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Lectures in Art History: Abigail Susik, Willamette University

February 1 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Man Ray, L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse, 1920, gelatin silver print, 57.5 x 59 cm, photograph of a dismantled construction published in La Révolution surréaliste 1 (December 1924): 1.

“Wage Labour as Contagion: Surrealist Sewing Machines and Liberatory Eroticism”

André Thirion’s essay ‘Down with Work!’ appeared in a special issue of the Belgian journal Variétés, edited by André Breton and Louis Aragon and published in Brussels during the summer of 1929. More than just a trenchant critique of the bourgeois apology for the work ethic, Thirion’s essay is also a condemnation of the waged system of work as dangerously unhealthy. The workerist ideology and the social trend of overwork in modern society are characterized by Thirion as immoral, reprehensible, and viscerally disgusting. The abolition of the system of wage labor is for Thirion both ethically justifiable and necessary for the well-being of humankind.

This presentation juxtaposes Thirion’s theory of waged work as unhealthy with artworks by surrealist artists that associate modern work tools such as the sewing machine with sexual pleasure. For the interwar French surrealist group, the wage labor imperative could be subverted through the collective embrace of a different kind of compulsive drive, that of Eros. In another text by Thirion from the early 1940s, a volume of prose sketches entitled Le Grand Ordinaire [The Grand Ordinary], waged sewing machine work is linked to the enjoyment of sexuality. In conjunction with Thirion’s Le Grand Ordinaire and its illustrations by Óscar Domínguez, this lecture analyzes surrealist works of art featuring the sewing machine, including Man Ray’s 1920 photograph of a dismantled object construction entitled L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse (The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse), and the 1934–35 painting Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle (Electrosexual Sewing Machine) by Óscar Domínguez.

In her wide-ranging research devoted to modern and contemporary art history and visual culture, Abigail Susik focuses on the intersection of international surrealism with antiauthoritarian protest cultures. She is the author of Surrealist Sabotage and the War on Work (Manchester University Press, 2021), editor of Resurgence! Jonathan Leake, Radical Surrealism, and the Resurgence Youth Movement, 1964-1967 (Eberhardt Press, 2023), and coeditor of the volumes Surrealism and Film after 1945: Absolutely Modern Mysteries (Manchester University Press, 2021) and Radical Dreams: Surrealism, Counterculture, Resistance (Penn State University Press, 2022). Susik is a founding board member of the International Society for the Study of Surrealism and an Associate Professor of Art History at Willamette University.

A weeknight or daytime permit is now required after 5:00pm on weekdays. There is no permit required from 5:00pm Friday through 7:30am Monday. A $1.00 one-night pass is available in selected lots. More information can be found HERE.

CLE credit is available for this event.

Image: Man Ray, L’Énigme d’Isidore Ducasse, 1920, gelatin silver print, 57.5 x 59 cm, photograph of a dismantled construction published in La Révolution surréaliste 1 (December 1924): 1.


February 1
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


115 Howell Hall
UNC at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599 United States
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Lyneise Williams