Bizarre objects created from paradoxical juxtapositions of made and found components subvert the rational and reveal the unconscious. Cubist and Dada assemblages and photomontages incorporate anti-artistic and ephemeral material. Surrealist objects made from the early 1930s―and displayed as curios in cabinets alongside items from nature and ‘primitive’ cultures―are also worlds apart from traditional fine art and aesthetics. They confound, amuse, shock and annoy. A sewing machine is redundant in a felt straitjacket, a tactile foam breast becomes the cover of a book, and a life-size female figurine is subjected to extreme acts of fetishism and mutilation.
Meret Oppenheim‘s Squirrel elicits an equivocal response. Feminine, masculine, puzzling, amusing, seductive, frustrating, macabre and kinky, Squirrel entices and repels. Lured by initial connotations of the all-too-familiar beer stein and fluffy tail, the viewer is inevitably prevented from a tangible experience of the original. We cannot enjoy the ‘amber liquid’ because of the stein’s altered function. The squirrel’s pelt brings pleasure to the skin but not to the tongue, while the mock liquid is stoppered by a hardened foaming head. With this object and many others like it, Oppenheim has succeeded in realising the Surrealist demand ‘to hound the mad beast of function’.
Niki van den Heuvel, Exhibition Assistant, International Art, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
In 1975 Marina Abramovic met Ulay, an artist who shared her date of birth as well as her artistic concerns. Over the next two decades they lived and collaborated together, performing and traveling extensively. Their performances explored the parameters of power and dependency within the triangular relationship between each other and their audience.
In one performance, Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), with their mouths clamped tightly together and microphones taped to their throats, Abramovic and Ulay breathed in turn the air from each other’s lungs, until – almost to the point of suffocation – they were exchanging only carbon dioxide. In another, Rest Energy (1980), they held a taut bow with an arrow loaded and pointing at Abramovic’s heart, with only the weight of their bodies maintaining the tension. Microphones recorded their rapidly accelerating heartbeats.
Text from Lacan
After a 12-year relationship fuelled by passion that could rival the greatest lovers in history, they finally agreed to part ways forever. For their last artistic collaboration they decided to each walk 2,500 miles from either end of The Great Wall of China, and meet in the middle to say their goodbyes. The 2012 documentary, The Artist is Present, reveals the moment when Ulay and Marina are reunited 20 years later in New York on the days leading up to her retrospective show.
Now living separate lives, the chemistry between them is still palpable. On the opening night of her show, when she begins her three-month stint in the wooden chair, staring people in the eyes, Ulay turns up and sits opposite her, creating a seriously epic, utterly real interaction between two past soulmates, brought together again by the art that joined them when they met.