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THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 4 (pages 22-25)
THE COLLEGE OF PATAPHYSICS, NUCLEAR ART AND THE INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT FOR AN IMAGINIST BAUHAUS
While the Lettriste Movement, and International, were undoubtedly ludicrous, most - if not all - their members, seem to have remained blissfully unaware of this. Isou, and later Bernstein, Conord, Dahou, Debord, Fillon and Wolman, treated their activities with a seriousness that the objective observer can only find comic. There were, however, other groups with Utopian leanings who actively cultivated an air of ridiculousness. Typical among these is the College Of Pataphysics, which, while rarely viewed as a 'fan club', is often seen as an over-extended joke. The 'College' was neither an organised 'art' movement, nor an 'alternative' education institute, and yet many of the avant-garde's leading figures came to join it. Its members have allegedly included Boris Vian, Juan Miro, Marcel Duchamp, Eugene Ionesco, Max Ernst, Jacques Prevert, Raymond Queneau, Jean Dubuffet, Stanley Chapman and Asger Jorn.
Pataphysics was the science of imaginary solutions, which the French 'utopian' Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) 'invented' at the end of the nineteenth-century. The spirit of this 'new science' was incarnated in Jarry's famous plays "Ubu Roi", "Ubu Coco" and "Ubu Enchained", and in other works such as the novel "The Exploits and Opinions Of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician".
The College Of Pataphysics was, according to Simon Watson Taylor's "Apodeitic Outline" of it in the "Evergreen Review" (May/June 1960), inaugurated at a meeting on 29/12/48. The highlight of its founding was a 'harangue' by His Magnificence Dr. I. C. Sandomir. However, not all observers take such claims at face value, as Watson Taylor explained:
"The Vice-Curator-Founder of the College passed away on 10 April 1956 (vulgar style)... The dignified aspect of his death was marred only by a scandalous statement in the "Nouvelle Nouvelle Revue Francaise" by its editor M. Jean Paulhan. Commenting on "Cahiers" announcement of the death of Dr.Sandomir, M. Paulhan declared his sorrow at the death was tampered by the suspicion that probably Dr. Sandomir had never existed. The College was forced to act firmly against this provocative insinuation by declaring publicly that M. Paulhan was considered henceforth to be pataphysically non-existent. In furtherance of this just measure, the College printed post cards bearing the legend JEAN PAULHAN DOES NOT EXIST. These were bought eagerly by members of the college and thereafter arrived in ever increasing numbers at the address of the alleged Paulhan..."
Thus, while the College undoubtedly did exist, carrying on its theoretical activities principally through its journal the "Cahiers of the College of Pataphysics", the accounts it has given of its own history have been called into question by outside observers.
A more conventional group active during this period was the Nuclear Art Movement. It was founded in 1951 by the painters Enrico Baj (born Milan 1924) and Sergio Dangelo (born Milan 1932). On the occasion of the 2nd exhibition of Nuclear Art (Gallery Apollo, Brussels, February 1952), Baj and Dangelo issued the group's first manifesto in which they state that:
"The Nuclearists desire to demolish all the 'isms' of a painting that inevitably lapses into academicism, whatever its origins may be. They desire and have the power to recreate painting.
The Nuclearists were opposed to concrete and abstract art. They believed that through experimentation, they could bring about a renewal of painting.
In November '53, Baj and Dangelo made contact with Asger Jorn by letter.
In December '53 Jorn announced, in a letter to Baj, the formation of the International Movement For An Imaginist Bauhaus (IMIB):
".....a Swiss architect, Max Bill, has undertaken to restructure the Bauhaus where Klee and Kandinsky taught. He wishes to make an academy without painting, without research into the imagination, fantasy, signs, symbols - all he wants is technical instruction. In the name of all experimental artists I intend to create an International Movement For An Imaginist Bauhaus....."
Jorn asked Baj to join his new movement. Baj accepted in a letter dated January '54, and brought Dangelo and two French art critics with him. In the same month as the letter announcing the formation of the IMIB was sent, Jorn 'presented' a Nuclear Art Exhibition in Turin. Although he exhibited alongside Baj and the other Nuclearists, Jorn never joined their movement or signed their manifestos. Jorn and Baj continued exchanging letters into 1954, and in one Baj included a copy of "Potlatch", the bulletin of the Lettriste International, which he had come across while in Paris. Jorn immediately decided to write to the LI, and urged Baj to do the same.
Jorn renewed contact with many leading figures of the European avant-garde after his long illness, and persuaded several ex-COBRA members to join the IMIB, among whom were Dotremont, Alechinsky and Appel. In June '54, thanks to Baj, Jorn settled in Abisola, an Italian seaside town. It was in Abisola, over the summer, that the "International Ceramics Meeting" took place. The participants were Appel, Baj, Corneille, Dangelo, Fontana, Giguiere, Jaguer, Jorn, Koenig, Matta and Scanavino. The work they created became the first IMIB exhibition, and was shown at the 10th Triennial in Milan that October. Jorn also used this occasion to denounce Max Bill's theories of industrial design. According to Jorn, aesthetics were to be based on a communication that would arouse and surprise, rather than rationality or functionalism; they should be concerned with the immediate effect on the senses, without taking into account utility or structural value. It was also at this time that the first IMIB "Exercise Book" was issued, and that Jorn made contact with Ettore Sottsass - who was soon persuaded to join the movement.
The following summer, Giuseppe Pinot-Gallizio (1902-64) and Piero Simondo had an exhibition in Abisola, during which they met Jorn. Gallizio was a pharmacist and independent councillor of the left, who had recently taken to making experimental paintings, often drawing on his knowledge of chemistry to do so. Simondo was a philosophy student at Turin University, who shared the older man's passion for avant-garde experimentation. Jorn travelled to Alba in September '55 to spend time with the two men. Gallizio's studio, located in an old convent, became the Experimental Laboratory of the IMIB during Jorn's stay. Jorn's views were slightly at odds with Simondo's methodological rigor and interest in scientific problems, but he shared with Gallizio a vision of the artist as ethically committed to mankind and an interest in archaeology, nomadism, and popular culture.
The aim of the IMIB in setting up the Alba Laboratory was the liberation of experiment. Thus while Jorn was shuttling between Alba, Abisola, Paris and Silkeborg, Gallizio was experimenting with oils and alimentary assiline mixed with sand and carbon, Baj continued his research into automism, Sottsass investigated architecture, Walter Olmo pursued musical intervention, and Simondo and Elena Verrone undertook a methodological study of 'artistic problems' . Jorn used his trips to develop the many contacts he'd made. Those with the ex-COBRA man Constant and the Lettriste International numbered among the most important of these. The LI eventually joined the IMIB in May '56.
The first, and only, issue of the IMIB's journal "Eristica" was issued in July '56. It was edited by Gallizio, with an editorial committee that included Dotremont, Korun and Baj. It featured texts by Jorn, Simondo and Verrone, work by Baj, and photographic documentation of the International Ceramics Meeting of 1954.
The frantic activity of the IMIB was leading rapidly towards the "First World Congress Of Liberated Artists", and ultimately to the formation of the Situationist International.
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