According to the definition offered by Tate on the occasion of the exhibition Surrealism Without Borders, Surrealism “aims to revolutionise human experience. It balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams.” Surrealism, therefore, produces images and artefacts that are rooted outside the real and that evade rational description.

For many artists, however, the practice of Surrealist art took on an explicitly political and therefore practical dimensions. In Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work, art historian Abigail Susik argues that many Surrealists tried to transform the work of art into a form of unmanageable anti-work.

Abigail Susik speaks with Pierre d’Alancaisez about what the politics of work meant to the early French Surrealists, the ambiguous labour practices of artists like Simone Breton, and the imagery of typewriters and sewing machines that permeates the work of artists such as Oscar Domínguez. She brings these questions into the present by engaging with the work of the Chicago Surrealists of the 1960s and 70s.

Abigail Susik is Associate Professor of Art History at Willamette University and co-editor of Surrealism and film after 1945.

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