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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Weekend links 521

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Au Lion d’or (1965) by Mimi Parent.

• After the recent announcement of Jon Hassell’s health issues it’s good to see he has a new album on the way at the end of July. Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two) follows the form of the first volume, Seeing Through Pictures (2018), in reworking elements of earlier recordings into new forms. Not remixes, more reimaginings, and a process that Hassell has been applying to his own work for many years, most notably on his collaboration with Peter Freeman, The Vertical Collection (1997). The latter is an album which is impossible to find today and really ought to be reissued, together with more scarcities from the Hassell catalogue.

• Death of a typeface: John Boardley on Robert Granjon’s Civilité, a type design intended to be the national typeface of France but which fell out of favour. It wasn’t completely forgotten however; I was re-reading Huysmans’ À Rebours a couple of weeks ago, and Civilité is mentioned there as being a type that Des Esseintes chooses for some of his privately-printed books.

• At Plutonium Shores: Kurosawa versus Leone in A Fistful of Yojimbo. Christopher Frayling makes a similar analysis in his landmark study, Spaghetti Westerns (1981), but I didn’t realise that Leone had based so many of his shots on Kurosawa’s film.

• More lockdown art: Seen from Here: Writing in the Lockdown is a collection of new writing edited by Tim Etchells and Vlatka Horvat. A PDF book whose sales will go to support the Trussell Trust, a UK food bank charity.

• The week’s culture guides: Ben Cardew on where to start with the back catalogue of Miles Davis, and Hayley Scanlon on where to begin with the films of Yasujiro Ozu.

• “We can no longer ignore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression,” says Robin Carhart-Harris.

• At Dangerous Minds: Laraaji returns with a new album, Sun Piano, and a preview of the same, This Too Shall Pass.

• Mixes of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XXI by David Colohan, and XLR8R Podcast 647 by The Orb.

Penelope Rosemont on the humorous Surrealism of Mimi Parent.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jeff Jackson presents Free Jazz Day.

The Golden Lion (1967) by Lomax Alliance | Dread Lion (1976) by The Upsetters | Gehenna Lion (1982) by Chrome