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DOI: 10.30628/1994-9529-2021-17.2-151-170

DARIA O. MARTYNOVA
Russian Academy of Arts,
ITMO University,
Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Researcher ID: AAK-1891-2020
ORCID: 0000-0003-0426-6458
e-mail: d.o.martynova@gmail.com

“ELECTRIC PROTO-PERFORMANCE”: ENIGMARELLE THE AUTOMATON AT THE 1938 EXPOSITION INTERNATIONALE DU SURRÉALISME

Abstract. The following article is based on a report presented at the Arts and Machine Civilization International Scientific Conference. The author analyzes publications related to Enigmarelle and automata in periodicals of the early twentieth century in order to identify the significance of Enigmarelle’s phenomenon at the 1938 International Exhibition of Surrealism. In the course of the study, it was concluded that Enigmarelle became a centerpiece of the opening, a kind of a wobbler that was intended for attraction and intriguing the public. Enigmarelle is a documented curiosity of the early twentieth century, mystified in popular Parisian newspapers of the first half of the century. Initially, Enigmarelle was created only for the entertainment of the public, as the popularity of automaton resumed in connection with the dollomania in the second half of the 20th century. However, for the 1938 International Exhibition of Surrealism in Paris, the surrealists turned Enigmarelle the automaton into an exhibition object and shifted the emphasis of its function from entertaining to symbolic; as a result, the “mechanical human” became the image of an “ideal” person bringing danger and death. This change in the interpretation was facilitated by the hysteria, which is fundamentally significant for the surrealists’ work. Also, Enigmarelle’s paramount significance can be explained by a reference to its connection with Frankenstein. The automaton, a mechanism controlled by electricity, drew parallels with mesmeric practices, during which a body could be controlled by electric pulses. It can be concluded that surrealists turned the popular culture phenomenon, Enigmarelle the automaton, into an exhibit that correlated with the films of the 1920s and 1930s about the revivification and creation of an inanimate being (Frankenstein, 1931, Metropolis, 1927, The Golem: How He came into the World, 1920). Such a presentation was associated with mesmerism and hysteria, which was related to the ocularcentristic concept and surrealists’ pre-war mood. Based on the analysis of publications in periodicals, it can be assumed that Enigmarelle’s phenomenon anticipated viewers’ active involvedness. This, in turn, served as a kind of a binder, uniting the disparate elements of the exhibition.
Keywords: surrealism, Enigmarelle the automaton, mechanisms in art, protoperformance, robots in cinema, surrealist exhibitions, environment, dollomania, Georges Méliès, international exhibitions of surrealism, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali