Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Group Tapestry and a Game of “Exquisite Corpse”

I had not heard of ‘exquisite corpse’ when one of the Wednesday Group members suggested we do a collaborative tapestry in this technique.  But I have played games of “Consequence” at many parties from childhood through adulthood. It continues to be a very popular game at bridal showers.

Here is a somewhat edited excerpt from the online art dictionary artlex.com:

exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis – use of various artistic techniques for producing either visual or literary art devised by surrealists in which several people collaborate in creating a text or an image. This activity is often called a game, and the product of this activity is called an exquisite corpse or, in the original French, cadavre exquis. This game is based upon an old parlor game in which players take turns writing on a sheet of paper folded it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player for another contribution.

The surrealists' version of the game acquired its name from the earliest known version which began with this entence in French: "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau," meaning "the exquisite corpse will drink the young wine." The first works were sentences, and were first produced in the mid-1920s. Later literary works were typically poetry. These bizarre compositions were explained by Nicolas Calas as revealing the "unconscious reality in the personality of the group."

Surrealism was embraced by practitioners of many arts, and so it was inevitable that visual artists would take it up, first to produce drawings and collages. The first such efforts involved assigning a section of a body to each player, sometimes with the previous work concealed. Most resulted in images that only vaguely resembled the human form. Some of the participants in early exquisite corpses were Yves Tanguy (French, 1900-1955), Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983), and Man Ray (American, 1890-1977). Later adaptations have involved using other means of passing the work around, such as sending it through the mail; or using other media, resulting in sculpture, film, digital, etc.

(pr. cadavre exquis as kə-DAH-vrə əks-KEE)

The Wednesday Group members are weaving two small tapestries of a human figure, one viewed mostly from the front and one viewed from the back.  We are passing around the copper frame loom in no particular order.  We have 14 members so we have divided both body views in seven sections:

1. feet and legs up to the knees.

2. upper legs and lower body to the waist

3. upper torso from waist to underarms

4. arms

5. shoulders and neck

6. face/head

7. hair

I received the Exquisite Corpse ready for number 4, the arms. In tapestry once the background has been woven there is extreme limitation with how you can proceed!  The background had already been woven to about half way on the upper torso.  That left no place for me to put the arms except extended upward. 

The most obvious point of an exercise like this is how each person will interpret the work done previously in order to add their bit.  The person who wove the feet and legs may have had in mind something elegant, while the next person may perceive the piece to be depicting a person in bedroom slippers and old pajamas.  It can get quite absurd!

Here is what I received (minus the inked on bit of arms which I added before taking the photo.  Ignore what I drew as I did not end up weaving that bit of shoulder on the left.)

Wed. Group project elegant corps 003

The striped stockings said to me ‘jester’ or athletic team such as women’s field hockey.  The skirt said ‘dancer,’ something like salsa because of the fun colors, or possibly a tutu.  The torso is either leaning extremely, or more interestingly, has changed to a profile view.  I decided to go with the idea of a dancer and with the torso turned to a profile view.  As a ‘torso in profile’ this meant that the arms would be coming out of the middle of the torso shape, and the arm further away would be partially concealed behind the torso.  Wed. Group project elegant corps 004

The skirt made me want to continue the dancer costume.  I had a lot of fun playing with yarns for sparkle.  I wanted to put both a ruffle at the end of the sleeves as well as a bracelet hanging from one of her wrists (she doesn’t have to be female, but that crazy skirt with bow makes me think of female, not male!).

For the ruffle I used a sheer ribbon with a gold edge.  I simply pulled up weft between the warp threads to create loops, and I used very fine wool to weave a row or soumak between each row of ruffles (only two rows of ruffles).  I ‘pigtailed’ the ends of the ribbon and then used a needle to run them down into rows of weft along one warp thread hoping for more stability. I don’t want the ruffles to shift while the next person is weaving!  The ruffles will be stabilized once the piece is mounted, but there are three more weavers between now and then! Though it made me a little sad not to do it, I nixed the bracelet, which was gold thread twisted with a dangling charm. I think it may have said too much about my propensity for garishness!

Wed. Group project elegant corps 006

I tried to leave as much room as possible for the two people who will tackle the head and hair.  Still, she will not have have long tresses falling down her back!…because I had to weave that background to support the arm.

This is a long post, but I wanted to record what I learned about this game and what I perceived on the figure when it came to me!  I will not see it again until it is finished, as that is the rule of the game. We cannot communicate with each other about this until it is finished.  I  will get a photo of the finished piece, but who knows when! There are 14 of us who live quite scattered over the Mid-Atlantic area!  It will be given as a gift when completed.


K Spoering said...

This would have been a fun project and piece for the small tapestry exhibit, Enchanted Pathways!

OzWeaver said...

Good idea, Kathy! At the sett we've chosen the finished piece exceeds the size limits. We also did a workshop with Archie called "Talking Pairs" which would be perfect for Enchanted Pathways. I'm the dummy who missed the deadline though, so I don't get to participate this time. What a bummer...

Valerie said...

Thanks for taking the time to document. The idea is fascinating and what fun to read about your thought process.

I hope we get to see the finished piece!

Jennifer said...

You may have felt the entry was long - but I'm so glad you did it - what fun to be creative as a group. I will be interested in seeing where it ends up also!


I thought your post was very informative. I want to do a small peice and your step by step is really instructional. Thanks.

Dorothy said...

What an interesting thing to do in tapestry! We used to play this game on paper at family events and parties, there was a drawing version and a written version, but we knew both by the name "Consequences".

OzWeaver said...


Exactly right! The game is called Consequences by many!