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Alechinsky Atlas
Surrealist Ghostliness in Pierre Alechinsky

Public Lecture


Katharine Conley
(Dartmouth College)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
3:30 pm
Diffenbaugh 009
Florida State University

Arranged by the Winthrop-King Institute for Contemporary French and Francophone Studies

Kate Conley

Pierre Alechinsky's ink figures drawn over maps from a nineteenth-century French atlas demonstrate visually the haunting of the present by the past. By the 1980s Alechinsky, a Belgian of Russian origin living in France, had adopted a recognizable vocabulary of shapes-the spiral, tree, volcano, wheel-reminiscent of the "language of Cobra" from the avant-garde movement in which he participated in the early 1950s. In her lecture, Professor Conley shows that these bold ink drawings that double as commentaries gesture towards a reading of Europe before the European Union that puts into question the old balance of power, situating it as both a familiar location and a place invaded by forces from the east and the north in a way parallel to the displacement of Parisian surrealism as Europe's dominant avant-garde movement by such post-war avant-gardes as Cobra, created in 1948 by artists from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Alechinsky's Europe serves as point of departure for destinations west and south, across and beyond the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Under his brush and with his choice of ground, old Europe moves forwards and backwards in time according to one of his most recognizable visual figures-the cobra-like spiral. Another recognizable figure from his visual vocabulary, the plume-adorned Gilles de Binche from the ancient annual Belgian carnival, emerges from the past on Alechinsky's maps creating a palimpsest that links times, cultures, and movements, reinventing Europe according to shifting, non-chronological models in which past and present coexist.

Katharine Conley is Professor of French and Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Robert Desnos, Surrealism, and the Marvelous in Everyday Life (Nebraska, 2003; paperback, 2008) and Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism (Nebraksa, 1996; paperback, 2008) and co-editor of volumes on women surrealists, Robert Desnos, and Surrealism and its Others (Yale French Studies, 2006). She is also the author of articles on surrealist writers and artists in books, journals, and exhibition catalogues. Her current research focuses on surrealist ghostliness in Europe and North America throughout the twentieth century.

For more information contact:
Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306-1540 Telephone 850.644.7636 Fax 850.644.9917 E-mail Website 

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