By Rose Miller, Staff Writer

Jen Gerry poses for a Surrealist Photo (photo by Gia Pilgrim)

Jen Gerry poses for a Surrealist Photo (photo by Gia Pilgrim)


Assistant Curator for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Andrea Rosen, conducted a workshop centered on the artistic movement of surrealism as it relates to various forms of art and writing recently as a part of a mini-conference put on by UMF’s new Modernisms and Manifestos co-lab.

After a few opening comments and a brief discussion regarding the definition of surrealism and its components, Rosen presented several hands-on activities practicing the surrealist concept of automatism, or the production of work without conscious effort.

Rosen explained that Freud’s concept of the unconscious mind had a big influence on surrealists who were attempting to break the established conventions of art and literature and produce work from a free mind. Automatism was one of the techniques that surrealists used to achieve that end. “It’s any kind of technique where we’re kind of…trying to create without conscious interference,” said Rosen.

Following this introduction, students were free to visit various work-stations set up throughout the Landing. At one table, participants chose two words cut from a newspaper at random to use as inspiration for a free-writing exercise. Another group experimented with crayon rubbings to create texture while other students drew with their eyes closed. Some students talked casually with friends while working whereas many others chose to be more quietly focused.

Students were given the opportunity to share their work and then go back and do any revisions they wanted afterward. Rosen explained that after WWI, surrealists began to move from an intuitive phase to one of reason. On the topic of surrealist automatism, she said, “We can still use those techniques but we’re going to submit them to our reason because we have an actual political goal to achieve. It’s not just enough to free man’s mind, we need to actually free man first.”

Rosen explained that while she doesn’t typically do this type of event outside of the Bowdoin community, she hoped that students walked away from the event with a sense of what the surrealists were about and a more intimate view of the techniques that they used.

While students from the co-lab were required to attend at least one of the events, senior Jennifer Gerry said it was the “focus on participation” that attracted her to Rosen’s workshop. “It’s a very hard concept to understand unless you try it yourself,” she said, on the topic of automatism.

Naturally, Gerry was not the only co-lab student present. Revealed by a show of hands, the majority of the 30 some-odd students in attendance were enrolled in one of the four courses included in the co-lab.

The concept of a co-lab is a relatively new one to UMF students. English Professor and co-coordinator of the event, Michael Johnson, set the record straight. “What a co-lab does is it creates a connection between different classes,” said Johnson. A co-lab consists of several classes of different disciplines united by a common theme. In the case of Modernisms and Manifestos, that theme is Modernism and Surrealism.

As a student of Johnson’s co-lab course, “The Splendid Drunken Twenties,” Gerry provided an example of how the co-lab works as she described meetings between Johnson’s class and Steven Pane’s music course “The 1920’s.” While the English class worked with poetry, Gerry explained how the two classes met to discuss “the difference between poems and the lyrics and how the two of them sort of bounce off of each other.”

Rosen’s workshop along with a follow up presentation in Emery were just two of several talks and panel discussions conducted by organizers of the co-lab last week. Johnson explained that events like the mini-conference are designed to bring students in the co-lab together outside of class.

The co-lab will be hosting another event next month called the Surrealist Salon. “The art students will be producing paintings for the event and there will be different artworks, various performances, and poetry readings,” said Johnson. In addition, music students will produce their own interpretations of a silent film score. “We’re going to show the film straight with the original soundtrack and then the student’s will perform their own soundtrack to it,” said Johnson. “It should be fun.”