Commit Me, Commit to Me (Cázame, Cásame)
Breton defines surrealism in his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto as “dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation” (Wikipedia, n.d.). Surrealists like Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini, Dorothea Tanning, Claude Cahun, and Remedios Varo elevated this form to include feminist critique:
“Women emblazoned surrealism with a new type of self-awareness never achieved by their male counterparts. Their intuitive expression turned the movement from something quite dissociated with reality, to a deeply personal exploration of human emotion, personal trauma, the subconscious, female sexuality, and identity...Overriding the way their mental state was oppressed in the past, surrealism allowed women to express their subconscious freely.” (Manatakis, 2019)
While the canonized masters of Surrealism have almost exclusively been men, the movement is more refined and better articulated by women. After all, Surrealism is based on a system of codes created in an attempt to express what the conscious mind cannot directly say (be it from an unfamiliarity with one’s own unconscious or a conscious fear of punishment). From a feminist perspective, it cannot be ignored that codified modes of expression are the ways in which women are conditioned to speak. We dexterously speak in code in order to successfully operate and survive stringent patriarchal systems: Surrealism belongs to women.
The relegation of these artists to the category of muse in lieu of artist (by male surrealists and history) is evidence of the oppressive system at work. Only recently have these women been highlighted as significant contributors to the surrealist movement, and even still, this acknowledgment is nowhere near equal (as auction houses prove). Denying a person or group’s reality is also known as gaslighting.
Artist Cristine Brache continues to reflect on codification for survival and adaptation in oppressive environments (Estape, 2019) for her second solo exhibition at the gallery, entitled, Commit me; Commit to me (Cázame; Cásame). Brache sees how codification manifests through surrealism, and as a symptom of gaslighting, and the pathologization of female emotion and expression. The exhibition title is a translation from Spanish wordplay to English. Word games can lead to mind games: I love you, I hate you, hunt me, marry me.
Brache presents a sculptural installation that directly references Remedios Varo’s 1958 surrealist painting Papilla estelar and honors the effects of historical gaslighting and the unjust commitment women have and continue to endure. Varo’s painting is refashioned as a sculpture entitled Gaslight (after Remedios Varo, Papilla estelar, 1958), where the blue crescent moon depicted in the painting becomes a resin cast light sculpture (of a moon) enclosed in a steel cage. The woman in the painting becomes a sculpture of a female figure embedded into a piece of furniture, her arms posed as if they were in a straitjacket, falling into the fabric folds of a handmade upholstered seat. Made of fabric, foam, and oak, Brache’s work also refers to and exists in conversation with Révélation ou la fin du mois (Revelation or The End of the Month), a 1970-73 sculpture by Dorothea Tanning. The figure is unable to feed the moon, its food is left on a tiled floor reminiscent of hospital rooms and is comprised of baroque freshwater pearls, a genuine silver gilt and hand carved birch spoon on a round resin-filled stainless steel dish. Blue hospital curtains surround the installation, contributing to an atmosphere of medical sterility, so that all three works, while complete and finished unto themselves, speak with a somber insightfulness to their references and the artist’s thoughts and feelings that led to their creation.