On 6th June 2017, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) hosted Aggression, Transgression and the Avant-Garde, an international, one-day conference organised by two History of Art PhD candidates, Naomi Stewart and Josh Bowker.

In this short article, Josh and Naomi write about the conference, which received funding from the University of Edinburgh’s Devolved Researcher Fund and was part of a programme of events run by our Dada & Surrealism Research Group (DSRG).

Aggression, Transgression, and the Avant-garde brought together members of the postgraduate research community and early career researchers to consider the nature, significance and legacies of avant-garde responses to the various socio-political crises of the twentieth century.

Professor Sanja Bahun of the University of Essex gave an engaging keynote lecture on ‘The Economy of Discomfort: Mina Loy, the Homeless Body, and Issues of Aesthetic Reception’ exploring works Loy produced while living in the infamous Bowery district of New York City and the sensitivity of her representation of abject poverty.

The first panel, chaired by Dr Christian Weikop, saw Amelia Miholca (Arizona State University) exploring the influence of Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco’s Jewish heritage on their contributions to Dada Zurich. Lola Lorant (Université Rennes II) then presented a paper about the influence of Richard Huelsenbeck’s theorization of Dada on the practice of Nouveau Réaliste Jean Tinguely.

Photo of a professor giving a presentation
Edinburgh College of Art
Professor Sanja Bahun gives her keynote

"Professor Sanja Bahun of the University of Essex gave an engaging keynote lecture on ‘"The Economy of Discomfort: Mina Loy, the Homeless Body, and the Issues of Aesthetic Reception.""

In the second panel, chaired by Professor Neil Cox, Hailey Maxwell (University of Glasgow) spoke on important but under-researched figure, Colette Peignot, and her theorisation of ‘the sacred’. Naomi Stewart (University of Edinburgh) untangled the relationship between Surrealist photographer Dora Maar, Georges Bataille, and the importance of the eye in Surrealist theory. And, Catherine Howe (Courtauld Institute of Art) gave a paper on Francis Bacon’s representations of Van Gogh, related through the influence of Bataille and Antonin Artaud’s writings on the latter.

The final panel, chaired by Dr Patricia Allmer, saw Barbara Barreiro León (University of Aberdeen/Oviedo) speak on Man Ray’s treatment of the erotic body, and the gender dynamics of Surrealism. Lena Sideri (University of Edinburgh) then explored the use of humour as a transgressive tool in avant-garde theatre.

We would like to thank all contributors and the Dada & Surrealism Research Group.

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