When viewed as a vehicle for various forms of liberation, the movement remains highly resonant even a century after its heyday.
“SURREALISM” IS ONE of those buzzwords, like “curate” or “groundbreaking,” that has been rendered effectively meaningless through overuse. In his 1924 “Manifesto of Surrealism,” the writer André Breton defined the term most succinctly as an attempt to resolve “these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory,” though its true origins came earlier, with the rise of Dada, an artistic movement that emerged in Zurich in 1916, and which favored the absurd over the logical. It was the exact middle of World War I, and there was a sense among Dada’s proponents that linear thinking hadn’t gotten society anywhere good.
There has been much talk of late about our own surreal age. Certainly, there are parallels between the 1920s and now: The United States has just extricated itself, messily, from a war; nationalist fervor is part of the political mainstream; basic rights are being revoked; and some version of a pandemic that has killed millions lingers from one month to the next. And if Surrealism is, at its core, a kind of glitch in the status quo, a moment in which reality itself becomes vaguely unrecognizable, then yes, time is seeming pretty melty, and the days rather dreamlike.
It can’t, therefore, be a coincidence that nearly every major museum in New York City currently has an exhibition that, at least to some extent, embraces a melty or dreamlike aesthetic. “Living Abstraction,” a retrospective of the Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp, a key Dadaist, at the Museum of Modern Art (on view through March 12, 2022), emphasizes her influence across disciplines: She produced drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, marionettes, whimsical costumes (including asymmetrical patchwork pants that wouldn’t look out of place at Bode), beaded bags and necklaces, stained-glass windows, furniture and more. The night of the 1917 opening of Zurich’s Galerie Dada, the movement’s de facto headquarters, she danced to the writer Hugo Ball’s sound poems — absurdist compositions focusing on phonetic speech. (Ball later described her performance as having been “full of spikes and fish bones.”)
Art historians would take issue with the pigeonholing of Taeuber-Arp as a Surrealist. Whereas Dada endeavored to explore nonrational thought, Surrealism was interested in the subliminal, in the strangeness beneath the surface of the everyday (one of the most famous examples of a Surrealist artwork remains René Magritte’s 1929 “The Treachery of Images,” a painting of a pipe captioned with the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”). Also, Taeuber-Arp’s career preceded and outlived Zurich Dada, which fizzled out in the early 1920s, as those who’d sought refuge in the city during World War I went their separate ways, but she was an artist who looked inward as a means of arriving somewhere unfamiliar: “Only when we go into ourselves and attempt to be entirely true to ourselves will we succeed in making things of value, living things, and in this way help to develop a new style that is fitting for us,” she wrote in 1922.
AT THE METROPOLITAN Museum of Art, “Surrealism Beyond Borders” (through Jan. 30, 2022) aims to expand viewers’ understanding of the movement, which, though it was born in Paris, became a global phenomenon — with practitioners in Egypt, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines and elsewhere — one that aligned itself with new interpretations of and ideas about freedom that were concurrently being conceived around the world. The Cairo, Ill.-born artist, Beat poet and musician Ted Joans, despite being a generation younger than his friend Breton, found in Surrealism a framework for Black liberation. He discovered the aesthetic as a child, eventually buying a French dictionary to translate jettisoned issues of Surrealist journals like Minotaure that his aunt, who worked as a housekeeper, had gotten from her employers. Decades later, in 1963, one of the politically and psychologically charged collages from Joans’s “Alphabet Surreal” series — this one showing a Black man and a white woman sitting side by side, a salamander-like creature hovering above them, and various iterations of the letter “X,” the work’s title and a reference to Malcolm X — appeared in another major Surrealist journal, La Brèche. Even many of the works displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art as one half of “Mind/Mirror,” a retrospective dedicated to Jasper Johns (through Feb. 13, 2022; also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) have strong Surrealist leanings. In “The Bath” (1988), a Picasso painting within the painting (presumably hanging above Johns’s tub, which is also shown in the frame) is juxtaposed with a rendering of wood planks at the work’s left border. This can be seen as a reference, notes Whitney chief curator Scott Rothkopf, to Magritte’s frequent incorporation of wood grain into his own paintings.
So what is Surrealism’s legacy a century after its founding? Classic Surrealist works — such as “Téléphone-Homard” (1938), the Salvador Dalí sculpture that famously features a rendering of a bright orange lobster stretched across the handset of a rotary phone, or Dorothea Tanning’s 1943 painting “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music),” in which a young girl in a hotel corridor stares down a massive sunflower — may feel a bit old-fashioned, but the idea that the means of rebelling against the present are already within us, if only we can learn to pay attention, is, in 2021, highly resonant. When understood in this way, as referring to a form of protest and escape, “surreal” becomes so much more — and so much more interesting — than shorthand for “strange,” as it is commonly used today. As Stephanie D’Alessandro, a curator of the Met show, says, in an art context, anyway: “It’s about something that sparks us … that wakes us up from the haze of our daily habits.” It offers, she adds, whether for reasons political, social, sexual or artistic, “an opportunity to imagine something beyond the circumstances that someone has” and, as an idea, “it is there as an option, always.”
“What branches grow / out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess,” T.S. Eliot writes in “The Waste Land,” his 1922 masterpiece, another Surrealist touchstone. But what we can do is seek alternate, better ways of seeing, thinking and living. Perhaps this is partly what Taeuber-Arp meant when she wrote of her belief that “the wish to produce beautiful things — when that wish is true and profound — falls together with [one’s] striving for perfection.” She made work up until her death in 1943, during another world war, and her nimble, irrepressible creativity is a reminder that art making, especially in times of strife, is an inherently optimistic act. This optimism might be the most overlooked aspect of Surrealism, given its often calamitous origins, but why invest in new realities if not to move forward? Art is something you do, says Anne Umland, a co-curator of “Living Abstraction,” thinking: “ ‘I believe there will be a future. And even if there isn’t, I’ve made something today.’”
The LA Art Show Returns With an Environmental Focus – Surface Magazine
Environmental issues have taken on a particular urgency in the past year. Climate scientists have warned that if nations fail to immediately pivot from fossil fuels, catastrophic consequences await. Artists frequently reckon with this grim reality, with many expressing skepticism—if not outright anger—at climate inaction, which has resulted in the destruction of coral reefs, intense wildfires, rising sea levels, and the extinction of beloved animal species. The issues surrounding climate change have become top of mind for The LA Art Show, which is kicking off the city’s eagerly anticipated 2022 art season with a newfound ecological lens thanks to the return of DIVERSEartLA.
This year’s edition, which kicks off today at the Los Angeles Convention Center, sheds light not only on how artists represent the environment in their work, but how humanity’s role factors into the equation. “DIVERSEartLA 2022 will encourage visitors to confront the complex challenges of our global climate crisis and imagine potential solutions,” says Marisa Caichiolo, the show’s curator, who encouraged participating art museums to partner with science and environmental institutions. “This topic is at the heart of a growing number of art narratives, including exhibitions built with high-tech innovations designed to inspire artistic appreciation and the desire to respond to environmental challenges, reinforcing the value of translating environmental advocacy into art.”
Among the programming highlights is “Our turn to change,” a worry-inducing video installation by Andrea Juan and Gabriel Penedo Diego and presented by the Museum of Nature of Cantabria Spain that awakens viewers to melting polar ice caps that are causing sea levels to rise drop by drop. The Torrance Art Museum, meanwhile, presents “Memorial to the Future,” a collaborative piece curated by Max Presneill that centers Brutalist architecture as a failed model of idealism while highlighting the immediate need for environmental action. And in “The Earth’s Fruits” by Guillermo Anselmo Vezzosi, waste unexpectedly takes on a dignified second life.
The LA Art Show opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center, South Hall, from Jan. 19–23.
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At Art Basel, FLUF Haus Breaks Barrier Between Metaverse And Physical World – Forbes
Last month, while the cultural elite wrapped up Art Basel with the usual lavish purchases of Keith Herring paintings and Daniel Arsham decayed sculptures, a different crowd had gathered just a couple blocks down the South Beach coastline. The world’s first “Metaverse star” was about to perform.
FLUF Haus, the first in-person gathering for a community of virtual 3D Rabbits (known as Flufs), was hosting a concert for the music star known as “Angelbaby”—a large tattooed pink rabbit whose identity, appearance, and music had been created entirely on the metaverse.
Despite Angelbaby’s entirely virtual existence, some 600 people—largely stakeholders in the NFT community, FLUF World—had flown from across the globe to witness the in-person debut. A projection screen overlooked the dance floor where guests including Trinidad James and Boyz Noise commingled amidst fire breathers and models. Screens scattered throughout the venue displayed various Fluf avatars, broken up by animated scenes from FLUF World.
The event—which felt like a bit of a coming out party for newly created FLUF World—underscored a crucial, often overlooked detail of the booming NFT space: community.
“The most important thing to me with FLUF World was the Discord.” said Robert Hellauer, a 33-year old financial analyst who became a Fluf holder in September. “I went to all the Discords, and all the metaverses have a different vibe…And you could just feel the energy with this one.”
Like the notorious Bored Apes or CryptoPunks, the value of a Fluf isn’t just as a piece of digital art, but as a digital identity. Much like how Supreme or Thrasher did for skaters, NFTs codify culture into appearance, branding one’s allegiance to virtual clans and online subcultures. Buying into a community, literally, helps carve out one’s metaverse identity. FLUF World recognized this early on, and decided to intentionally avoid the toxicity present in many virtual worlds, instead focusing on creating a dynamic and inclusive world to house their digital animal characters.
This appeal of intentional community has seemingly paid off, as many at Fluf World expressed having previous interest in the metaverse, but hadn’t yet found a space that appealed to them.
“These guys think about things other guys don’t,” says Tom Soler, a software manager attending the event. “Decentraland launched way ahead but it feels very empty. These guys have thought through what is the most engaging way to create a community for people who want to hang together.”
This engagement is reflected in Fluf World’s 42,000 member Discord where “#new-fluffers are greeted with a reminder to “treat each other with respect”, and after searching through the Fluf Radio and sales channels can navigate to the “Above Ground” section, to find channels such as #health-and-wellness, and #time-to-talk.
That’s not to overlook the draw of Fluf World’s impressive technology and artistic detail. Rather than use 8-bit images or 2D cartoons, Fluf World features fully 3D characters designed by animators who’ve worked on projects including Avatar and the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Characters hover over customizable, multi-dimensional environments—which include both personalized character music and location based-backgrounds that range from a desert to futuristic city (collectively known as “scenes and sounds”).
Along with the 10,000 original rabbit ‘Flufs’, FLUF World introduced their second line of characters —known as Party Bears— of which all 10,000 sold out in under 10 minutes. Beyond avatars, stakeholders can also purchase virtual real estate known as “burrows”, and even AI-brained spiders (known as “thingies”) which use pattern recognition to create and mint their own new virtual art. All of Fluf World’s characters constantly evolve, and often contain hidden attributes that develop and reveal themselves over time.
Together, this technology, art, and community channels weave together a digital world that shows promise of true depth; an online space with the potential to create a self-perpetuating cycle of growth based on bottom-up user participation.
“When it comes to other [metaverse] platforms, it’s all about roadmaps,” says FLUF World superfan Nick Synodis, (who goes by the handle Knux). “Fluf is in a league of its own. Its competitor is Spotify. It’s Facebook.”
A Record Label For The Metaverse
One of the most promising examples of FLUF World’s potential to be a truly dynamic multi-channel world is their partnership with NFT music collective, Hume.
Described by co-founders Jay Stolar and David Beiner as the “Web3 version of a record label,” Hume is the NFT music minting service that allows Flufs to commercially own and display exclusive music snippets in their character environment. With a tagline of “we are hume. we are many,” Hume has the most active twitter following in the Fluf World community, acting as both differentiator and hype builder for the virtual world.
“We’re creating music-driven Metastars,” says record producer Gino the Ghost, the event’s emcee and Hume evangelist. “The next Billie Eilish or Drake is gonna be in the metaverse.”
Asked what made him interested in migrating his experience from the traditional music realm, Gino (who has composed music for the likes of rapper Saweetie) expressed both an ardent fascination with FLUF World, as well as sharing a commonly held frustration with the revenue structure of the music industry.
”What I primarily do, I work with the pop side, the rap side, the dance side —and they all want to know, ‘How do I get into NFTs?’ All these creatives are so tired of the labels and the royalties—and music NFTs are a way out that isn’t cash-grabby.”
With the creation of their metaverse star Angelbaby, Gino and the founders at Hume are optimistic that Web3 could create a paradigm shift not just in how artists generate revenue, but how fans can benefit from their artist loyalty. In this case for instance, by financially supporting Angelbaby’s origin story (which involved being lost in the desert after being transported 1000 years back in time), fans received some of Angelbaby’s original minted music. This music in turn grows in value as Angelbaby’s popularity rises.
“People who helped Angelbaby in the desert, now they all own a piece of their song that is worth $400-500. Over time this increases the value of their own NFT,” says Beiner.
Gino explains the relationship a bit more simply: “It a way for fans to make fucking money supporting their favorite artists.”
World Competition, or Synergy?
As Gino’s introduction wraps up and Angelbaby’s giant character is projected onto a screen in front of a sea of cellphone recordings, one aspect of FLUF Haus becomes immediately clear: it’s surprisingly normal.
For all the talk of Web3 and NFTs the metaverse, the event feels much like any other concert—with people dancing in close quarters, and having a good time with people they know. Save for the fact that the performing artist is a 13-foot tall pink rabbit with no known human identity, you’d be hard pressed to know this was an NFT event.
And in a way, that’s kind of the point. As virtual representations of ourselves continue to grow—and the metaverse becomes increasingly populated—so too inevitably will our online identities. But that doesn’t mean we will forgo our personalities in the physical world. Like gamertags, or bitmojis or animal crossing islands, spaces like FLUF World will add another layer onto our beings that enhance, not replace our existing lives. FLUF Haus was trying to demonstrate that connection to the world.
“The meta verse is going to be this amazing digital space,” says Knux. “But the ultimate goal of it is to live in both worlds.”
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