"The Man of these Infinite Possibilities": Max Ernst’s Cinematic Collages
Keywords:Max Ernst, Georges Méliès, Collage, Cinema, Film, Outmoded, Obsolesence, Surrealism, Dadaism, Dada, Modernism
On more than one occasion in his critical writings of the 1920’s, surrealist leader André Breton compared Max Ernst’s collages to cinema. In his first essay on the artist in 1921, Breton aligned Ernst’s collages with cinematic special effects such as slow and accelerated motion, and spoke of the illusionistic ‘transformation from within’ that characterized Ernst’s constructed scenes. For Breton, Ernst’s collages employing found commercial, scientific and journalistic images approximated the naturalistic movement of film, and thereby contributed to the radical obsolescence of traditional two-dimensional media such as painting and drawing, which remained frozen in stillness. Thus, Ernst’s images were provocative witnesses to the way in which modern technology fundamentally altered the perspectivally-ordered picture plane. But at the same time that Ernst’s collages rendered painting obsolete, they likewise depended upon fragments of outmoded popular culture themselves. For Breton, Ernst was a magician, “the man of these infinite possibilities,” comparable to cinematic prestidigators like turn-of-the-century filmmaker Georges Méliès. By drawing on the influence of recently outmoded popular culture such as early trick films, Ernst provides a crucial early example of the post-war fixation on counter-temporalities and anti-production. At once technologically advanced and culturally archeological, Ernst’s collages cannily defy strict categorization as “Modernist.”
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