When Andre Breton directed and issued the second surrealist manifesto in 1930, the notion of a mass killing of innocents on a crowded street at the hands of a madman with a pistol was so far from reality that it could legitimately be called beyond real, that is, surreal.
I emailed a friend who was among those trapped inside the Discovery Channel headquarters this summer when a gunman took several people hostage. He replied, “Thx bud. It was very surreal.”
We all know, unfortunately, that such a madman with a pistol loosed among civilians is all too real, an event so real as to be work-a-day.
Yet, we continue to seek to distance ourselves from this reality, to declare it not of this world, not of our consciousness. Thus, modern concepts of Surrealism may best be first measured and defined by new realities and concomitant rationalities.
A Supreme Court ruling stops the counting of votes in a presidential election in order to award the office to the man who came in second. To a goodly portion of the electorate: perfectly reasonable, but to paraphrase Arthur Miller’s question he publicly asked soon after Bush v. Gore was settled, “Am I the only one who’s freaked out by what just happened?”
The Department of Justice, of all agencies, issues legal backing and guidelines for torture, a crime persecuted by the American government itself against former enemies, and not a single person is held responsible. Instead, responsible parties are rewarded with tenured professorships at major universities, appointments to the federal court, Medals of Freedom, talking head slots on faux news programs and the monetized thanks of Halliburton, among others. Freaky, indeed.
So where is the modern Surrealist to turn when current reality is more divorced from reason than a Dadaist could dare dream and more bizarrely twisted than anything conjured by a band of revolutionary artists who found common purpose in art and expression in early 20th century France?
For some of the artists included in The Surrealist Next Door, the approach calls for turning a linchpin of Surrealism – namely, creating a new unreality out of an earthbound existence – on its head, instead wrenching reasoned imagery from a reality that is thoroughly unreal.