Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Art, 2010. Courtesy the artist and Townhouse Gallery

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin
Townhouse Gallery
April 18–May 12, 2010

On April 1st, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, resident artists at the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, lingered over the briefest mention of an Egyptian Surrealist Movement in the pages of writer Maria Golia’s ‘Photography and Egypt.’ Thus began an investigation into the little-known, obscure history of a short-lived movement and its foremost protagonist poets, intellectuals, and political agitators at large. The investigation, cum open exhibition platform held in the Townhouse space, ‘opened,’ in true surrealist fashion, on its final night, May 12th.

Mes chers Oliver et Adam,

Can you hear me? This is it — this is a séance. Are you ready? L’exposition surréaliste, edition sixième. An encrypted communiqué, embedded in the pages of Bidoun. Are you there?

Et en plus… qui suis-je?

I am the original imp of the perverse. You are the successors. “A knife without a blade that’s lost its handle,” you say? Quite the subtitle for an exhibition.

You propose to “activate” a gallery space in order to “exhume” the spirit of long-lost protagonists of a long-dead movement? I warn you: we are well interred. But — and you know this better than most — we don’t shrink from a challenge.

We cheer your anti-positivist approach to this project. Still, why an exhibition at all? Why not take up jobs in the nearest falafelry?

I see your posters plastered up around the city, around the fosa común of downtown Cairo. They are but bandages, however, and the glue you use, an ineffectual salve. Don’t you see, the neighborhood is a dying stage, and the gallery little more than a coulisse? This is both the source and the result of our despair, our productive despair. We describe our own demise, and so it comes to pass.

“Female workers of all lands be beautiful.” It has a familiar ring. “Arab Accidents.” Too true. “A pleasure cruise away from modern suffering.” If only…

Why are your posters so regular? Why do they speak such banalities? Do you choose to mock me? Where is your imminent demise?

And why are they so stylish? Don’t you understand? We abhor and embrace style in equal measure, and nowhere is this evident in your white cube with its artfully placed clichés, your red-on-white wall texts. The more style, the more you fail.

We must together uphold Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution. To follow us, you must be self-puncturing balloons. But I digress…

Twice did Breton write love letters in the guise of surrealist pamphlets; once will I do the same for you. You will read in me harsh sarcasm, even desperation. But do not mistake this for something other than what it is; this is “an incandescent testimony to the love of the irrational and the irrational of love.”

You realize, I hope, that I am speaking from beyond the last shroud, between waking and sleeping? This is what you wanted. We overcome perhaps the signal problem of our shared enterprise: the shortfall of language and translation. But ghosts speak not Arabic, nor French, nor English. They speak no language but raw sonic verve.

Now is the moment poised._ Lis les ratures. Disseminate bad blood. Spread the word. Incite to fitnah. You must take it to the galooned brutals, take it out of the classroom, take it out of the gallery. Take it out of the pages of _Bidoun — go on, rip it out!

I understand that this latter-day ban on “witchcraft” prevents you from communing with my confederates and me, as you would like. It is an odd séance that takes place in the pages of a magazine. But journals were the armature of many a past surrealist movement.

And so I say to you, my fellow surrealists: Jettison the crutch, discard the cane. Take up the paring knife, the best instrument with which to cut away dead flesh. We are inescapably political, you and I. If Egypt remains the land where gestures “fade quickly,” then make a deep impression. Let them scrub at your posters for years to come.

May you sow dragon’s teeth, and recoup dragon’s teeth. Fleas are for the naysayers. Mark my words…

It would be execrable of you not to reply. Send me a twenty-five-page letter — care of Bidoun, if it will permit that; poste restante, if not — and soon.