Art and design lectures tap into the unconscious to keep open avenues of thought

(Edmonton) This week the University of Alberta is host to one of the foremost authorities on surrealism, a socio-cultural and political movement that began at the start of the 19th century.

Steven Harris, U of A art and design professor, has brought surrealist expert Dawn Ades, to campus, where she will spend the rest of this week giving lectures on the movement Harris describes as a complex cultural phenomenon that remains of great interest and relevance, decades after it started in Europe.

“As a movement, it still has something to teach us. And it has something to say to people outside the academy as well. Surrealism raises questions on how to live and what our relationship to society is. While society has changed, the same problems and issues are here now as those the surrealists faced.”

However, having similar issues is about as far as the similarities go between surrealists—who tap into the unconscious to realize solutions to everyday problems—and the more traditional rational approach to solving problems, which Harris says puts limits on the full capabilities of humans.

“Practical reason is just a small portion of the totality of our being,” says Harris. “To constrain us to that part of our being, while forgetting or neglecting all the others, is itself a kind of constraint on human behaviour,” Harris said.

Ade’s lecture tomorrow, at the Ledcor Theatre in the Art Gallery of Alberta at 7 p.m., “The Role of Chance in Contemporary Art,” will illustrate how chance plays a role in surrealist thoughts. She says the talk is based on three recent exhibitions in London in which the artists used chance as way to avoid authorship of their works. For example, one of the artists, Sophie Calle, randomly follows strangers she sees in street wherever they go, taking pictures of them.

“Chance is constantly disrupting what assumptions about art are. It is very destabilizing thing when you’re waiting to see what’s going to happen rather than follow a well-known course. Chance does not produce style,” Ades said.

Ades say surrealists were against forms and that surrealism is one of the most important things that have happened to the intellectual, creative and artistic world in the 21st century. “Surrealism is the way in which an individual, in the deepest level of their psychology, connects to the outside world, but not as a purely rational being,” she said.

She will focus on one of the movement’s contributors, César Moro, during her last talk at the U of A’s senate chamber on Thursday at 5:15 p.m. “Moro believed that it did not matter if you publish or not, or become famous; what’s relevant was that you lived up to your surrealist principles,” Ades said.

Harris suggests donning a surrealist’s cap could be a way to understand fully the world while encouraging more critical thought, which is important in society. He says the lectures will help “keep open avenues of thought, and that’s an important thing.”

“The more utilitarian thinking circumscribes our lives, the narrower our lives become. We have illusions of life being open and that anything is possible, but we work in narrowly defined ways.”

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