23 Jul Totem166
I have mistakenly labelled some of my art as surrealist. I don’t think it is.
In particular, the ‘Totem’ series touches upon themes of mind and the unconscious (the cornerstone of Surrealism), but by narrative only, not in its style.
So what is the Totem series?
I believe it’s ‘Supra-realism’ instead.
And so, I think it is best to distinguish between the two.
Surrealists strive to ‘liberate the unconscious’ by suppressing rational control of the art-making. Claimed as ‘psychic automatism,’ this method allows the unconscious mind to express itself directly, achieving pure expressions from deep in the mind.
Much of the art is derived by chance or accident, especially in Automatic Drawing, where random movements are recorded on paper. Here, any discovered forms are developed further by the rational mind, honing the aesthetic towards a more acceptable quality.
Surrealism is clearly not the underpinning of the Totem series. Although, admittedly, some images have had an element of chance and randomness involved in them:
In particular, the piece entitled “Traverse” adapted a historical image of the Titanic, showing the Totem above the bow and a mooring line connecting the ship to a Titanic survivor standing on shore. The image was created on June 11, 2023, one week before the OceanGate submarine lost communications and wrecked near the bow of the Titanic. I was unaware of OceanGate and any activity of the sort. I heard of the disaster only after the image was posted. This is not Surrealism, obviously, however, it is worth sharing in relation to automatism, chance and randomness.
To further mention, meaningful coincidences between events without cause towards each other involve Carl Jung’s idea of ‘Synchronicity.’ An example of this is when you suddenly think of an old friend and then randomly they make contact with you. Or when you see numbers repeatedly, like the same time on the clock.
Getting back to Surrealism, it is an effective form of art but alienates human experience in some ways. It closes off specific channels of meaning, challenging audiences and in some ways, keeping them at a distance. Of course, this can still have artistic value for some; I find its approach rather harsh and imposing.
Contrast this with my approach to art, where relatable elements are composed within unconventional circumstances, and this might be better described as Supra-realism.
Firstly, to be clear, ‘supra’ means ‘beyond,’ not superior. Supra-realism establishes an identity with reality but then uses imagination to enhance it. To effectively resonate with consciousness conventionally, but then unlock as much meaning as possible for the audience.
Contrast this with Surrealism, which is sometimes heavy-handed, reminding the audience they are not part of what is being proposed – alienating them. This is destructive and a missed opportunity that Supra-realism capitalizes on; to have the audience suspend disbelief is to have them be more open to radical shifts in experience.
Supra-realism aptly steps in here. It invites you to accept an imaginative twist on the real. It doesn’t attempt to destroy the known; instead, it creates a path for the observer to explore more profound meaning.
For instance, in the final chapters of Stanely Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the remaining crew member on a mission to Jupiter (Dave Bowman), enters into a ‘Stargate’; a tear in space and time, where he transcends matter and is introduced to these God-like entities of pure energy and light.
Dazzling displays of colour streak across the movie screen for several minutes, creating a surrealist effect demonstrating how higher dimensions are beyond human understanding.
This prolonged vortex of colour lingers for an awkward time, eventually affecting one’s immersion in the movie, akin to ‘breaking the fourth wall.’
As this scene goes on, the effect draws attention to itself, transforming the movie screen into a barrier; conceptually, this pushes the audience out of the movie for a time, which I believe was calculated by Kubrick for effect.
When the scene finally changes, in this case, into a furnished room adorned in 18th-century neoclassical decor, the audience is relieved and re-connects.
Kubrick has skewed our sense of reality by resetting our suspension of disbelief within Supra-realism, a psychological sleight of hand that primed us to be open to the film’s finale.
All this raises an interesting point concerning the Totem series. I have had many comments and questions over the past few years, asking if I ‘see’ the Totem in my daily life (I assume tongue-in-cheek) or comments from people who have experienced the Totem in some way in their lives.
These seem prosaic, but I feel the opposite; they are profound because the Totem series has penetrated the reality of the conventional lives of some people enough to ask or comment in this way.
My point is no one would ask Dali if he saw the things he painted or would feel as though they had seen these in their experience. This is the effect of Supra-realism.