Surrealism: the trend that used collage and assemblage to create disorienting associations


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The last avant-garde movement of the early 20th century, in chronological order anyway, was Surrealism. It was founded in France between WWI and WWII, and tapped into the ideas of Dada, the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, and Sigmund Freud’s studies on the unconscious mind.

Freud’s theories about dreams, their meaning in relation to the inner workings of the mind, codified by psychoanalysis, influenced numerous poets and artists of the movement, including André Breton, who was a co-founder and the main theorist of Surrealism.

The goal of the Surrealists was in fact to unleash the forces of the subconscious and unconscious mind, using the free association of words, ideas and images, without inhibitions and premeditated goals.

As such, the characteristic that was at the heart of all versions of Surrealism was a radical critique of conscious rationalism, the power of logic and its restrictions, which act as chains that prevent individuals from fully and completely expressing themselves.

That gave rise to the Surrealist acceptance of all that is irrational, of the absurd, of chance and automatism (free association and automatic drawing and painting), ingredients that the movement’s visual artists used in their creative “recipes,” enhancing them this time with experimental techniques such as frottage (rubbing), grattage (scratching/scraping), assemblage and collage.

On this last technique, Max Ernst, one of Surrealism’s most influential and innovative artists, said: “techniques like collage are the perfect way to compose surrealist pieces because they make it possible to associate images in an unusual way, thereby giving life to powerful, alienating yet visionary works of art.”

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