The Exquisite Corpse Explored

A Collaborative Project undertaken by five Tucson Artists

The original exquisite corpse concept was formulated by DaDa writers and artists in the 1920’s using unrelated “fragments” of words or images to create new work. The New York Museum of Modern Art had an exhibit of exquisite corpses in 2018. Much of the work on exhibit came from those early writers and visual artists.

The Tucson Project

In the spring of 2018 six Tucson artists formed a study group to explore the exquisite corpse. Our goal was to  play” with themes and formats using images created by the group members to see what happened.

We started the project by creating by creating images that were 4.25 x 8.5” (half a sheet of standard copy paper). Each image had three segments and common “connecting points” so that there could be continuity. We met once a month from May through September. Each of us produced 4 unique images informed by basic themes agreed upon at our meetings. Our themes were: the human body, creatures found in nature, bodies with an ethnic theme and imaginary bodies inspired by technology.

Each month we would distribute color copies of our image to the group. By September our image banks included a total of 24 images. We shifted our focus to how we would present our images in a creative fashion. The traditional exquisite corpse books often utilized accordion spines or three-part pages. Our goal was to develop non-traditional ways of presenting the work. The finished pieces were shown at the October PaperWorks meeting.

The Participants

Elizabeth Brizard, Mabel Dean, Vicki Donkersley, Terry Enfield, Sherrie Posternak.
All are members of PaperWorks – the Sonoran Collective for Paper and Book Artists ( ).

Elizabeth Brizard is a mixed media artist with a technology and teaching background. She has a unique capacity for thinking “outside the box”. She was inspired by her naturally playful nature and a spinning top known as a dreidel. Her exquisite corpse is a re-interpretation of the dreidel All of her cards are mounted and form a deck of cards calling for exploration. They can be attached to the dreidel. But they can also be assembled in unique “house-of-cards” structures.

Mabel Dean is a mixed media artist who took on the challenge of using the images to create individual families from each artists’ illustrations. Her attempt to produce a vertical figure with movable segments was only semi successful. She was unable to provide enough stability to rotate the body parts on the stand.

Her second attempt resulted in five stand-alone in books using the four images produced by the participating artist. Each booklet became a ‘family”. The body part pages are turned to create unique figures.

Vicki Donkersley known for her charming collage work approached the final challenge presentation by creating a game. She formed a triptych (three panels hinged together) to act as the game board. She reduced the size of the original artwork and cut them into 2” x 2” “game tiles”. Next she fabricated clear plastic corner “holders” on the card stock pages so the tiles can be easily inserted or removed, while being securely held in place as well.

The front and backs of the tiles feature different images so you can take out a tile, turn it over, and completely change the figure. When the tiles are moved around from figure to figure, they provide multiple variations, some are quite comical. Twenty-four tiles can be in use at a time.

Terry Enfield was first recognized by the Tucson art community as a textile artist and doll maker. In recent years she has become known for her unique polymer clay and metal art jewelry. One could say she is a mixed media art explorer as she continues to study many different formats for creative expression.

Her corpses were informed by her experience in working with form and stitch. She transformed her images into fine cards and made a custom three part box to display them. The three stacks of images represent the heads, torsos and legs of all 24 images. Body parts are easily rearranged. Her piece is a unique table-top invitation to touch and explore.

Sherrie Posternak Sherrie Posternak is well known for her encaustic and mixed media artwork. For this project she scanned each of the images and printed them on sumi paper. The images were mounted on a polyester/nylon spun fiber paper called Encaustiflex, using encaustic wax medium as the glue, saturating both the sumi and the Encaustiflex until each page became one complete unit. The covers are cotton quilt batting and sumi paper also saturated with encaustic medium. Bright binder rings hold the book together.

Reviving the Artist Within

For the past 8 years I have made a doll each September to commemorate my birthday. When September 19 arrived last fall, I once again went to my studio full of anticipation about what the doll would become. I gathered stuff to make her – fabrics, art papers, paints and pens along with assorted yarns, ribbons, and buttons and do-dads. I started out by painting small pieces of canvas skin tones and bright designs that could become clothing or arms and legs. I had the intention to assemble the doll after lunch when the fabrics had dried. But my “vibe” had changed and I discovered that at there was no in doll in my consciousness.

I was disappointed but figured she would emerge later in the week. So I packed up all the pieces and stored “her” on the unfinished project shelf. I felt disappointed and knew that I “owed” myself a birthday doll if I was going to keep up the tradition!

For the next 3 or 4 months, I would occasionally return to the tray and fondle the pieces with the hope that on that day, the doll inside me would speak up and take form. The holidays came and went and one day I looked at all that stuff on the tray just waiting to become the doll and decided that the time had come! No more delays! I had to get the doll finished!

I began with the painted canvas drew a face on it and cut out her head. Immediately she developed a persona and became the centerpiece for the doll. I found the right yarns and fabrics in my “stash” and by the end of the day she had emerged fully and completely!

I’m describing this process to illustrate the point that creativity is not easy. Getting started on a project can take forever!! I find it difficult to work on something unless I have a vision or an idea that I can pursue with enthusiasm.

I think one reason why I have produced so little finished work these past few years is because I’m out of practice and have let my creative juices dry up. I haven’t pushed myself to enter shows, or take on projects unless there is a specific reason to do so.

The other element of art-making for me is recognizing that I must be more patient with myself. It’s harder to start an art project if you haven’t been to the art table in months. Daily cutting, pasting, painting, drawing, printing keep all these skills at the front of your brain – ready to call upon when a particular challenge comes along. I have not been a daily art maker.

Recently I’ve been journaling about my lack of art production. It’s clear to me from all this soul searching that I benefit when I have some form of art-making as a daily practice. It makes me happy and I look forward to seeing what I discover each day during that time at the art table. The more I practice my art, the more likely I am to start and finish projects.

The quarantine is helping! For the past month I’ve been showing up at the art table most days. And my life has been much more enjoyable. I’ve spent time drawing and painting the flowers in my yard. I’ve started up this blog again. I’m having fun in the kitchen trying out new ideas. It seems like l that my muse has come back to entertain me.

I’d be interested in hearing from you about how you are motivating yourself to be creative and nurturing your inner artist.

“Imagination should be allowed a certain amount of time to browse around.”
Thomas Merton