Conspirators of Imagination

Agnieszka Taborska
Conspirators of Imagination
  • słowo/obraz terytoria
    Gdańsk 2007
    167 × 215
    440 pp

The essays collected in “Conspirators of Imagination” do not constitute an actual synthesis of Surrealism. They do, however, emerge from a need to create one. As an update of continuously new facts: facts concerning the Movement’s less popular representatives or representatives discovered after many years, as well as those which prove Surrealism’s constant influence on contemporary artists, advertising or fashion designers. The strangeness of Surrealism, Taborska shows, has long been tamed, yet it is worth remembering that the increase in the ways dimensions of reality can be perceived did not take place from one day to the next – and it is precisely this that the book stresses.
The author recounts the history of the Movement as if by chance - while discussing chosen “Subjects” from the Surrealists’ iron repertoire and sketching the “Profiles” of several artists. There is, by no means, any question of a full spectrum of problems and individuals. The author has made her choice not as an objective academic - who aims to exhaust the subject – but as someone who is passionate about the Movement. She places the emphasis on what fascinated her in Surrealism. She writes about her personal contacts with three artists: Leonora Carrington, Gisele Prassinos and Roland Topor. These chapters in themselves bestow a unique value on the book. The author has also come across the work of these writers on a different plane – as a translator – and this intimate contact with the text is also reflected, most originally, in “Conspirators of Imagination”.
The section entitled “Subjects” treats topics such as the Surrealists’ attitude to suicide, love and madness, similar to myths, cities and everyday objects. In every chapter, the author glides smoothly between various forms of art, thus showing that Surrealism did not specialise in any one field. Surrealism was, most likely, the first complex and interdisciplinary Movement. For this reason, any specialist must be acquainted equally well with the history of painting as with the history of literature and film. But also with the history of psychiatry and that of postcards. And Agnieszka Taborska’s expertise embraces all these perfectly well.
This book is, above all, a colourful narrative, beautifully told, in which both experts wishing to extend their knowledge and readers who are just commencing their adventure with art, will gladly immerse themselves.

- Marta Mizuro


Excerpt

A cake at conceit: Noël Godin
During the last years of silent cinema, Mack Sennett made hundreds of short and feature-length comedies where the heroes-losers hang over a precipice, are caught up in a car chase, miraculously survive an explosion or throw cream cakes at each other.  This Surreal, anarchic and dangerous world born of the circus, vaudeville, burlesque, pantomime and comic strip is ruled by timing, surprises and minor catastrophes.  Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon and Bing Crosby all started with Sennett, and slapstick comedy became the most fashionable trend in the American cinema of the 1920’s. The period has left us with thousands of metres of celluloid and a prop: the cake.
The Belgian Noël Godin, alias Georges Pacacz, born 1945, director, writer and actor (known, among other works, for The Sexual Life of Belgians), is a lover of the cinema, Surreal poetics and situation comedies. Celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic live in fear of him.
As a student, Godin had already poured a jar of glue over a lecturer who co-operated with the Portuguese dictator, Salazar.  In a magazine which he founded himself called “Friends of Film”, following the best Surrealist tradition of mystification, he illustrated articles with photographs of his own family.  He claimed, for example, that Louis Armstrong, a former cannibal, financed the film The Vegetables of Good Will in which Claudia Cardinale appeared as a gigantic endive.  Or that Richard Brooks, director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof admitted to his film being abysmal.  Information about a non-existant, blind Thai director, Vivian Pei, and her film The Lotus Flower Will Never Again Grow on the Edge of Your Island inspired a certain researcher of Asian cinema to travel to Thailand in order to meet Vivian Pei.
In 1968, Noël Godin hit a professor holding extreme reactionary views with a cream cake.  Since then, he has been throwing cakes at particularly pompous personalities from the worlds of culture and politics.  His first victim was Marguerite Duras for “abusing intelligence and wisdom in order to feed her own vanity” (1).
Godin does not work alone.  He is accompanied in difficult missions by almost thirty people who arrive at the scenes of action wearing long coats under which are hidden cakes.  Godin himself sometimes performs in disguise, too.  He buys the cakes - baked according to traditional recipes - in modest cake shops, disdaining offers from large companies avid for publicity.
The victims are chosen by members of   Cake International.  Every offensive is carefully prepared, sometimes with the help of “traitors” who provide the necessary facts, where and when to strike.  Thanks to such a betrayal, in 1998 the most talked about coup took place, in Brussels, on one of the richest people in the world, the head of Microsoft, Bill Gates.  Thirty smiling Robin Hoods, in units of three, shouted “Pac!  Pac!” and charged as he was climbing out of his limousine.  Despite five bodyguards and an escort of four motorbikes, four cakes reached their target.  Gates was punished “for abusing intelligence and imagination in order to uphold the dull status quo of an imperfect world”(2).
Nicolas Sarkozy was hit four times during a visit to Brussels.  New attacks are, no doubt, being prepared.  The well-known journalist, Alain Beverini, was hit with a cake before the eyes of millions of television viewers as, surrounded by thirty bodyguards, he conductedan interview with the actress Holly Hunter (who played the main role in the film The Piano) in front of a hotel in Cannes.
Godin gets most worked up about the French philosopher and television star, the narcissistic Bernard-Henry Lévy who was once unfortunate enough to claim to be the most talented writer of his generation.  Because of this, he had a cake thrown at him seven times, including once when he was on stage at the Cannes Festival.  Ever since then, whenever a puppet representing Lévy appears on television, it is silenced by a cascade of cream.
The cakes provoke aggression.  After the outrage in Cannes, Godin was kicked   by Lévy.  Two female members of   Cake International were rescued at the last moment by the police as bodyguards tried to plunge their heads down a toilet.  Only Godard lived up to the attack.  Having a cake thrown at him in Cannes in 1985, he licked the cream off his cigar and praised the tribute paid to silent cinema.
As much as ninety-five percent of the assaults are successful.  Noël Godin has dozens of victims to his name.  He dreams of cream bombing the Tours de France and World Football Championships from an aeroplane. His method of fighting against conceit has been adopted by the Patissiers Sans Frontières (Confectioners Without Frontiers).  Their many victims include Oscar de la Renta who was dealt a blow, in Portland, with a tofu cake by an activist from a movement protesting against the fur trade. In September 2001, Karl XVI Gustav, King of Sweden, was the victim of a strawberry cake. Several months earlier, an apple cake struck the vice-president of Białystok Bogusław Dębski, the minister of defence Antoni Tokarczuk, and the former deputy prime minister Leszek Balcerowicz. In June 2004, a blueberry cake hit Lech Kaczyński in Warsaw, and a year later, the vice-president of the city Andrzej Urbański. After an assault on the French minister of culture, Philippe Douste-Blazy by one of Godin’s associates, the government took the case to court.  The assailant was, however, found not guilty after his lawyer explained that throwing cakes was a Belgian tradition.
Laughter, a silly face and an idiotic song help in cake assaults.  It is best to show an armed bodyguard that it is only the question of a cake.  The cake is not to be thrown but flattened against the victim’s face from close-up.
The warriors of Cake International call themselves burlesque terrorists who turn the prose of life into comedy.  “This dull world forces us to laugh and do things for a lark.  I’ve always believed that laughter is the best rebellion.  What weapon is both the funniest and the most terrible?  For thirty years now I’ve believed it to be a cream cake (…)  It’s the weapon of the weak and the poor”(4), says Godin.  “For a long time now, I’ve been an advocate of insulting letters sent, in the Dadaist and Surreal style, by intellectuals so as to burst the balloons of pompous fame.  However, if I were to write to Bill Gates, only he would read the letter.  I communicate, therefore, using cakes.  It’s a visual Esperanto, a new form of letter-writing, oozing with cream, which Situationists sent thirty years after the Surrealists.”(5)
Formed by 1968, Marx Brothers’ films and Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Utopian Godin fights against authority, moral dictates and the law targeted at people.  Using symbolic violence, he wounds his victims’ amour propre, which can afford a good laundering anyway.  He acts in the name of raison d’être, according to Surreal-anarchist honour.
His call: “Why is it always the same people who speak?  Why do we always hear the same ones?  Why doesn’t anything change?  Where does this silence come from?” (6) sounds like a voice in the jungle.  And yet the Paris Award of 1996 for “insolence, courage and a talent for sabotage” and the invitation two years later from the New York Historical Society to give a lecture about the technique of cake throwing, are evidence of a general dissatisfaction with the elite.  “I keep on getting masses of propositions.  Various strangers assure me that they’re prepared to help me throw cakes at personalities whose names I shan’t mention, and preparations are under way…” (7).  The knowledge of such preparations sweetens our lives.

Translated by Danusia Stok