Archive of Dreams / A Dream Archive

DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY (1947) © Hans Richter

The ADA (Archiv der Avantgarden) collection at Blockhaus in Dresden is a donation from Egidio Marzona, Italian gallerist and publisher who diligently collected artworks and objects (about 1.5 million of them) relating to the twentieth century avant-gardes since the 1960s, to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) in 2016. ADA is simultaneously an archive and an exhibition space which opened its door to the public in May 2024, coinciding with the centenary of the publication of Manifesto of Surrealism by André Breton and the establishment of the Bureau de recherches surréalistes in Paris, leading to the theme for Archive of Dreams. A Surrealist Impulse – its inaugural exhibition. It points to a long history of Surrealism, its international scope, and interconnectedness with other avant-gardes such as Dada, Pop Art, Art Brut, Beat movement, Cobra, Lettrism, and Situationist International among others.


The archival impulse among the Surrealists was already marked by an interdisciplinary and horizontal approach that both accommodated and encouraged new ordering and dissolved historical hierarchies between the artistic and the archival, thus anticipating the current moment of archival euphoria by several decades. With one rejoinder–the academization of art, methodical research, and curatorial overdrive that defines the neoliberal now diverge from the subversive, anti-fascist, and countercultural stimulus at large of the Surrealists and other avant-gardes.


The exhibition is a formidable roster of archival materials comprising letters, posters, diaries, paintings, manifestos, photographs, art books, magazines, objects, and films–about 300 of them–a heady mixture with a prominence of paper-based objects. Five films are installed in the exhibition; they are the only works that are loaned and are not part of the archive. Cinema played an important role for the Surrealists, evinced by their corpus of films and writings on the topic, as a dream-space of absurd realities, or as Jean Goudal called it, “conscious hallucination”.


It was not easy therefore to select a handful of films from among hundreds of possibilities for the exhibition. To the curators’ credit, each of the digitally installed five films fit into the broad narratives of the exhibition over and beyond a parenthetical relation to dreams as a theme. Central among these films is Hans Richter’s DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY (1947) which is commodiously projected on a wall on the right end of the exhibition hall as one enters it. The protagonist Joe’s office in the film, where he engages in his business of dreams, serves as an allegory for Sigmund Freud’s consulting chamber in Vienna as well as the Bureau de recherches surréalistes in Paris and functions as an archival space for exchanges between prominent avant-gardes of the early 20th century. Structured around seven dream-inspired sequences, the last dream depicts Joe descending down a rope into the labyrinth–basis for many mythological models for the Surrealists–a motif Richter sought to explore further in his next film project, Minotaur, which unfortunately remained unrealized.


JOHNNY MINOTAUR (1971) © Charles Henri Ford


The figure of the Minotaur (in French Minotaure, the name of Albert Skira’s iconic Surrealist magazine in the 1930s), the half-male, half-bull Greek mythological creature, finds its most fulfilling realization in another film in the exhibition—Charles Henri Ford’s queer underground masterpiece, JOHNNY MINOTAUR (1971). Here Johnny the Minotaur (played by Yiannis Koutsis) “connects the psychic involvements of Surrealism to its mythological, historical, and contemporary interests”, performing its typical role as recognised by Hal Foster. Ford had rallied Richter’s collaborators from DREAMS such as Max Ernst, Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, and Alexander Calder for his Surrealist magazine View in the 1940s. By the dawn of the 1970s, he was well integrated into the counterculture, Beat, and Pop Art scene. Among his friends was Andy Warhol, who attended the film’s premiere in 1971.


SLEEP (1964) © The Andy Warhol Foundation


Warhol’s SLEEP (1964) seems like an unusual film in the exhibition at first glance. His connection with Surrealism was peripheral at best and SLEEP’s somber style runs counter to usual surreal expressivity, yet the film affirms the two recurring themes among Surrealists–Eros (a sleeping John Giorno as the recipient of Warhol’s romantic affection) and Thánatos (Warhol’s close-up of Giorno’s face sometimes resembles a morgue shot with no trace of breathing). In fact with SLEEP, Warhol successfully created his own new myth (an uninterrupted record of a sleeping man for eight hours which the film is not). Both JOHNNY MINOTAUR and SLEEP are presented on TV consoles in excerpted versions, making it more of a referencing act than an opportunity for actual engagement.


FRESH BLOOD-A DREAM MORPHOLOGY (1983) © Carolee Schneemann


Similarly installed is FRESH BLOOD–A DREAM MORPHOLOGY (1983) by Carolee Schneemann, a video record of a performance–a realization of a menstrual dream. Schneemann, who wrote down and drew her dreams on bedside pen and paper, often used it as a basic schema to be developed by feminist analysis. Here, interacting with a slide projection through physical movements, spoken, and pre-recorded texts, Schneemann stages a hallucinatory space of societal taboos, defines the stakes for the female body and language, and in her words, posits “the menstrual dream as a generative force of sacred interiority or prima materia”. Schneemann’s dream-recording and processing, reworking of myths, and Freudian jokes point to a kinship to Surrealist practices. However, her emancipated reality undercut structures of patriarchal traditions, including perhaps those set in motion by the objectification of the female body in Surrealist art.


VENUS NACH GIORGIONE (1981) © Jürgen Böttcher


Saxony-born Jurgen Böttcher instead sought to undermine photographic reality in VENUS NACH GIORGIONE (1981). The film is part of a series of art-postcard films where he combined the overpainting technique with animated superimpositions, transporting images of two-dimensional paintings into new arenas of experience. The film promptly recalls Max Ernst’s Übermalungen (overpaintings) from the 1920s where, drawing upon Freud’s psychic apparatus, he painted over individual pages from a catalog, creating layers, and thus a labyrinthic substrata for the visual plane.


The films in the exhibition hint at the various associations and interpretations the archive can potentially activate; it points to the continued legacy of Surrealist practices within the terrain of post-war experimental films. One needs only to consider the films of Marcel Broodthaers, Anita Thacher, and Sarah Pucill among others to realize its veracity. The archival turn (from source to object) generated many simultaneous trajectories to history and our collective futures over the past decades, Archive of Dreams is not content by being an exhibition of an avant-garde archive, it seems to ask what models avant-gardes can inspire, if it can function as a method.