Just in time for Halloween, from Oct. 20-23, the Atlanta Surrealist Group is offering up a subterranean journey to the Underworld in the caverns beneath the city — the No Tomorrow Gallery at Underground Atlanta. It promises to be a carnival of spirits and bizarre, uncanny beings blurring the boundaries between worlds.
This is not the typical horror-soaked fare of a haunted house. The four-night event “Undertakers and Underselves: A Surrealist Excavation” aims to inspire a darkly odd enchantment using play and spectacle to open a portal to the visitor’s own imagination. The event takes place over four evenings, each one with unique programming designed by an international collection of surrealist artists and musicians, creating an atmosphere of creepy and unsettling delight.
“Undertakers and Underselves” is coordinated by Peculiar Mormyrid, the curatorial section of Atlanta’s vibrant surrealist collective that has been deeply engaged in the growing international interest in surrealism. Surrealism emerged in France after the devastation of World War I, with leading artists of the time intending to challenge the elitism of the established art world, and encouraging a spirit of general rebellion and liberation.
Surrealists sought to bridge the conscious and unconscious mind through dream analysis and automatic methods of writing and painting, which often produced the disjointed, nonsensical imagery that characterizes surrealism to this day. Collaboration and internationalism were key principles of the surrealist movement, which spread through Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia during the first half of the 20th century.
There is no denying surrealism’s popular resurgence in the past decade, likely inspired by its jarring visual themes, dalliances with the occult and liberatory messaging. Over the past five years surrealism has experienced a surge in worldwide attention, with significant survey exhibitions in London, New York, Hamburg and Tokyo and featuring centrally at this year’s Venice Biennale.
Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta Surrealist Group
Credit: Courtesy of the Atlanta Surrealist Group
Since 2015, Peculiar Mormyrid has served as Atlanta’s hub of a wide variety of surrealist activity. The name Peculiar Mormyrid is inspired by the charmingly strange African elephant fish, known for its intelligence, sharp nose and mild electric charge.
The group is remarkably prolific, producing artistic experiments in a variety of genres. As a publisher, Peculiar Mormyrid produces one of the few remaining international surrealist journals, in addition to small run ‘zines and poetry series. The collective has also organized interactive exhibitions such as “Polymorph BodyShop” in 2019 and “Egregore” in 2021, and created short films and, most recently, a podcast. The Atlanta Surrealists emphasize the collaborative and the experiential, and their projects intend to transform ordinary perception through re-enchantment.
Although participation in the Atlanta Surrealist group is shifting and dynamic without explicit leadership, the core artists driving the movement are Steven Cline, Hazel Cline, Aaron Dylan Kearns, Megan Leach and James Robert Foster, each of whom works in a variety of media and genres, spanning poetry, film, sound, sculpture and collage.
The group regularly works with surrealist groups in Canada, Argentina, England, Sweden and Spain, yet they approach this international art movement with a voice and aesthetic firmly rooted in Atlanta’s rich artistic history of outsider and visionary art.
Credit: Juli Maria Kearns
Credit: Juli Maria Kearns
In addition to naming St. EOM and Howard Finster as influences, their work also incorporates more than a touch of the humor and absurdist whimsy that characterizes Atlanta’s street art, the early animation of Adult Swim, and the found art installations of the Doll’s Head Trail.
The No Tomorrow Gallery has emerged as a center for collaboration, improvisational music and experimental art. Their mission of supporting radical artistic community is a perfect fit for the work of the Atlanta Surrealists, who are explicitly focused on emerging creative collectives rather than the showcasing of solo artists and distinct works.
In fact, the artists see themselves less as individual artists and more as participants engaged in co-creation and improvisation with each other and visitors, generating community in the moment.
According to Steven Cline: “This exhibit was sparked by our participation in events at the No Tomorrow gallery, by the Surrealist spirit in full bloom which we encountered there and by the strangeness of the space itself, as well as its long history. The opposite of some white-walled, sterile exhibit space, No Tomorrow is chaotic and chthonic, exciting, intimate, disturbing. The spirit of Underworld Carnival which we celebrate with this exhibit was already there waiting when we arrived; we merely added to it.”
The opening event on Thursday, Oct. 20, is the “Subterranean Carnival,” an improvisational and collaborative evening evoking a circus sideshow lost in the mists of time and touched by another world. There will be chance meetings with richly costumed specters, phantasms and enigmatic characters such as “moldywarps.” Strange, and sometimes hauntingly delicate surreal collages by Steven Cline, Hazel Cline and Leach will provide a rich visual background.
On Friday, Oct. 21, “Getting Lost in the Caverns” will be an interactive event devoted to surrealist games of chance and collective creativity. Surrealist artists have historically used group games such as the creation of collaborative poems, and word collages as techniques to unlock the imagination, to explore the subconscious and the realm of dreams. For example, the creation of an “exquisite corpse” poem, a surrealist game invented in the 1920s, involves each person writing a line of text, folding the paper down to obscure the text before passing it to the next person to add their own thoughts. The finished product may seem absurd, but the game can create unique and imaginative group experiences.
On Saturday, Oct. 22, “Quakes and Cries” will highlight freeform music, inspired rants and poetry readings, featuring sets by Alabama-based avant garde violinist LaDonna Smith, the lush sonic improvisations of Flusnoix, and Atlanta-based experimental jazz composer Majid Araim.
The final night, “A Night at the Chthonic Movie Palace,” will showcase both historic and contemporary surrealist films, including a collection of atmospheric shorts by several Atlanta Surrealist group members. There will be screenings of Teruo Ishii’s adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s “Horrors of Malformed Men” and “Traces in the Field: Episode 0,” a film by the Atlanta multimedia artist James Robert Foster, accompanied by a live performance of the score.
Peculiar Mormyrid’s events are designed for participation and immersion. “Undertakers and Underselves” will be an opportunity to interact with the weird and shadowy, the noisy and amorphous, and everyone is encouraged to contribute. As Hazel Cline says: “The most marvelous works are created by the collective animal.”
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ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.
If you have any questions about this partnership or others, please contact Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at email@example.com.