Athens meeting report, June 2011
When one is overcome by demoralization and defeat, deeply depressed or on the verge of suicide, that is the time to open one’s Surrealist Survival Kit and enjoy a breath of magical fresh air.
Penelope Rosemont, ‘A Revolution in the Way We Think and Feel – Conversations with Leonora Carrington’ (2002)
In June 2011, when the city of Athens had already long been a beacon of both desperate hope and acute despair, members of the international Surrealist movement met in the Exarchia district, in the city’s heart, to build Surrealist Survival Kits. The rules of the game were simple: to assemble collections of poetic, magical, oneiric objects into portable kits, for the restoration of wonder and reinvention of hope when times are at their hardest. Responding to an invitation issued by the Athens Surrealist Group in July 2010, members of SLAG (Surrealist London Action Group) and the Stockholm Surrealist Group had travelled to Greece to join the Athenians for several days of hope and wonder. We constructed our Survival Kits – some elaborately prepared from beloved fetish objects, some improvised from detritus found on the spot, some individual, some collaborative – and welcomed local people to join us for their display and discussion at an evening of public talks, slideshows, film screenings, poetry readings and improvised music.
The international meeting was held against the backdrop of the deepening economic crisis that is tearing at the body of Greek society. This crisis renders the question of survival apparent in manifold ways. We may feel a spontaneous inclination to jump for anti-capitalist joy and celebrate the prospect of the breakdown of the present order, but of course the crisis is not only a crisis for state and capital, but also a real crisis for the everyday lives of ordinary people: the claustrophobia of the horizon closing in, the uncertainty over whether one's home and livelihood can be sustained even for the coming months. The kind of survival in play here is one of necessity, of not bowing beneath the increasing organised misery, of preventing the destructive forces of capital from running through their regular routine. But on the other hand, when all options appear to be exhausted, when all escape routes have been blocked and the policies imposed upon us tend towards the ultimate degradation of all traces of life in society, there arises a utopian kind of survival in which imagining all other possible forms of life becomes a real force for resistance; where a basic, specifically Surrealist sense of survival regains its particular relevance. It was in the context of these two modes of survival, framed by massive popular demonstrations against austerity measures and a utopian spirit of playfulness, that the international meeting was held.
The public event was just one aspect of the stream of internal collective discussion and play that went on continuously for three days as we wound our way through meeting rooms, streets, squares, hills, bookshops, bars, kitchens, tavernas and apartments. The discussions were comradely, which means neither platitudinous nor polite: this was an occasion for asking questions, of ourselves and each other. In particular it was a time for hard thinking about the meanings of survival. It became increasingly clear to us that for Surrealists the survival at stake could not be the minimalist victory of simply making it through to another day, or the survivalist tactic of holing up somewhere to protect our treasure until the danger has passed: on the contrary, for us survival could only be, as the
As we reflected together on the unfolding results of our game, we understood that what made the kits significant was not the personal collection of ‘favourite things’ by individuals – ‘each one […] different, for no two people are exactly alike’ in Penelope Rosemont’s words – but the process of assembling them, of finding or constructing oneiric objects from literally any old rubbish that was lying around, the transmutation of base matter into the gold of future time. In other words, our Survival Kit was not the objects themselves, but the ability to find and transform them. Surrealism is our survival kit, and as such is a necessary – though insufficient – condition for the social revolution that must come.
More than anything else, it was the depth and intensity of internal discussion that for us marked the importance – again we want to say the necessity – of the meeting in Athens. The meeting came in the middle of a series of international events, from the Destruction 2011 festival in
Thus the one-night public event that took place during the meeting in
Our intention is to continue to build on the relationships forged at Athens by holding regular international meetings on a similar model, and we hope to strengthen this sense of explicit, frank and serious discussion of the basis of our collaborations (and our arsenal of strategies) with other centres of Surrealist activity around the world, and to build those newly forged relationships outwards to encompass ever more participants from the Surrealist movement worldwide.
Athens Surrealist Group
Stockholm Surrealist Group
Surrealist London Action Group (SLAG)