By Night with Torch and Spear

Artist: Joseph Cornell
video | video | 8:00 | 1942

A key figure of American surrealism, Joseph Cornell (1903–72) is best known for his box-assemblages. He was, however, also one of the most original and outstanding filmmakers to emerge from the Surrealist movement. Reclusive in nature and resistant to public screenings during his lifetime, his filmic work is little known, despite bearing a deep and lasting influence on the world of avant-garde filmmaking. By Night With Torch and Spear is composed of found-footage of industrial processes and of various indigenous groups of people. Film clips have been manipulated in differing ways, sometimes shown upside-down, other times played backwards. The work seems to be alluding to romantic myths of “undoing” industrialization and of celebrating the noble savage. A powerful product of its time, it was created at the height of the Second World War: faith in modernity and in the moral progress brought about by industrialization was collapsing, prompting various escapist fantasies. The fetishizing of pre-industrial references in places where industry stops being the focal point of economic activity remains an important aspect of the aesthetics of contemporary consumption of today.


The 10th Shanghai Biennale - Social Factory | 2014.11.23 - 2015.03.31 | Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum(Shanghai, China)