The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît

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Hommage au Marquis de Sade (1959) by Jean Benoît.

BENOÎT Jean (Quebec, 1922). In Paris, 1949, he undertook a strange enterprise called The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade which kept him busy for two years. It is a very complicated costume, made up of superimposed coverings and accompanied by important accessories. Each element of the ensemble (medallion, tights, crutches, panels, mask, boots, wings, tomb, push-chair, membrum virile, codpiece, chastity-belt, with tattooing thrown in) transposes some aspect of Sadian thought into plastic terms. The work was to be worn during a special ceremony which took place December 2, 1959, at Joyce Mansour’s, the evening preceding the International Exhibition of Surrealism (“Eros”) in Galerie Daniel Cordier. In 1965 Benoît completed another work for carrying round as a tribute to Sergeant Bertrand, a famous nineteenth-century necrophile, The Necrophile, and a sculpture, The Bulldog of Maldoror, which he presented at the international surrealist exhibition “L’Ecart absolu”, Galerie L’Oeil, in the same year, 1965.

José Pierre, A Dictionary of Surrealism, 1975

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But it is the Execution of the Last Testament of the Marquis de Sade, finally staged in 1959, that lies at the heart of Benoît’s oeuvre. Often cited but rarely analysed, it is one of the most significant works of post-war surrealism. On December 2, at the home of the surrealist poet Joyce Mansour, attended by around a hundred invited guests. the event began with the crescendo of a volcano—a sound recording of street noises made by Radovan Ivsic—followed by a second recording of Breton reading out the Marquis’ last testament, specifying de Sade’s (never heeded) desire for his body to be treated and laid to rest in an anonymous grave. Benoît’s detailed notes specifying every element of his complex and extensive dress and accoutrements were read out loud as [Mimi] Parent helped Benoît, arrayed in this extraordinary costume, slowly remove each item one by one. Layered suits, masks, crutches, panels, ornaments, and accessories made from diverse materials laden with symbolic images and signs evoked intense masked tribal ceremonies and rituals; no photographs of the event were permitted, but Benoît staged its elements for a haunting series of images by Gilles Ehrmann taken in an abandoned building. At the culmination of the ceremony, Benoît revealed himself naked save for a wooden phallus incorporating an hourglass, his body entirely painted and with arrows pointing to the spot over his heart at which he then proceeded to brand himself with the word “SADE.” This performance represented an intense and irrevocable stripping bare of the self in order to restore lost powers, to release de Sade from his incarceration, to seal a community, and to cut through the poverty of contemporary existence in the most dramatic but unrepeatable terms; it is consistent with this sense of a unique and all-powerful gesture that Benoît would not seek to reprise such an event again.

Krzysztof Fijalkowski, The International Encyclopedia of Surrealism, 2019

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All photographs are by Gilles Ehrmann.

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Continue reading “The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît”

Weekend links 522

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Self-Portrait (1935) by Johannes Hendrikus Moesman.

• At Bibliothèque Gay, René Bolliger (1911—1971), an artist whose homoerotica is being celebrated in an exhibition, Les Beaux Mâles, at Galerie Au Bonheur du Jour, Paris, next month. There are more beaux mâles in a new book of photographs, Hi, Hello!, by Roman Duquesne.

• The summer solstice is here which means it’s time for Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art and internet of the year so far. As before, I’m flattered to be listed in the internet selection. Thanks! Also at DC’s, Michael Snow Day.

• “I hope Roger Corman is doing okay,” I was thinking last week while rewatching one of Corman’s Poe films. He’s been overseeing the production of three new features during the lockdown so, yes, he’s doing okay. I loved the Cries and Whispers anecdote.

• “Unsettling and insinuating, fabulously alert to the spaces between things, Harrison is without peer as a chronicler of the fraught, unsteady state we’re in.” Olivia Laing reviewing The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison.

The original Brain label release of Aqua (1974), the first solo album by Tangerine Dream’s Edgar Froese, had a different track list and different mixes from the Virgin releases. The album has never been reissued in this form.

• New music at Bandcamp: Without Thought, music for an installation by Paul Schütze; and Hatching Under The Stars, songs by Clara Engel.

Deborah Nicholls-Lee on Johannes Hendrikus Moesman (1909–1988), “the erotic Dutch surrealist you should have heard of”.

Kate Solomon on where to start with the Pet Shop Boys. I’d also recommend Introspective.

• Dalí in Holographic Space: Selwyn Lissack on Salvador Dalí’s contributions to art holograms.

• At Spoon & Tamago: An obsession with retro Japanese round-cornered windows.

John Boardley on the “writing mistresses” of the calligraphic golden age.

Mark Duguid recommends Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968).

• The favourite music of Crammed Discs boss, Marc Hollander.

• Occult/erotic prints by Eleni Avraam.

Aqua: Every Raindrop Longs For The Sea (Jeder Tropfen Träumt Vom Meer) H2O (1973) by Achim Reichel | Aqua (1979) by Dvwb | Aqua (1981) by Phew

Abeceda

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This week I’ve started working my way through the filmography of Jan Svankmajer, having finally acquired a blu-ray set of his feature films. I’ve also been reading interviews and rewatching some of the documentaries about the man and his work, which in turn prompted me to look up some of his associates and precursors among the Czech Surrealists. Prague was unusual in being a centre for the early development of Surrealism at a time when the movement (for want of a better term) was centred on Paris. André Breton encouraged this, and cultural exchanges took place, with Breton and Paul Éluard visiting Prague, while Vlatislav Netzval and his colleagues journeyed to Paris. The outbreak of war severed the connection but this also had the inadvertent effect of perpetuating the Czech brand of Surrealism by cutting off Prague from the rest of the European avant garde. While Breton and co were forced to flee to the United States and Mexico, the Czech Surrealists went underground, hiding their illicit explorations first from the occupying Nazis, then from the disapproving Communist authorities. It’s always important to bear this in mind when considering Svankmajer’s films and artwork; his Surrealism is a serious motivation with a long history in Czech and Slovak art.

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Vlatislav Netzval is best known today for being the author of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1935), the source novel for the cult film by Jaromil Jires. Abeceda (1926) is a much shorter work, a Modernist abecedary created by Netzval (who wrote a short verse describing each letter) with Milca Mayerová (who choreographed a series of letterform poses) and Karel Teige (who designed the book and took the photographs). I’ve not seen a complete translation of the verses but I love the page design which is like something the Bauhaus might have produced for the Modernist Children of the Future. The form being used here had a name—Poetism—a Czech variation on similar movements elsewhere such as Constructivism and Futurism but with an intention to create works accessible to all, hence the abecedary. I can imagine Milca Mayerová’s poses being animated by Svankmajer’s staccato edits although his design preferences have always been more florid and baroque. A Surrealist he may be but he also favours Jean Midolle’s Alphabet Lapidaire Monstre.

(As before, the Czech names here should include their proper accents but the coding on this blog throws up errors when it encounters certain letters. My apologies to Czech readers.)

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Weekend links 518

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In Voluptate Mors (1951) by Philippe Halsman.

• “Equation to an Unknown (1980) is [Dietrich de Velsa’s] only film, and stands without a doubt as a masterpiece and the best French gay porn ever made.” Related (sort of): the US division of Amazon Prime had been showing a censored print of Francis Lee’s gay romance, God’s Own Country, until the director was informed and complained.

• “They lasted just one night as tour support for U2 before being thrown off. The outraged and hostile audience threw bottles of urine. The band responded by throwing iron bars back at them.” Daniel Dylan Wray on the wild times (and cookery) of Blixa Bargeld and Einstürzende Neubauten.

• “Japanese art evolved, in Saunders’s words, ‘from a distinctive alchemy of silk, soot, gold, fire, and fur,’ from a playful and curious fascination with the subject matter and tools provided by the natural world.” Tamar Avishai on art in isolation: the delicate paintings of Edo Japan.

To me, the Diggers were a phenomenon. I don’t know that there’s been anything like them in history—yes, history repeats itself, so there probably was somebody at some time, I’m just not aware of it—a situation where you have a group of people whose goal is to help other people, to bring them not just the basic necessities you need to survive but the things that you need for your imagination, your brain, your growth on other levels. It was like an opium dream or something.

Siena Carlton-Firestone (aka Natural Suzanne) talking to Jay Babcock for the fourth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists

• A psychic has been ordered to pay the costs of exhuming Salvador Dalí’s corpse for a failed paternity test.

• Feel the crushing steel: David Bennun on Grace Jones and the Compass Point Trilogy.

Sleep Tones by Six Organs Of Admittance, name-your-price music for insomniacs.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 645 by Juan MacLean.

Playing the Piano for the Isolated by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• David Lynch Theater presents: Fire (Pozar).

Fire (1967) by Koko Taylor | Fire (1984) by 23 Skidoo | Fire (2002) by Ladytron

Weekend links 514

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Athanasius Kircher welcoming two guests to the Collegio Romano, a detail from the frontispiece to his Romani Collegii Societatis Jesu Musaeum celeberrimum (1678).

Opium (1919) by Robert Reinert: “A Chinese opium dealer takes revenge on Westerners who have corrupted his wife.” With Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt a year before their pairing in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain: in which the gallery thinks that 7 minutes is enough to give us a taste of a major exhibition that we can’t otherwise see.

Joe Pulver (RIP): His Highness in Yellow. A memorial piece that includes artist Michael Hutter talking about his paintings of Carcosa.

Court Mann on the strange history of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 50 years old this month.

• “Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague by John Glassie.

Sophie Monks Kaufman on why literary lesbians are having a moment on screen.

• Photographer Ryan McGinley: “I was taught to believe in Satan. It scared me.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ellen Burstyn Day, and the ghostly novels of WG Sebald.

Dorian Lynskey on where to start with Nina Simone’s back catalogue.

• Wie funktioniert ein Synthesizer? (1972). Bruno Spoerri explains.

• Banham avec Ballard: On style and violence by Mark Dorrian.

John Boardley on the most dangerous book in the world.

Improvisation for Sonic Cure by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• The Strange World of…JG Thirlwell.

Diet Of Worms (1979) by This Heat | Stomach Worm (1992) by Stereolab | Heartworms (1998) by Coil