Monday, March 28, 2011

My Exquisite Corpse

Posted by Jennifer Roberts

The Surrealists were on to something when they turned this parlor game into an enriching artistic exercise.

At its heart, an Exquisite Corpse is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled. The assembly happens in a linear progression, with each person adding something to the end of the creation. This can take many forms and participants generally follow a simple set of rules. For example, in a literary Exquisite Corpse, players may follow a word order (adjective, noun, adverb, verb) or each person may be allowed to see the last few words of what the previous person contributed.

My first experience with an Exquisite Corpse was in a life drawing class, using the method the 20th Century Surrealists favored. You fold your paper into thirds, draw the top third of figure in the top third of the paper, cover your work, and send it on to the next person. They draw the middle third of the figure in the middle third of the paper, cover it, and send it on to the last person – who has no idea what is in those top frames. They draw the bottom third and return it to you. The figure at left is one of the most famous examples of the process (attribution varies widely but usually includes Joan MirĂ³ and Yves Tanguy and sets the piece in 1926.)

This method has also been widely used in various forms in music composition, movies, graphic novels, comedy, performance art, children’s’ books (remember those tri-panel flipbooks!) and improvisation of all sorts. I have even seen people knit socks using a similar method and the US Mail. And of course, I think it has many possibilities for expanding your horizons in metal clay.

For the truly adventurous, you could get a group of artisans together and design a more traditional Exquisite Corpse exercise. Maybe start with the base of a piece and have each person add to it as it makes its way around the table. Do an Exquisite Corpse drawing of an object and challenge each person to re-create it in clay, no matter how surreal. Or go way out there and make the top, middle, and bottom of something separately and find a way to assemble it at the end. Recall that you don’t have to work with silver to engage in truly constructive play – this could all be done with polymer clay or a ten dollar bag of ceramic clay.

I think it also has value as a classroom exercise. Start a class with an Exquisite Corpse drawing of an object in the room and then talk about how it might be inspiration for a piece of jewelry. Or, have your students place elements of seemingly unrelated pieces on a piece of paper and draw around them to create connections.

PS – Why in the world is it called an Exquisite Corpse? The famous example above was drawn from a sentence created this way: “The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine."

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