My Other Body Is a Corpse: The Long and Awesome Tradition of the Exquisite Corpse


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Exquisite Corpse, Jake and Dinos Chapman
  • "Exquisite Corpse," Jake and Dinos Chapman
Sibling duo Jake and Dinos Chapman are a collaborative, British art twosome known for their vulgar and offensive work: Their 2008 show If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be, they defaced original watercolors by Adolph Hitler, adding colorful rainbows to the original landscape paintings. In the Fairy Tales exhibition at the Frist Center, the Chapman Brothers offer up another sick and silly look back at art history.

Four of the Chapman's etchings from their 2000 portfolio Exquisite Corpse are on display at the Frist show. These images pay homage to the Surrealist's parlor game while also emphasizing the dual nature of the pair's art-making partnership. The simple, framed prints can be easy to overlook in the show's over-the-top galleries, but the Chapman's work makes the exhibit's connections between the subconscious and the monstrous explicit, and a discerning eye will also find these to be some of the most detailed works in the show.

There are a number of ways to create exquisite corpses using a variety of media, but the game's constants are that it's always played by more than one person and that every player's contributions must be more-or-less blind. The Surrealists loved this game because it created collaborative effort even as it denied any one artist control of the final work. In this sense, it was thought to reveal a glimpse of the consciousness of the group as a whole.

Exquisite Corpse by Andre Breton,  Jacqueline Lamba and Yves Tanguy,
  • Exquisite Corpse by Andre Breton, Jacqueline Lamba and Yves Tanguy,
In a literary version of the game, each player writes a sentence on a piece of paper and passes it on to the next collaborator. With each addition, the paper is folded in such a way that the next writer will see only the most recent contribution. The results can range from boring nonsense to mad-cap plotlines to seriously psychedelic pastiches of imagery and insight.

The visual art version can be accomplished by similarly drawing or painting contributions on a sheet of paper. Here, the Chapman brothers created their prints using separate plates, taking turns creating the upper, middle and lower portions of each creature.

The phrase “exquisite corpse” comes from one of the Surrealist's earliest literary experiments with the game, which resulted in the line: “The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine.”

The exquisite corpse is dead! Long live the corpse!


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