Find Your Surreal

Find Your Surreal has been produced by students on the MScR Collections and Curating Practices programme at The University of Edinburgh. By looking at varied and informal approaches to the surreal, this project moves away from an academic discussion of the Surrealist movement. Instead, the project explores how the ideology of embracing the strange continues to influence us today.  

Surrealism originated in the 1920s, and was influenced by experiences of World War One. Key artists such as Max Ernst attempted to critique the propanganda and nationalism of the war by using techniques of mimicry and irony. Although these strategies were initially born from the Dada movement, we are choosing to focus on the responses by Surrealist artists.

By drawing on their dreams, Surrealists attempted to make uncanny experiences visible and perhaps therefore less scary. The uncertainty felt during the movement's conception is not dissimilar to what we are experiencing today. Their need to deal with difficult emotions is one we can relate to. 

Embracing the surreal aspects of life is also possible outside the formal boundaries of this art and literary movement. In this project we emphasise the ways in which this mindset has appeared elsewhere. It looks beyond what has been traditionally defined as Surrealism or belonging to the movement. As a result, we want to make it clear that many of the resources here are not defined as Surrealism. However, they do explore how the surreal occurs in the world around us.

Although Surrealist artists specifically utilised subconscious desires to create work, it was part of a wider impulse to find comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our irrational thoughts. As you explore these resources, we invite you to think about where you might find your own surreal encounters. 

Find Your Surreal - Intro Video

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Where did the revolutionary movement of Surrealism emerge from, who were its key players and what legacy does it have amongst later artists?

Surrealism in Context

There is danger in implying that art has a direct causal link to history. Surrealism’s focus on dreams and the subconscious seems to be as much an escape from ongoing events as anything else. 

Yet Surrealism is also very intertwined with its influences. The work of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud on our hidden desires, the popularity of science fiction and the effect of the Women’s Suffrage movement all impacted Surrealism’s development. Wider events not only informed the content of Surrealist artworks, but also who was able to make them. 

Whilst art can be understood as offering a separate space, it can also reveal new perspectives on everyday life and history. When you look at the paintings further down the page, where can you identify the impact of these cultural events?

Below is a timeline of key moments in the Surrealist movement.


Surrealism and Fashion

Explore the journey of Surrealist fashion from Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí's collaborations to Met Gala creations.

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Surrealism and Music

Connecting the dots - find out more about the intersections between Surrealists and composers, and how the surreal finds itself in the music of the Beatles.

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Surrealism and Design

Perfume bottles, lollipop wrappers and graphic mirrors - what do all these things have in common?

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This project has been researched and curated by the following students on the MScR Collections and Curating Practices programme at The University of Edinburgh :

Andra Proca

Lina Ross 

Mary Elizabeth Scoonover-Nelson 

Emma Louise Smith 

Rhona Sword 

Tomée Tzatzanis 

Margaux Zandona