Exquisite Corpse (from the original French term Cadavre Exquis) is an old game or technique invented by Surrealist artists (Jacques Prévert, Yves Tanguy, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp) around 1900. It is a method by which a set number of words or images is collectively assembled. The original concept is to randomly combine images, words or text parts from different participants. Usually the first player will start to draw an image or write a word on a piece of paper, fold it in a way that hides what has been done, and then pass it to the next player who will continue the drawing or the sentence without knowing what was done before.
One of the earliest games resulted in the sentence „Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau“ („The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine“). Surrealists like Breton, Tanguy, Kahlo, Miro, Man Ray, Jacqueline Lamba and Dali produced exquisite corpse drawings, too – one artist doing the head, a second the torso, a third the legs.
From a simple sentence to a complete story, this exercise is a way to push our creativity to produce something interesting. In 1931, The Floating Admiral is the first detective novel based on this principal. In total, 12 different authors (included Agatha Christie) participated in this project. In this specific case, each author had to read the previous chapter before to be able to write the next one, but not the ones prior, or upcoming.
This game is also very popular in a graphic way. At the beginning it was a game for three participants: one drew the head, another the torso and the third the legs. Sure enough the game evolved to the creation of something more than characters. You could start a full drawing of whatever, fold the paper in a way that the next just saw a little bit of the end of the drawing in order to be able to continue it. This can run as long as you have players or as long as your paper is 😉
The exquisite corpse is the perfect example of what it means to work together without working together. It is a nice exercise to force yourself to develop a bit more of your own creativity. The game is refreshing because of the unexpected result, and sure, if you’re bored with text and drawings, it’s up to you to push the limit and to find new applications of it, doing a film for example… Collaborating may not be the right word, in fact, because exquisite corpses are about individuals creating something beyond anyone’s control. The result of this collaboration can’t be compared to any other creation. It is something funny, unpredictable and results most of the time with a lot of nonsense.
However it also creates something new and unexpected every time. Sometimes this may push the boundaries further than a collective effort, where everyone builds on the other participant’s ideas, as those can also be limiting to one’s own creativity.
So the next time you are thinking about a collaboration or an evening with friends, consider starting off with a piece of paper, a pencil and your collective creative freedom.
Text: Nicolas Simoneau. KALTBLUT Magazine.