Massurrealism is an art form rooted in the combination of mass media and surrealist art, an artistic trend based on the evolution of surrealism with technology and mass media as a catalyst. Originally an art style, it grew to a small group in the United States.
Massurrealism is a portmanteau word coined in 1992 by American artist James Seehafer, who described a trend among some postmodern artists that mix the aesthetic styles and themes of surrealism and mass media—including pop art.
This genre has generated a growing interest among new media artists, while the creative tools used by contemporary artists have changed in the late twentieth century / early 21st century to incorporate the use of more electronic media and methods.
Massurrealism is also influenced by the mass media of postmodern times where examples of surreal imaging are present under printed forms, films and music videos without the observer being aware that he is seeing an image and surreal scene.
Massurrealism is a development of surrealism that emphasizes the effect of technology and mass media on contemporary surrealist imagery. James Seehafer who is credited with coining the term in 1992 said that he was prompted to do so because there was no extant definition to accurately characterize the type of work he was doing, which combined elements of surrealism and mass media, the latter consisting of technology and pop art—”a form of technology art.” He had begun his work by using a shopping cart, which “represented American mass-consumerism that fuels mass-media”, and then incorporated collages of colour photocopies and spray paint with the artist’s traditional medium of oil paint.
So when people create what some may think is surrealistic images using the tools they have at hand in the modern day (computers, smartphones, digital manipulation, common mass produced items) it seems safe to say it could be called massurrealistic art. With so much of massurrealism arising from seemingly mundane, common objects and technologies in our modern world, the connection of art with the everyday objects and experiences around us is deeply impactful. Art rooted in universal, shared experiences allows for the possibility of continuous, ongoing creativity for many many people, not just the bourgeois elite of society.
One of the truest measures of art’s impact is its real life effect. If a song, film, book or poem continually commands memory and attention to itself long after first seeing, hearing or reading it, it seems safe to consider that art. Good art can resurface again and again, inciting conversation after conversation as the world around us changes in light of its fresh perspective.
Explaining Massurrealism in words can be difficult, and could be done better with examples, since visual expressions are in continuous process. Another characteristic of massurrealism is the common thread: marriage between topics of the media with the technique of the surreal, which are expressed individually in each artist. These are a few techniques that cover the gap between traditional and new media.
By definition, massurrealism is surrealistic imagery executed using 21st century technological mass media. In this case mass media can mean social media, videos etc, and it can also mean media which are mass produced items, i.e. common, easily purchased items. This can include something as commonplace as hair care products.
In 1995, James Seehafer assembled a small group show near New York City and found a local cyber-cafe, where he started to post material about massurrealism on internet arts news groups, inspiring some German art students to stage a massurrealist show. The next year he started his own web site, www.massurrealism.com and began to receive work from other artists, both mixed media and digitally-generated. He credits the World Wide Web with a major role in communicating massurrealism, which spread interest from artists in Los Angeles, Mexico and then Europe. Seehafer has said:
“I am not being credited with inventing a new technique, nor I don’t think I should be credited with starting a new art movement, but rather simply coining a word to categorize the type of modern day surrealist art that had been lacking in definition. As a result, word “massurrealism” has received a lot of enthusiasm from artists. Though there are some who feel that defining something essentially limits it, the human condition has always had the need to categorize and classify everything in life.”
The differentiating factor, according to Seehafer, between surrealism and massurrealism is the foundation of the former in the early 20th century in Europe before the spread of electronic mass media. It is difficult to define the visual style of massurrealism, though a general characteristic is the use of modern technology to fuse surrealism’s traditional access to the unconscious with pop art’s ironic contradictions.
When art of any kind is divided into movements or styles, those defining traits tend to boil down to certain artists making certain kinds of work at a particular time, in light of specific cultural and artistic realities. Once that movement has happened in time, it’s locked into the past, and can never happen again—which means that “classical” surrealism, as made by Dali and so many others, can’t happen again. It can be imitated, of course.
An artist can still pay homage and create a piece that echoes what has already been done, but that by definition is retrospective, it considers something that is already complete. Such an exercise may be inspiring and incredible in its own right, but when a piece casts its gaze backward for inspiration, it limits its ability to speak to the current, immediate world an artists resides in.
Massurrealism successfully break down walls between art and human consciousness. It’s a natural reflection of the ubiquity of communication technology, and also inherently massurrealist. In reality, a huge amount of work produced in the early 21st century is of this nature – our Western world is comprised of vastly advanced technological marvels which are constantly being moulded into art by the forward thinking artists of our time. Art in traditional styles is still made all the time, of course, by amateurs and professionals alike, but the bleeding edge of art, those on the cusp of new frontiers, are today illustrating as many realities and subjective contexts literally transformed from fantasy imagery into our modern day reality. In this way, massurrealist art in all forms successfully highlights inherent absurdity.
Specifically, our culture’s technology has advanced so quickly that our animal brains are struggling to keep up, advanced though we are. Instant cross-global communication would be seen as magic or witchcraft 200 years ago, and science fiction 80 years ago, and yet this fiction is now our reality. Massurrealism helps us understand our confused mental situation for what it is – the struggle between technology and subjective truth.
British artist Alan King started to experiment with a combination of digital and traditional art methods in the 1990s, producing a majority of his works by using computer techniques combined with a multitude of traditional methods including oils, acrylic, and watercolour. Nationally renowned photographer Chip Simons incorporates both his photo images with digital collage. Cecil Touchon, who works with sound collage & poetry, is a massurrealist artist. German artist Melanie Marie Kreuzhof, who describes her work as massurrealistic, was commissioned in 2004 by the editor of the Spectakel Salzburger Festsiele Inside magazine to produce an artwork about Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt at the Salzburg Festival. To make her work she took 9 digital photographs, composed them in a computer and printed the result directly onto canvas, which was then attached to a wooden frame, worked on with acrylic paint and had objects attached—3 guitar strings, a strand of hair and a silk scarf. The images and elements were derived from themes in the opera.