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Collage by Susi Bellamy
With Dora Marr at the Tate and Linder Sterling at Kettle Yard, surrealism is becoming a bit of a buzz-word in the arena of art and design. So what is surrealism? The literal translation is 'beyond reality' and the surrealist school of thought dictates that the rational mind is weighed down by conventions and strict social taboos. These need to be flung off if we are to truly think freely and creatively about the world.
Surrealism's recent revival may have something to do with wider societal concerns. In a world where we are struggling to make sense of huge political shifts and the encroachment of new technologies, surrealism not only speaks to our confusion but celebrates it.
My interest in surreal art was deeply rooted in the process of collage. Collage has often been described as the appropriate medium for a postmodern age: remixing and juxtaposing existing elements into new situations to challenge and alter their meanings. This bricolage represents the messiness of our new reality where symbolism is fluid, cultural context is more important than ever, and the old and new are in a constant state of interaction with one another.
The fact that collage is not a static process also lends itself to the exploration of visuals and reiteration of compositions - spawning a multiplicity of images from a fixed number of elements. This activity has characterised much of my work in which I revisit the same themes, colour palettes and even shapes.
For my Coral collection, a single illustration was repeatedly repositioned to create a series of six designs. This chopping and changing produced designs that are completely distinctive and all have a different visual feel, although the main element and backdrop remain the same.
Collage by Susi Bellamy
My fashion collages were earlier examples of my flirtation with surrealism. As an industry that allies itself so closely with the aspirational and dreamlike, fashion imagery proved fertile ground for grasping details and modifying them to make them new: from the sublime to the almost ridiculous.
Ultimately, surrealism is about challenging our expectations of imagery. By playing with the audiences' pre-existing assumptions, surrealists have the unique capacity to bewilder, delight and provoke. And what better aim in 2020 than to encourage us to stop and consider the society in which we operate, and how we might begin to make it better?
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April 06, 2020