Gonzo interpretation of Surrealism's sorceress

Leonora's journey Author
Forfatter: Susanne Christensen
Forlag: Oktober
UNCOMPROMISING / The book by artist Leonora Carrington is a journey into the jungle of surrealism, a successful escape from the conventional and a fantasy infiltration of the established.


It is a well-known and lamentable experience that cultural dissemination often suffocates culture. Even the most radical and groundbreaking art projects fade as the galleries hang up their helpful plans; even the most transcendent and chaotic artistic life is made easily digestible by cinemas
- translated into something we can approach with a curious curiosity and what we consider a cultivated interest in precisely the "culture". Surrealists were aware that they had to flee from all this.

In this book, the cultural writer and author Susanne Christensen encounters the British-born artist Leonora Carrington (1917 – 2011) in numerous indirect ways. The reader may join the encounter with an uncompromising, tormented and at the same time humorous artistry that began in the interwar period, and Carrington's escape from a hardened culture to the liberation project of surrealism.

The birdmen of burnley by Leonora Carrington

There is a rebellious will in this essay, which is both eccentric and rebellious, with a braid of associations. Despite its richness and unpredictable form, the book is seen as a sincere attempt to get to the core: keeping in touch with one's own motivations and departing from the substance's most important meaning. We are dealing with a kind of psycho-sympathetic experiment, a kind of gonzo-hermeneutics, a participatory interpretation.

"This will be strange, this will be a strange journey," is the introduction to Christensen's foreword, and it soon becomes clear that she is not writing a biography, but a portrayal of life in which she wants to elicit a way of life, a way of life, a mentality.


In the first part of the book, we meet Leonora as a young girl in a family with high social aspirations. They are conventional strokes that will marry her to a better position and send her on the ball. For Leonora, the lonely rides are an opening to another world. She is raised to fit into the British upper class, but experiences herself more like a non-fit animal, a horse, a creature from somewhere else. In one of her first stories, she dictates herself to a hyena who draws on a ball dressed as a human, with a mask she has obtained by rubbing the head of a maid. The abrupt, burlesque and strangely contagious in Christensen's own presentation.

self Portrait

In a prose that springs from journalistic passages and distant analyzes to poetic paraphrases of Leonora's works and moods, Christensen circles into the outsider: “Leonora is very difficult to fit into a hierarchically divided social order. Leonora is in the rain, she turns into the rain, she turns into earth, the blackberry stalks grip her legs like cat claws. There is something in the bushes. She is not separate from this messy chaos […]. ”

Shortly afterwards we may suddenly find ourselves in a look at the symbolism of the mask in the Star Wars films or in Christensen's experiences and memories. New, semi-chaotic and strange material is constantly drawn into the text, but as it unfolds, we still get a glimpse of how it all ties together.

Diverse travel

The journey, which is in the title, is repeated on several levels. Christensen follows Leonora's movements in biographical sketches, but also follows in the artist's footsteps. Gradually the author's own journey takes over. Leonora performs indirectly through meetings with people who knew her, in the course of experts, cinemas, enthusiasts and parallel artists. Common to the gallery of bystanders and contributors is that they are outsiders – they belong everywhere and nowhere. They are often native to nature and foreign to the culture.

During World War II, Leonora is captured by her father's political contacts. She is laid in belts in a madhouse in Santander on the northern Spanish coast. Leonora escapes to Lisbon when her father, via broadcasts and contacts, wants to move her to another asylum. She marries and ends up in Mexico. There she meets another female surrealist, Remedios Varo, and finally begins a life on her own (and often eccentric) terms.

One of the points of this trip is that Leonora always stays on the run and on the outside – and thus opposes a safe location and institutionalization, even though she had exhibitions and gained some fame. Christensen's journey also becomes an examination of what draws her to Leonora's texts, pictures and life. The text also contains her own dreams and broken states. Here we have the opportunity again to ask the question of what surrealism was – how it has characterized us, or how it has sunk into the earth and been taken over by more mass-produced fantasies.

They misaligned

The surreal is anti-adaptation, it is a celebration of what we were when we were children, of emotions we cannot account for, of forces that call upon us, of strange instincts, of the animal and unconscious. This is also how Christensen finds room to write about people who do not fit in – not just the genuinely mismatched artists, but also the cultural workers, the critics and the mediators. Among them her own friends, two of them died on their own.

One of the points of this journey is that Leonora always stays on the run and on the outside – and thus opposes a safe location and institutionalization.

Marginal and precarious life is political, since confirming what doesn't fit is a matter of conscience. Also conveying in a different way, trying to be true to one's own art experience and reader experience, is a matter of conscience. This seems to be the message in Christensen's book, in the self-reliant and loose impulse that has given it shape. Leonora Carrington's uncompromisingness gave her one
outside perspective on society. She was a human, but also an animal. She was a professional artist and writer, but also a witch.

In her older years, Carrington was also environmentally engaged, and Christensen regards her as an ecofeminist who not only sees the environmental fight as a matter of principle, but as a far deeper alliance with the non-human. The whole sensitivity to which surrealism is swarming may be an escape, but it is also an alliance with all that has been marginalized and displaced – a search for a rich and dangerous life.

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