Here’s a little story that begins in what seems to be firmly fixed in the heart of the performing arts—specifically dance—but actually extends to contemporary fiction, music and the whole galaxy of Surrealism, including Surrealist graphics. In 1986, the great choreographer, Twyla Tharp, presented a dark and thrilling work for her company, titled, In the Upper Room.Mounted on an original musical score, commissioned by her from composer, Philip Glass, it traces a searing cascade of figures driven to keep up with a relentless musical impetus.The blood-red pointe shoes worn by some of the cast and the black and white striped costumes redolent of Holocaust prisons lead the viewer to imagine that the dancers are doomed. And yet the overtones of the music (John Ford Westerns are evoked, among other sonic fireworks) and the gleefulness of the dancing suggest some kind of transcending cogency.
That counter-thrust would be directed at the unacknowledged source of this crisis, the Paul Auster novel, In the Country of Last Things (published in 1987, but no doubt well known to his friend and fellow Brooklynite, Tharp). Auster’s novel paints a dystopian disaster, implying that world history demonstrates an entropic power pulverizing all vestiges of human lucidity and creativity. That catastrophic watershed features “suicide joggers,” groups intent in going out with flash, running themselves to death—and that eventuation is the core of Tharp’s ballet.
But Auster has also been very mindful of two associative factors of modern history, namely, film noir (especially the film, Kiss Me Deadly) and Surrealism (especially as conveyed by the films of Jacques Demy).
Here is a link to but one moment of Auster’s preoccupation with Demy’s work and Surrealism in general.
Here is the poster for Demy’s Donkey Skin, one of the films alluded to in Auster’s novel, The Book of Illusions.
Here is a link to our Surrealist Graphics collection.