Monday, November 12, 2018

2018 Exquisite Corpse Games

Photography EC:  Head by
 Nicolas Descharnes, 
torso by Tomeu L'Amo and
legs by Chuck Vosburgh 
Buckle your seatbelts for this one, folks. Back in the 1920s, Surrealist artists like Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp and Andre Breton found themselves sitting around a parlor thinking of ways to amuse themselves. They created a game called Exquisite Corpse that bears a strong resemblance to today's Mad Libs. One person would write the beginning of a sentence on a piece of paper, fold the paper so only a portion of the writing was visible and pass it on to the next person, who added to it and passed it to a third participant. The name of the game came from one of the sentences derived from this exercise -- "The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine."

Over time, the game was expanded into a visual version, with one person creating the image's legs, a second creating the torso and the third creating the head. (To see some of the images created by the Surrealists, click here.)

Fast forward to modern day St. Petersburg, Florida and the 2018 Exquisite Corpse Games. In her role as curator and gamekeeper, Ann Marie Cash selected 63 artists working in a variety of media to participate. Within each medium, artists were randomly paired and assigned a part of the corpse to create. They were not told the identity of the artists with whom they would be collaborating. The game had only two rules -- have fun and commit to secrecy.

Painted EC: Head by Douglas Thonen, torso by 
Grace Howl, legs by Debbie Slowey Raguso; Sculpted EC:
Head by Amandine Drouet, torso by Rose Marie Prins;
legs by Rebecca Skelton. 

Sarasota artist Grace Howl was one of the participating painters. Grace is also responsible for bringing the exhibit to her gallery in Sarasota for a too short stay after its unveiling at the St. Petersburg Museum of Art. Happily, I had the chance to chat with her about the process and its surprising results when I stopped by to see the show. (Note: Grace created the torso of the painted exquisite corpse shown here.)

The components of each work were created sequentially, with the legs coming first, then the torso, then the head. Grace received a blank canvas with two small marks indicating where the torso would connect with the legs. No other detail was provided as to style, color, etc.  When her torso was completed, a canvas with marks indicating where to connect the head were given to the next artist. Each artist was given only 17 days to create her contribution.

It's no surprise the resulting artwork is pretty crazy. What is surprising are the connections both within individual "corpses" and throughout the exhibit. Take, for instance, the piece Grace worked on. Her torso was inspired by the animated movie "Coco." It seemed perfect given the movie's Day of the Dead theme. The colors in Grace's painting nearly vibrate off the canvas. So you might not expect the black and white head to work. Ah, but it does. In the movie, the characters inhabiting the Land of the Dead are black and white. This unexpected connection gave Grace chills up her spine. And as to the legs, it's worth noting that octopuses change color in response to external stimuli. While the legs of this corpse are quite colorful, they could as easily be grayscale if the situation required.

Painted EC: Head by Jean Michel Fait,
torso by Beate Marston, legs by
Jenipher Chandley
Grace also pointed out the relationship amongst the paintings that comprise the Exquisite Corpse created by Jean Michel Fait, Beate Marston and Jenipher Chandley. The head features the face of a young woman wearing a wreath of white lilies (which presumably represent chastity and virtue, although lilies are also associated with funerals).  Fait's description of the piece says "Nec Spe, Nec Metu." Thanks to my handy iPhone, I learned that means "without hope, without fear."

But the young woman does in fact have something to fear, as we find out when our eyes scan down to her torso. The hand of a man holds tightly onto her body. The inset is a photograph of what appears to be a father with his young daughter. Is this the man and the young woman at an earlier time? Marston's description notes the "acute feeling of urgency of the here and now" of her work.

Then there are the woman's legs, a work titled "A Longing for Love." In her description, Chandley shares she set out to shine a light on childhood pain in the world but ended up being forced to confront her own childhood abandonment. Her contribution rounds out this surprisingly cohesive -- if somewhat depressing -- Exquisite Corpse.

Unfortunately, there's not enough space to include photos of  all 22 works in the Exquisite Corpse exhibit, which runs at the Grace Howl Gallery through the end of this week. Stop by if you get a chance, as each "corpse" is worthy of study. But if you can't make it, no worries. I understand plans for next year's exhibit are already in the works.

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