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November 22, 2019 from 12:00 pm - January 12, 2020 from 6:00 pm

Eleanor Macnair

Surrealists Rendered in Play-Doh

When the first photobooth, or photomaton, opened for business at Luna Park in Paris in the late 1920s, André Breton, the “father of the Surrealism”, and his circle were among its most enraptured users, returning frequently to the amusement park to make automatic self-portraits that show them not as untouchable artworld legends but as fallible human beings joining in with the latest social craze.

Though usually treated as throwaway, these black-and-white photobooth portraits have survived to the present day. In homage to the spirit of Surrealism, not to mention disposable materials, Eleanor Macnair has rendered nine of these early twentieth-century selfies in her own disposable material of choice: Play-Doh.

To watch over these reimagined, large-scale Technicolor portraits of André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Suzanne Muzard, Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, Yves Tanguy, Jacques André Boiffard and Marie-Berthe Aurenche, the walls of Elephant West will be alive with gigantic Play-Doh eyes, collaged together from Macnair’s earlier series of work. The collages have been created specifically for our Surrealism season, playing on the motif of the eye in Surrealism.

Project Background

Eleanor Macnair’s Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh project started on a whim in August 2013 following a photo pub quiz run by artists MacDonaldStrand in Brighton, where one of the rounds was to make a reproduction of a famous photograph using the modelling material.

The project aims to highlight obscure images by overlooked photographers, or contemporary projects which lack exposure, as well as creating some of the most-known photographic works. Working from jpgs found on the internet, the original photographs are reinterpreted in lurid colour, linked to the original image and thrown back into the digital realm—and now, blown up to giant size and plastered on the walls of Elephant West.

The tools are amateur: off-the-shelf Play-Doh, a chopping board, a scalpel and an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin. After the Play-Doh models are finished and photographed, they are immediately taken apart and the different colour elements returned to their respective colour pots for reuse.