Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A dream book


Article by JMB

I have recently mentioned one of Maurice Henry’s most remarkable books: ‘Les métamorphoses du vide’ (Void’s Metamorphosis). This is a very original piece of work, the characteristics of which need to be detailed.

As an early and important contributor to the surrealist movement, Maurice Henry was naturally interested in hypnotic sleep, in lucid dream and in simulating delirium. Showing the absurd and revealing the richness of the unconscious have truly marked Henry’s work. After the war, he set out to create a book which, as an object, aimed at using dreamlike metamorphosis. From 1952 -when he signed his publishing contract- to 1954, the project went through a number of misfortunes. The book was finally published in 1955.


This is an amazing book -a dream odyssey during sleep- wherein Henry uses a clever system of caches and cut out figures to animate his story. These devices are meant to coordinate the various changes of scenery and characters and of the figurative or abstract compositions.


Some copies of Henry’s book, those with a yellow, cut out cover, are very rare. Technical difficulties such as punching out thick cardboard meant that this particular design had to be abandoned. The open book -see the above picture- shows the cut out of the inside front cover, as well as the first page, through which some of the drawing can be seen when the book is closed.


All other copies from the last run have a different black and blue design –as shown above- with no cut out cover.


Whatever the cover type may be, it is a book (21 x 27 cm) of 64 unnumbered pages fully coloured. Some pages, as for example the right one (on the above picture) are cut out in such a way, to allow various readings, by superposing and combining. This clever technique thus enables the most amazing transformations. Scenery, characters and abstract forms blend together to suit the dream traveller till his waking. Below, there is an example of this process of rearrangement of the drawings which can be found in 6 successive pages of this book.




Throughout his life, the dream was a favourite theme for Maurice Henry. His first collection of poems, ‘Les abattoirs du sommeil’ (Slaughterhouses of Sleep) was published in 1937. ‘L’adorable cauchemar’ (The Adorable Nightmare) which was the last of his books of poems, was published in 1983.


An anthology of his cartoons ‘Voyages du rêveur’ (The Dreamer’s Travels) was published in 1979. This is a hardback book (23 x 30 cm, 159 pages) in black and white, with some drawings which are obviously closely connected to the title.


I’m dreaming that I’m dreaming that I’m dreaming that I’m…


Do you ever dream?

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