Kirsten Strom is an Associate Professor of Art History in the Visual and Media Arts Department at Grave Valley State University, where she teaches courses in Contemporary Art, Surrealism, Asian Art, Nineteenth-Century EuropeanArt, and Postmodern Theory. She has published and presented papers on topics including Surrealist film, "dance anthropology," postmodern trends in popular music, and contemporary graphic design. She is also an artist and occasional curator.
As many of you know, the principal subject of my work as an art historian has been the Surrealist movement. In many respects I think of my visual work as an extension of my research on Surrealism. While the term 'surreal' is often used today quite loosely, I have come to appreciate Surrealism above all as a radical yet complex and subtle form of cultural production and critique. It is this aspect of the project which I most wish to respond to in my work, both visual and verbal.
The influence of Surrealism is perhaps most directly present in my collages, as collage was a medium particularly embraced by the Surrealists for its associations with the arbitrary, chance and play. While these notions were already quite subversive for their time, when located within the context of artistic production, I believe that collage also functioned for the Surrealists, and the Dadas before them, in a more overtly critical capacity, as a redefinition of the terms of the mass media. I mean by this that typically the direction of the mass media is one-way: put simply, television, radio, and newspapers speak; we listen. (This concept was gleefully formulated by as Nazi propaganda minister Goebbles as, â€œOne transmitter, ten thousand receiversâ€).Yet having experienced the massive propaganda machine of the first world war, the Dadas and Surrealists became intensely distrustful of the mass media, and used collage as means of opening this closed system of communication, in other words, talking back . Cutting up and manipulating the contents of newspapers, textbooks, and scientific journals became a means to reveal that sources of information, which gained their authority from their alleged neutrality, were already manipulated and agenda-laden. While I conceptualize Surrealism as a historical moment, which more or less reached its conclusion (at least as an organized group) in the 1960s, I believe that this aspect of their project has proven to be quite prescient of more recent concerns, still relevant today, about our relationship to the information we receive as a mass culture.
In the tradition of Max Ernst, I conceptualize the specific works on display as a â€œcollage novel.â€ In this case, however, the â€œnarrativeâ€ is itself open to further manipulation, as the ordering of the images is purposefully unfixed. While I imagine that the collages convey the notion of a journey, the direction and outcome of the journey may, in theory, be rewritten at will. (For example, depending upon the arrangement of the works, the narrative agent (the orange sphere) may travel from north to south, from morning to night, from night to morning, etc., or it may assume a completely non-linear path, as well. While the collages themselves primarily aspire to Surrealist concepts such as the poetic and the marvelous, their corresponding photographs may heighten the viewer's awareness of the imagery's origin in the mass media, while also suggesting, through the exposing of hidden or repressed images, what Walker Benjamin would metaphorically describe as the â€œoptical unconsciousâ€.