Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Santa Barbara Surrealism

Traditionally, the University has been more than just the seat of higher learning.  In the past, the Halls of Academia have often been, more than not, the hotbed of radical thought.  The ivy covered walls of colleges in London, Paris and Vienna have seen the stirrings of innovative thought, deemed rebellious and unacceptable at first, only later to become the modus operandi of current teaching. 

The pattern remains the same.  How many names come to mind?  Copernicus, Schiller, Byron, Shelley, Freud, Beethoven, Einstein, and Thurdwanger (the latter omitted due to his tragic death by boredom).  And yet, this pattern seems to have been broken in the last century.  The college appears to have settled in the role of factory, or monastery.  The student as firebrand seems to have been replaced by a career-oriented, assembly line prototype.  But that may be changing. 

Perhaps we thought the last flurry of campus unrest was in '68.  Without a Voltaire or Jean-Paul Marat as figurehead, the movement seemed quickly spent.  The time seems ripe for another campus controversy.  It may be happening now, and with an artistic figure of the past as its center.  Our own local University seems up in arms over the current exhibition of works by German surrealist Garcon Garcon.

It was 1919 when young Dieter Lichtenbowel attended the Academy of Certain Things in Cologne, Germany.  He had already published his thesis, Pre-Christian Ladder Worship.  Dieter was tutoring a class in Hardware Symbolism in the Old Testament.  His theories were bold, unorthodox.  He was beginning to make a name for himself.  It was Klaus, and was made of cardboard.  Later he made another name for himself.  This time it was Hans, and was constructed of thin wood, brown paper and string.  He tried to make another name for himself, this time out of cloth.  He asked a cloth merchant to cut him out a piece of muslin.  The merchant, however, was nearly deaf, and misunderstanding, tried to cut out a piece of a passing Moslem.  This ended Dieter's name making period.

Dieter enjoyed the company of his artist friends.  He envied their ability to paint.  "Could not pure philosophy and art come together?" he wondered.  He decided he would try to make it happen.  He left the academic world of Cologne, and in 1920, headed for Paris.

The years of 1921 and 1939 were the productive ones for Dieter Lichtenbowel.  Paris was a constant source of inspiration to him.  He hung around the Bohemian coffee shop and nightspots with his artist friends.  He talked endlessly about the mixture of art, religion and workshop tools.  He even changed his name.  Garcon Garcon was adopted because they were the two words he used most often in cafes.  Either in the Chez Bon Tits Cafe, or the all German Cabaret Dumpkopf, Dieter was heard shouting to the waiter for refills.

One could talk at lengths about Garcon Garcon's Paris life, but for us it is enough to say he created his best work at this time.  He made new impressions in the world of surrealist art.  The expression gaga surrealisme was coined from his name.  His works either outraged or delighted, but they never bored.  One need only look at his output.  Among many innovative works, Self Portrait By Somebody Else, and The Bride Stripped Bare Even By The Washing Machine Repairman still have the same effect today as they did in the '20s and '30s.  This seems evident especially by current attempts to ban Garcon Garcon's exhibition at the University.  See it before it is run out of town.

Another minor controversy on campus appears to be the new course offered in the It's Extended series, Little Known Chinese Eccentrics.  The course, taught by visiting professor Dr. Roger Frogner-Wham, has been raising eyebrows, and other body parts.  For example, Dr. Frogner-Wham lectures on Chinese philosopher Confused Shoes (so named because of his habit of placing his left shoe on his right foot, and vice versa).  Confused Shoes lived during the Bung Dynasty and invented a unique method of prophecy.  He would take three men who suffered from hemorrhoids, toss them in the air, and from the way they fell, read the future.  He called this Painful Rectal I Ching.  Education is a wonderful thing. 

[First published July 14, 1981.]