation are united by two outcomes. Firstly, they herald a motif of modernity: art (and architecture) are tasked with unveiling the new and the unexpected, a “complete nonconformism”1 within the dialectic between critique and innovation, nihilism and affirmation. Secondly, they signal a shift from a culture built upon a substantialist relationship between the self and reality, to a much more problematic understanding of subjectivity as coextensive with its outside.

Surrealism’s main objective seems to have been the subversion of our relationship with the world as we perceive it, inspired by Freud and revolutionary politics. All Surrealist artists, whether followers of Breton or his ‘archenemy’ Georges Bataille, actively participated in a revolutionary movement by developing new artistic methods, in all media. Louis Aragon, Antonin Artaud, and Paul Nougé unleashed the subconscious in poetry and literature. Thanks to Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Ernst, the canvas became a portal to the absurd and the unsettling by means of delirious associations, reimagined myths with a modern twist, illusionism, childlike symbolism, enigmatic compositions and automatisms. Jean Arp and Alberto Giacometti transformed sculpture into a manifestation of biomorphic and ghostly visions. Luis Buñuel demonstrated the ability of cinema to challenge bourgeois sensibilities, while Jacques-André Boiffard and Claude Cahun showcased photography’s capacity to interrogate sexuality and identity. Even our practice and field, despite its functional nature that makes it hardly surreal, found surrealist representations: Tristan Tzara’s intrauterine architecture, imagined against bourgeoise’s “coercive will”.2

Jean Arp (1888-1966), Homme vu par une fleur, 1958 – © 2024 ProLitteris Zürich
Joan Miró (1893-1983), Women and Bird at Night, 1944 – © Successió Miró / 2024 ProLitteris Zürich
Claude Cahun (1894-1954), Que me veux-tu?, 1928 – © Paris Musées, musée d'Art modere, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image ville de Paris / Art Resource, NY
Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), Self-Portrait, 1938 – © 2024 ProLitteris Zürich
01 | 05
Jean Arp (1888-1966), Homme vu par une fleur, 1958 – © 2024 ProLitteris Zürich

3 Manfredo Tafuri, Theories and History of Architecture, London 1980, p.32.

4 Leon Trotsky, “The Independence of the Artist: a Letter to Andre Breton”, in: Leon Trotsky, on Literature and Art, New York 1970, p.124.

5 James Wood, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel, New York 2004, p.178.

6 See: Luis Fernández-Galiano, Surrealist Koolhaas, Madrid 2021; Neil Spiller, Architecture and Surrealism, London, 2016.

For some, nature was a necessary point of controversial comparison. This became the reference for new artistic expressions, a battleground of beauty and contention: Breton’s glass wood and the blue roses, or Leonora Carrington’s animalistic visions. For others, history loomed as the past’s specter, a mosaic of shattered memories awaiting artistic resurrection and signification (de Chirico). The history of Surrealism cannot be confined to a couple of paragraphs, as it is a story full of ideological excesses, internationalism, and conflictual relationships such as the controversial connection between Breton, Tzara, and de Chirico. However, something emerges quite clearly even from a superficial excursion into the movement’s evolution over time: aligned with the other avant-garde movements, the Surrealists pursued novel modes of interpreting and expressing a changing reality. As the wheels of industrialization turned faster and faster, and global assets multiplied, avant-garde artists either sought solace in their inner worlds, or confronted changes by waging a symbolic (but not only symbolic) war.  In any case, the arts were confronted with a whole new reality, compelling change.

“Industrial things take the place of Classical Nature, of the Illuminist cult of man, and even of Reason: they are the result of the pitiless logic of Capital that has destroyed, paradoxically, the faith in anthropocentrism. In this sense they are new nature.”3

Within this new world, there have been those who forged proud subjective modes of expression, and others who happily cultivated new communal bonds. Some have tenderly advocated for refuge in their memories, while others have conceptualised severe forms of rationalism. Essentially, with the other avant-gardes, Surrealism produced a broad spectrum of artistic objectives, spanning across genres and disciplines, all concerned with a shift in the arts’ stance toward both natural and societal realities, encompassing new cultural and technical dimensions.

2. Intertwinement

Over the past hundred years we have become increasingly aware that this world of machines is intimately bound up with natural resources, the exterior of subjectivity, and the regime of commodity production. The artistic, cultural and political movements of the 1960s and postmodernism represent the first steps towards this recognition: psychogeography, the nonlinear stratifications of history, the realization of utopia’s downfalls, the development of liberalism and its crises. Consequently, nature, the arts, and technology have slowly become a chimera that eats up any new push towards the future, spitting out goods.

A testament to this lies in the transformation of Surrealism itself over the decades. This movement emerged as a revolutionary force, with Leon Trotsky writing to Breton that “the struggle for revolutionary ideas” is inherently related to “the immutable faith of the artist in his own inner self.”4 Nowadays, anything labeled ‘surreal’ seems to whisper through the corridors of advertising agencies, its once eerie voice suggesting hashtags to seduce consumers. Obviously, this is because our economic and capitalist system has the capacity to assimilate everything, particularly its own critique. Also, there has been the realization of the illusions harbored by the dreams of the avant-garde, of the self’s and artistic methods’ revolutionary force, and the seemingly impossibility of changing a world enmeshed within an increasingly complex system. Comprehending the reality within which an artist works appears as a heroic deed, exemplified by the preference for hysterical realism’s “glamorous congestion” over surrealism.5 In their absurdist narratives, authors like Don DeLillo and Charlie Kaufman have best depicted this condition, respectively in White Noise—a hyperreal world filled with consumerism, media saturation, and existential dread—and Synecdoche, New York: the depiction of life as a theatrical play made of recursive narrative layers. In architecture, no one has formalized such condition more poignantly than Rem Koolhaas. Often associated with Surrealism, Koolhaas’ work epitomizes a new kind of nonconformism, an architecture at once literal and alienating, best represented by the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, Villa dall'Ava in Paris, and many other buildings.6 It is a Dalì-esque, paranoid, response to an ever-expanding plurality of forms, ideas, aesthetics, and needs, akin to the iconic imagery of naked boxers eating oysters next to a pool within a skyscraper.

OMA, Kunsthal Rotterdam, 1987-92 – image by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti © OMA
OMA, Kunsthal Rotterdam, 1987-92 – image by Hans Werlemann © OMA
OMA, Villa dall'Ava, Paris 1984-91 – image by Hans Werlemann © OMA
OMA, Bus Terminal Rotterdam, 1985-87 (demolished) – © OMA
OMA, Design for Sea Terminal, Zeebrugge 1988 – © courtesy of OMA
OMA, Design for Hilton Hotel, 1990 – © OMA
01 | 07
OMA, Kunsthal Rotterdam, 1987-92 – image by Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti © OMA

7 André Breton, “SecondManifesto of Surrealism”, in: André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, cit., p.137.

8 Karl Marx, “On Feuerbach”, in: Karl Marx, Early Political Writings, Cambridge 1994, p.118.

9 André Breton, “Political Position of Surrealism”, in:André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, cit., p.233.

10 Ilaria Schiaffini, Arte Contemporanea: Metafisica, Dada, Surrealismo, Rome 2011, p.145.

11 Walter Benjamin “Dream Kitsch, Gloss on Surrealism”, in: Selected Writing, volume 2, part 1, Cambridge 1999, p.4.

12 Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction: Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, New York 2002; Valentina Tanni, Memestetica, il Settembre Eterno dell’Arte, Rome 2022.

Surrealism thus transforms from Breton’s “perpetual excursion into the midst of forbidden territory”7 into a method for the paradoxical combination of the present’s divergences. Until relatively recently, the difference between changing the perception of the world and its material transformation seemed minimal. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways; the point is to change it”;8 when Marx wrote these words, the relationship between classes, like that between subject and object, seemed as immediate as susceptible to revolution. Breton’s characterization of Surrealism’s political stance as an “invincible force of that which must be, of human becoming”9 arose amidst the stifling censorship of anything avant-gardist in Nazi Germany, and in the unawareness of the atrocities perpetuated in Soviet Union (although, it must be acknowledged, Breton would break away from the French Communist Party in disagreement with its support of Stalin).10 In the last decades, a different kind of feeling seems to have swept over us, at least in the West, akin to navigating an endless labyrinth where Artaud’s Révolution Surréaliste has become a theater of the absurd à la Ionesco. Artistic expressions—from painting to fashion, from architecture to music—have been engaging for a long time in a direct confrontation with an ever more complex information system. This dynamic has prompted a virtually infinite number of approaches, ranging from the artistic elevation of products, goods, and media, to the production of interreferences in the transmission of aesthetics, forms and their value: Pop and minimalism, Dara Birnabaum and Ruth Francken, Takashi Muakami and Hans Peter Feldmann, Superflex and Hito Steyerl, Cao Fei and  Raqs media collective. Something similar has been happening in architecture as well, with the multiplication of techniques, symbolisms, markets, and practices.

In any case, and whatever the specific choice, it is virtually impossible for contemporary artistic expressions not to thematize the Global Communication System, its hyperrealism, simulacra, fetishes, and latencies, whether embracing this condition or rejecting it.

3. Twist

In front of this, it is at the very least justified to question the significance of Surrealism’s centenary: what is the point of discussing Surrealism, today? The most obvious answer to this question is that Surrealism has both failed and triumphed. In losing its revolutionary edge, Surrealism has become today’s vernacular: the common language of all artistic expressions, today’s banality—as actually already anticipated by Walter Benjamin in 1927:

“[Surrealists] seek the totemic tree of objects within the thicket of primal history. The very last, the topmost face on the totem pole, is that of kitsch. It is the last mask of the banal, the one with which we adorn ourselves, in dream and conversation, so as to take in the energies of an outlived world of things.”11

Today, one might also mention remix culture (a daily practice among teenagers on social media), nostalgia, Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Postproduction", vaporwave, and Valentina Tanni’s “Memeaesthetics": the art of memes, copies, appropriations, and constant transformation.12 Yet, the underlying message remains more or less the same. Surrealist practices based on unexpected assemblages and combinations stand now as the prevailing and overt methodologies within the contemporary cultural and artistic industry, as also exemplified by the resurgence of simplified surrealist techniques through the integration of Machine Learning in the arts, reminiscent of a visual reimagining of Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de Style, where 99 distinct renditions of the same narrative are showcased in various stylistic measures.

Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala
01 | 07
Images made with Midjuourney using some of Queneau’sExercices de Stylas prompts. – © Giacomo Pala

13 Salvador Dalí, “The Object as Revealed in Surrealist Experiment”, in: Lucy R. Lippard, Surrealists on Art, Los Angeles 1970, p.94.

14 Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor, The creation of meaning in language, London/ New York 2004, p.114.

15 Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays, New York 1966, p.303.

16 Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, Cambridge 1987, p.336.

Some might view all this with disdain and witness a revival of bad taste as the arts may seem to succumb yet again to rampant commercialization, loss of genuine creativity, and unabashed kitsch. And there is more than one reason to cast a skeptical eye on today’s condition: compared to Dali’s “objects that operate symbolically”, many of today’s artistic and designed products parade in fairs and festivals as either alarmingly didascalic, or obnoxiously pretentious.13

But things are never that simple. One cannot expect resolution to spring forth from the dialectics of opposing concepts: either avant-garde or kitsch, either abstract or figurative, unknown or familiar, auratic or non-auratic—good or evil. The real challenge is navigating the role of an eternal bachelor within creative dynamics: to constantly reinvent modes of expression that stir meaningful turbulences within our imageries, contextually and otherwise.

Despite everything, Surrealism might still have lessons to impart. The unexpected materiality of Meret Oppenheim’s work, the magical naturalism of a painting like Pierre Roy’s Visite d’un moulin à vent, Wifredo Lam’s ethereal figures, Pang Xunqin’smetropolitan visions, Winsor McCay’s proto-surrealist illustrations, or Abdul Kader El Janabi’s libertarian poetry, are all different examples of a similarly speculative inquiry. Their materiality, form, imagery, language and aesthetics are signifiers of uncertain and unexpected possibilities within the social imagery by means of art’s rhetorical abilities. They all estrange and draw unexpected combinations, but they do so by instigating a twist—“an event and a meaning”:14 a reactivity, a rage, and a more or less hysterical irony. If properly reimagined in light of current problems, this avenue may offer a chance for the reconceptualization of imaginative constructs, which is as imperative today as reconsidering the objectives and commercial orientations of our practices.

Certainly, each twist involves an ethical and political decision to prioritize authentic needs, both material and symbolic. Greenwashing, neoliberalist architecture, traditionalism, hyper-capitalist development, identitarianism, smart innovation, and zombie formalism are just some of the names typically given to the twists oriented toward suffering and violence, whether by means of exploitation or oppression.

Against these, the task at hand is to choose carefully from the myriad of creative imageries available to us, in an “open way of looking at the world and at things in the world, our world”,15 as already explained by Susan Sontag. Architecture is also political in this sense, not only as practice and technique. Like the other arts, architecture too establishes a connection with the sense of reality, assuming a fundamental role in forming the social imagery, in turn “the logical and ontological condition of the ‘real’".16

In a world increasingly intricate and multifaceted, art and architecture aiming to encapsulate the cognitive, material, and technical diversity of the real necessitate a ceaseless reconstitution of their expressive styles. This is because representation, expression, and formal articulation are decisive for ethical and political choices so to acquire a sense of their own. From this point of view, a surreal approach of sorts may blend again readability with strangeness and political objectives, as Surrealism has originally done, so to create a critical conformity that is both imaginative and true to life’s authentic needs.

We must learn, forever again, how to carefully and thoughtfully give form and sense to the fragments and remnants left behind by a century of exploitation and destruction (and, in turn, critical judgment should confront each individual choice and its specific purpose). Each single formal expression is a way of presenting values and ideals. It may formalize a reality seen from a point of view that focuses on the edges and on the broken pieces of the world’s fragmented perceptions. Whether artists, designers, writers, or architects, we can indeed still work by means of re-interpretation, re-imagination and the interplay of differences, using any instrument at our disposal: the latest technique and technology, a pencil, raw materials—or maybe all of these at once. Breton’s blue roses have long since wilted due to the pervasive commodification of aesthetics, the trivialization of imaginaries, and the commercialization of practices. It falls to us, if ‘we’ can ever look at the world as ‘ours’ again, to breathe life into new chromatic possibilities.

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1/18/2024Ana Catarina Silva

Housing. Not flats

Architect Philipp Esch spoke to Ana Catarina Silva about undetermined spaces, architecture as a process and beauty as the most enduring measure of sustainability. read
24/01
Housing. Not flats
Article 23/11
12/14/2023Jorge Melguizo

Medellín

Once the most dangerous city in the world, Medellín became a model for urban change. Its architecture is the image of what is even more important. read
23/11
Medellín
Article 23/10
10/27/2023Salvatore Dellaria

The Southgate Myth

Built and demolished within less than thirty years, Stirling's Southgate Estate stands for what it was planned for and against which it had to fail: Britain's neoliberalism. read
23/10
The Southgate Myth
Article 23/09
9/26/2023Randa A. Mahmoud

Lost in Gourna

Hassan Fathy was brilliant and visionary, but an early project was strongly rejected by its residents. Randa A. Mahmoud studied Gourna to get behind the paradox of Egypt's Great Architect. read
23/09
Lost in Gourna
Article 23/08
8/29/2023Grisi Ganzer

Pandora's Boxes

Grisi Ganzer’s report on the collaboration on the German Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale features his impressions and experiences building a bar counter for the Pandora Culture Centre. read
23/08
Pandora's Boxes
Article 23/07
7/27/2023Bart Lootsma

Diffusions

Text-based AI generates realistic images of diffuse origin. Imperfect and open-ended, they irritate our aesthetic sensibilities and change the entire visual culture. read
23/07
Diffusions
Article 23/06
6/28/2023Denis Andernach

Andernach's Houses

Free of constraints, Denis Andernach draws his houses as pure architectures in abandoned landscapes. He unites elementary forms with imagined purposes. read
23/06
Andernach's Houses
Article 23/05
5/24/2023Pedro Gadanho

Learning from Hippie Modernism

An environmental avant-garde grew out of the resistance against the post-war society of the late 1960s. While their efforts were derided as esoteric, time has come to learn from their approaches. read
23/05
Hippie Modernism
Article 23/04
4/27/2023Giacomo Pala

Pineapple Modernity

The intersection of globalization and modernity: the pineapple and the emergence of a new architectural paradigm since the 18th century. read
23/04
Pineapple Modernity
Article 23/03
3/29/2023Claudia Kromrei

Case come noi

An island, three writers and three houses in which they lived, loved and worked. In Capri's idyll, the buildings unfold the personality of their builders and stage their self-absorption. read
23/03
Case come noi
Article 23/02
2/23/2023Bahar Avanoğlu

[Un]built

Separating "unbuilt" architecture from the one "not built", Raimund Abraham's oeuvre is a vital reminder of architecture as a work of memory and desire and as an independent art of building the [Un]built. read
23/02
[Un]built
Article 23/01
1/18/2023Wolfgang Bachmann

New Land

An excursion into an unknown area: In his travelogue about Lusatia, Wolfgang Bachmann speaks of official GDR stage scenery,, West German-influenced reappraisal – and Baroque splendour. read
23/01
New Land
Article 22/07
11/23/2022Bettina Köhler

Liebe du Arsch!*

Can one discard buildings? Can one overcome ignorance and greed? Does love help? Bettina Köhler’s answer to these questions is “yes” in her investigation of beauty as the custodian of durability. read
22/07
Liebe du Arsch!*
Article 22/06
10/19/2022Fala

Fala meets Siza

Fala and Álvaro Siza are bound by origins but separated by age. In a personal encounter, the 89-year-old Pritzker Prize winner talks about that which is still reflected in Fala's own work today. read
22/06
Fala meets Siza
Article 22/05
9/22/2022Anna Beeke

Trailer Treasures

Within mobile home parks, Anna Beeke encounters a clear desire for individualized place. In her photographs she shows how prefabricated units are the same, but different. read
22/05
Trailer Treasures
Article 22/04
8/20/2022Mario Rinke

Open Meta-landscapes

Mario Rinke pleads for supporting structures that are not conceived for a use, but out of the place. In these meta-landscapes, architectures can occur episodically. read
22/04
Open Meta-landscapes
Article 22/03
7/1/2022Virginia de Diego
caption

Reductio ad absurdum

Through deliberate destruction a former bunker can be preserved. Its relevance is created out ouf its absurdity. read
22/03
Reductio ad absurdum
Article 22/02
7/1/2022Jerome BeckerMatthias Moroder

The balance of chaos and structure

In conversation with Jerome Becker and Matthias Moroder, Marc Leschelier emphasises his aversion to functionalism and stresses the importance of architecture as a form of expression. read
22/02
Chaos and Structure
Article 22/01
7/1/2022Gerrit Confurius
Teatro di Marcello, Rom, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), ca. 1757

Permanence as a principle

Gerrit Confurius recalls the end of the printed edition of Daidalos and recommends the principle of permanence as a strategy for the future tasks of architecture as well. read
22/01
Permanence as a principle
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