Astrid Hiemer and Michelle Wiley at Eclipse Gallery

Homage to the Centennial of Surrealism

By: - Jun 09, 2024

 During war time in Paris, Serge Diaghilev mounted the ballet Parade in 1917. It was a collaboration among poet/artist Jean Cocteau, composer Eric Satie, the choreographer Leonide Massine, with sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso. It was described by Cocteau and Satie as a “ballet réaliste.”

During the opening night riot the poet and critic, Guillaume Appolinaire, scribbled “Surrealism” on his program.

He later elaborated ”From this new alliance, for until now stage sets and costumes on one side and the choreographer  on the other side had only a sham bond between them, there has come about, in Parade, a kind of super-realism (sur-réalisme), in which  I see the starting point of a series of manifestations of this new spirit (esprit nouveau), which, finding today the opportunity to reveal itself, will not fail to deuce the elite, and which promises to modify arts and manners from top to bottom for the wold’s delight, since it is only common sense to wish that arts and manners reach at least to the same height as scientific and industrial progress.”

Seven years later his coined word defined a movement in art. In 1924 there were competing Surrealist Manifestos. We are celebrating its centennial as well as Dada, an international movement, which in 1916 was launched by Hugo Ball at the Café Voltaire in Switzerland.

The collaboration between "Astrid Hiemer and Michelle Wiley, Our Surreality," on view at the Eclipse Gallery in North Adams through July 7, is inspired by Dada and Surrealism.

Initially, Dada was a non-art movement that reacted to the madness of global war. That absurdity and malaise may well define the current zeitgeist and the intentionality of these two artists. They subvert the traditional and obvious by creating an unprecedented, inventive, unique, ironic and gut wrenching installation.

Making an end run around conventions the work is presented on their own terms, although their concepts are rooted in the ironic and absurd of the Dada/ Surreal tradition.

A mandate of Dada in music, art, poetry and performance was to violate all norms. Ball recited nonsensical “sound” poems. Tristan Tzara introduced having several poets recite, out of sync, simultaneously. There was the notion of cacophony in sound, literature and music as the new art.

That resonates through this idiosyncratic exhibition. We repeatedly encounter the unexpected.

A trope of Dada/ Surrealism was embracing detritus or mundane elements for collage and found objects. It is the recycling of the quotidian and functional to create a new sur-reality. The viewer is challenged to form their own narrative  from these astonishing and poetic recombinations.

There is a broad range as well as specific emotions that Wiley brings to this enterprise. She has had a long and successful career as a musician of cabaret, jazz and rock. The focus on visual art has occurred strongly over the past year with many experiments and inventions.

She told me that she sees this as a seamless process. “Whether it is music, scat singing, dance, the visual arts it’s all one energy and improvisation.” The discipline of one art forn melds into another.

The work takes a number of forms from collage to paintings and sculptural objects.

A wall of automatic drawings, just a few witty lines on paper, comes as a game and challenge. We are asked what associations the drawings evoke. Then we see her folded over captions. We are asked whether her caption agrees with ours. It’s very much a surrrealist game like exquisite corpse or making a poem by randomly pulling phrases from a bag.

There are works that express her coming to terms with invasive medical treatment over the past five years. There are direct statements as well as a corner where we may sit and cry. For Michelle this collaboration with Astrid has been life affirming.

Our loft is our studio. I have seen the work develop, indeed take over more and more space. To finish the show and assemble final pieces she rented a loft on our floor.

From her mother Astrid inherited a gift for arranging flowers. In our former home in Adams she gathered grass and weeds for inventive bouquets. There are always fresh flowers in our loft. She started to hang and dry them, particularly roses. During the summer she saved and dried corn husks as well as artichoke hearts.

Mignonne, allons voir si la rose. Qui ce matin avoit desclose. Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil, A point perdu ceste vesprée. Les plis de sa robe pourprée, Et son teint au vostre pareil. Las ! voyez comme en peu d'espace, Mignonne, elle a dessus la place. Las ! las ses beautez laissé cheoir !

Pierre de Ronsard, 1545.

In Gloucester, parked at Niles Beach, I waited in the car while she roamed for artifacts of nature. In the back seat they ripened. This winter there was further beach collecting in Florida.

Another passion is for baskets. She combined detritus with these vessels with great invention. Some have been clustered into groups on pedestals of staggered height.

It is intriguing to see how the piles of dried flowers and detritus found their way into baskets. Old tea bags are  given inventive new life hanging from a basket.

A basket flowing with corks entail revisiting long ago consumed vintages. They have been given a new life having been used but  not abandoned. A lesson from her work is never to discard anything no matter how seemingly mundane.  Dada tells us that all objects are inherently beautiful. It evokes the spiritual mantra that the humble will be exalted.

There are baskets which have been clustered into groups inviting us to see their gestalt as well as individually.

Installer, John Haynes, suggested hanging some baskets. That articulated the space and evoked a sense of environment. We ambulate through the space being cautious not to encounter one.

Surely nothing like this has been seen in the Berkshires. This was in every sense a life affirming collaboration evoking fresh energy for surrealism on its birthday.