In Alice, Jan Svankmajer’s 1988 feature length adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the titular narrator instructs the audience to close their eyes “or they won’t see anything.” She demands we close off reality and enter a dream-like world of Svankmajer’s creation, where sawdust-stuffed rabbits break free from their display cases, and pin cushions and socks transform into hedgehogs and caterpillars. The Prague-born filmmaker has occupied this oneiric realm throughout his career, from his debut short The Last Trick in 1964, in which marionette-like magicians perform outlandish tricks by multiplying their bodies and bringing furniture to life, through to the psychoanalytic dreamscapes of 2010’s Surviving Life (Theory and Practice).
Whether live action, animation, or, most often, a combination of the two, Svankmajer’s work celebrates the power of imagination in all its facets: absurd, fantastical, allegorical, and often unsettling. Svankmajer takes mundane reality and sculpts something uncanny: pebbles dance in formation in A Game with Stones (1965); steaks embrace in Meat Love (1989); diagrams step free from the page in Historia Naturae, Suita (1967). His stop-motion clay work makes corporeal forms fluid and erratic – see the grotesque assembly of Darkness, Light, Darkness (1990), or the melting busts in Dimensions of Dialogue (1983). His Food trilogy (1993), meanwhile – featuring human vending machines, Swiftian pica and self-destructive gluttony – still has the ability to put viewers off their dinner, as do the meaty, disembodied tongues that crop up throughout his filmography.
This year, art collective 85A have transformed The Glue Factory into a 'kunstkammer', or cabinet of curiosities, of which Svankmajer himself would surely approve. The exact film selection is not yet known, but the evening’s poster contains multiple clues – for starters, we spy Punch from 1968’s Punch and Judy, and the spiked typewriter from 1969’s A Quiet Week in the House amongst the miscellany. Each individual film will be screened in its own specially-constructed theatre, with costumed performers promising to “[coax] his surreal imagery off the screen and into life before you!” By smudging the line between onscreen and off-screen worlds, 85A promise an unusual, unique take on the Svankmajer canon, and whether you’re an existing acolyte or a curious newcomer, this surreal voyage is not to be missed.