At Home with Surrealism

Eugene Contemporary Art exhibit features the house as metaphor  

Architecture of Dreams, showing at Eugene Contemporary Art’s ANTI-AESTHETIC gallery on 8th Avenue through Aug. 21, features seven women artists: Vicki Krohn Amorose, Jill R. Baker, Noelle Herceg, Tallmadge Doyle, Wendy Heldmann, Mary Evans and Leah Howell. 

Considering the history of surrealism that permeated texts while I was going to school in the nineties, and the re-examination of that male-centric group by postmodern historians, putting up an all-female show at ANTI-AESTHETIC seems significant.

Not really, says ECA member and co-curator Amorose. A couple of men were interested in participating, but it just didn’t work out. She and co-curators and ECA members Baker and Herceg were inspired by a book they were reading and discussing on Zoom, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. 

Amorose says the book is a “philosophical text” that describes “the inner workings of the self” in terms of a house. 

Bachelard’s text was published in 1958. But I can’t think of a better metaphor to use right now, when we’ve all been tucked away in our houses separated from the outside world.   

Amorose’s piece in the show, “House for Invisible Dolls,” is a dollhouse. She’s decorated the siding with old-fashioned clothes and figures of females that have plants growing out of their bodies in place of heads.  

“I’ve always had a soft spot for surrealism,” Amorose says. A good title, perhaps, for her next surrealist work, though she doesn’t need help from me for titles. She enjoys thinking them up, she says. 

Amorose is an arts writer, too. For this show she embraces the “automatic” writing of the original surrealists who published in the Paris periodical La Révolution Surréaliste nearly a hundred years ago. Her “Dollhouse Manifesto” references surrealism founder Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto and is published in a zine that accompanies the show. She writes: “If you cannot free your imagination today, go to sleep. If nothing more, float the furniture.”    

Architecture of Dreams makes good use of Bachelard’s metaphor. Each artist’s work in some way relates to life at home, with the exception of Tallmadge Doyle, whose video and multimedia pieces depicting “Celestial Oceans” references dreams more than architecture. 

The surrealist premise that the important truths are ones hidden inside ourselves is perhaps most illuminated by Noelle Herceg’s images of curtains. “Living Room Light Imprint 1” is a cyanotype on fabric hung to look like a curtain in front of a window. The drapery appears to have rays of light coming at it from behind. But there is no window or even light source behind the curtain (I checked), only a wall.  

Subjects are represented realistically but with a twist. Leah Howell’s “Overlap Whisks” look as if they should be in a kitchen, not a gallery, except they are ceramic pieces. Her porcelain and stoneware “Overlaps Envelope” is similarly realistic except for its medium. And Mary Evans’ “Stara’s Bed” looks the right size for a child’s bed but it’s made of paper mache, plaster, acrylic and mirror.  

Amorose says she was hesitant to reference the term “surrealism” for this show. She feared that people would only associate it with the famous male surrealists from the movement in modern art. Though it’s true that surrealism brings with it a whole bag of expectations, nowadays the word “surreal” is also used to describe anything strange. So it’s been used a lot lately, especially in relation to living life almost entirely from home. 

This show was the first time I had seen art in a gallery since social restrictions were put into place. It was the first time that Amorose sat in a gallery, too. 

“I’m fully vaccinated,” she says. 

“Me, too,” I tell her as I reach for a pen, and then another. It’s been so long since I’ve taken notes outside the house, my pens have run dry. I finally find one that works, and then take a minute to remember how things are done out of the house: Look at artwork, write on pad, take a picture, go home and mull it over.

Architecture of Dreams runs through Aug. 21 at ANTI-AESTHETIC, 245 W. 8th Avenue. The gallery is open by appointment only, noon to 4 pm Saturdays and Sundays. Schedule a viewing at