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Surrealism exhibition at Waikato Museum uses ‘exquisite corpse’ technique

20 January 2020

Surrealist Garden image brand HR2

Waikato Museum launches an exhibition on Saturday (25 January) that is designed around the 1920s principles of surrealism – both in its making and in its display.

The world is large, beautiful and mostly undiscovered – a garden of surrealism, is a companion exhibition to the Hamilton Gardens’ new Surrealist Garden that will open to the public on 3 February.

Museum Director Cherie Meecham says Museum staff recruited local wordsmiths affiliated with the University of Waikato to develop text for the exhibition through a ‘semi-blind’ writing process – the ‘exquisite corpse’ technique - developed by the early 20th century Parisian poet and surrealist André Breton. Using this process, participants see only the line above theirs, and create a collaborative poem that was thought to draw from a ‘shared subconscious’.

“The text they came up with has become the object labels for the exhibition and the exhibition design grew from there,” says Ms Meecham.

“In this way we want to throw a spotlight on surrealism through the actual design and development of the exhibition, rather than just through a series of exhibits.”

Some of the writers who contributed to the early development of the exhibition design will also read from their works at an opening event on Friday evening (24 January) at the Museum to which the public are invited. 

Bookings are essential for the opening event, dubbed ‘A World Preview’, and attendees are asked to come dressed in a surreal costume to add to the atmosphere and enjoyment.

The surrealism movement of the 1920s and 1930s, which arose in response to the atrocities of World War One, included poets, writers, artists and performers.

Hamilton Gardens Director Dr Peter Sergel says, “There wasn’t a surrealist garden movement, as there was in the other arts, but there have long been surrealist elements found in gardens and they’ve played an intriguing role in the story of gardens.”

He says the Hamilton Gardens’ latest addition to its Fantasy Garden collection will include most of the surrealist features that have been used in gardens around the world, including distortions of scale and strange biomorphic shapes.

To book to attend the exhibition opening event at Waikato Museum please go to the Waikato Museum website

Image: Created from an original pencil drawing by Hamilton Gardens Director Peter Sergel.

For more information, and image available, please contact:
Crystal Beavis, Partnerships and Communications Manager,
Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato
ph 07-974-0535, 027-808-8761; email