Exquisite Corpse

On January 17th I had the pleasure of attending a special exhibition by the Benevolent Order of Mountain Artists (BOOMA), hosted at The Danforth Gallery. The show was called “Exquisite Corpse”, which sounds rather morbid, but the concept behind it is actually quite fun and the end result is extremely cool. More details after the jump…

Exquisite Corpse Example. By Perrossemihundidos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Exquisite Corpse Example by Perrossemihundidos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The term “exquisite corpse” and the game it describes were developed by the Surrealists in early 20th century France. It’s a technique for collaborative creation of stories, images, etc. It bears a superficial resemblance to a Round Robin: you have a pre-arranged set of collaborators who each contribute something to the work in a specified order, building on what came before them. Unlike a Round Robin, however, each collaborator is only allowed to see the work of the person immediately before them. Because no one can see the entire picture, the product that develops can twist and turn in unexpected ways.

The version that I saw was played in this way: the first artist was given an art piece to view, which none of the other artists were allowed to see. This first collaborator then had five days to create her own art piece that was inspired by this piece — a painting, drawing, sculpture, film, or interpretive dance — and send her piece to the second collaborator. The second collaborator then had five days to create a short written piece — a poem, short story, or vignette — inspired by the art piece, and send it on to the third collaborator, who would create a new written piece, and so on. None of the artists were able to see the whole collection that they had created until the night of the exhibition.

What I liked best about this show was standing in front of each piece and looking at it with reference to the pieces on either side of it: each poem or story flanked by two art pieces, and each art piece flanked by two different poems or stories. It was fascinating how each of the flanking pieces, the one created before and the one created after, were reflected in the piece that stood between them — yet these flanking pieces were radically different from each other. Often you could see a few small elements from the earlier piece that were reflected in the later one, but these elements had been dramatically transformed by the act of being translated through the piece that stood between them. Sometimes a small flourish introduced by one creator would become the central focus for the next one.

I left “Exquisite Corpse” feeling inspired, and wondering how this game could be adapted for the podcast fiction community. We have many people of diverse talents in our tribe: fiction writers, yes, but also painters and drawers, photographers and poets, musical composers and digital artists. What if we played this game together for a few months, each of us emailing our piece to the next collaborator, and finally unveiled the entire show at Balticon? (Naturally, we would then post the whole thing up on a website after the convention, for the benefit of those who could not be there in person.)

I think this would be a blast. If you would be interested in participating in an online game of Exquisite Corpse, post a comment below and let us know what sort of art (written, visual or auditory) you would be interested in contributing to the project. Here’s hoping we can get this together in time for Balticon!

Note: You can see some photos from the BOOMA “Exquisite Corpse” exhibition here.

Posted by chriswlester