Monday, 6 August 2012

Max Ernst - Une semaine de bonté

Une semaine de bonté ("A Week of Kindness") is a graphic novel and artist's book by Max Ernst, first published in 1934. It comprises 182 images created by cutting up and re-organizing illustrations from Victorian encyclopedias and novels.  

No full interpretation of Une semaine de bonté has ever been published. The book, like its predecessors, has been described by Malcolm Gee as projecting "recurrent themes of sexuality, anti-clericalism and violence, by dislocating the visual significance of the source material to suggest what has been repressed." An analysis was published by psychologist Dieter Wyss, who subjected the work to post-Freudian psychoanalysis in his book Der Surrealismus (1950).é

The 184 collages of Une semaine de bonté [A Week of Kindness] were created during the summer of 1933 while Max Ernst was staying at Vigoleno, in northern Italy. The artist took his inspiration from wood engravings, published in popular illustrated novels, natural science journals or 19th century sales catalogues. With infinite care, he cut out the images that interested him and assembled them with such precision as to bring his collage technique to a level of incomparable perfection. Without seeing the original illustrations, it is difficult to work out where Max Ernst intervened.
In the end, each collage forms a series of interlinked images to produce extraordinary creatures which evolve in fascinating scenarios and create visionary worlds defying comprehension and any sense of reality.

The images of Une semaine de bonté are among the most enigmatic and fascinating manifestations of Surrealism. Linked together with loose and intertwined storylines, they offer opportunity for discovery and interpretation. In these works Ernst found images for dreams, drives, demonic metamorphoses, rites of initiation, transitory moments, and mythical, religious and erotic encounters in which the laws of logic and nature are suspended.

'Une Semaine de Bonté [A Week of Kindness]' by Max Ernst from National Galleries of Scotland on Vimeo.

This is the legendary collage masterpiece of Max Ernst (b. 1891) , one of the leading figures of the surrealist movement and among the most original artists of the 20th century. From old catalogue and pulp novel illustrations, Ernst produced this series of 182 bizarre and darkly humorous collage scenes of classic dreams and erotic fantasies which seem mysteriously to lure the unconscious into view . . . Stern, proper-looking women sprout giant sets of wings, serpents appear in the drawing-room and bed chamber, a baron has the head of a lion, a parlor floor turns to water on which some people can apparently walk while others drown . . .

UNE SEMAINE DE BONTE (A Week of Kindness) is divided into seven parts, one for each day of the week, with each section illustrating one of Ernst's "seven deadly elements." "Oedipus," "The Court of the Dragon," and "Three Visible Poems" are among the startling episodes of Ernst's week. The Dada and surrealist epigraphs which introduce each section appear in this edition in both French and English.

In Une semaine de bonté, the scenes and events that unfold before our eyes at the turn of each page form a striking contrast with the title. Power, violence, torture, murder and catastrophe are the dominant themes in these collages. The scenes of unrest and brutality that appear on many pages match the alarming political situation of the time and the rise of dangerous forces. Ernst was then reacting against the establishment of dictatorships in Europe, and the rise to power of the National Socialists.

To his contemporary preoccupations were added allegories, mythological allusions, Genesis, fairy tales and legends, as well as fragments of dreams and poetic worlds. The author's favourite themes also ran through the work: sexuality, anticlericalism, the rejection of the family and the wealthy middle classes, the rejection of patriotism, etc.

In the end it was a certain kind of society that Max Ernst seemed to want to denounce. His irreverent collages reflect the state of mind of his men who had returned from the First World War traumatised (he himself had served in the German Artillery) and who had had to take their place in a society that was doing everything it could to forget the horrors of the war. He took conventional, stereotypical images of evil, abjection and suffering, such as were found in newspapers, magazines and novels. By transforming them and combining them with each other, he radically changed the original message of these images and in doing so, increased their impact. Only at the end of this complex series do we come back to oniric, poetic motifs that can be understood as a hymn to liberty, dreams, fantasy and the voluptuousness of seeing.

But finally, in this visual novel, without words, we the spectators have to rely on our own interpretation. It is for us to reconstruct an event, to identify a story or to try to give meaning, until we can go no further.

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