'Modest recording instruments': Science, surrealism and visuality

David Lomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cross-disciplinarity of surrealism demands a broader inquiry than traditional art history permits. The proliferation of graphic traces in the repertory of scientific imaging practices from the mid-nineteenth century onwards is explored in this article as a background to surrealist visual automatism. New mechanical technologies for the registration of invisible bodily and psychic processes brought about a revolution within representational practices whose far-reaching implications for surrealism are assessed. The article tracks specific references to graphic traces in surrealist imagery but also posits a more general influence in terms of a possible reception of the drawn or painted automatist line as the indexical trace of unconscious psychic forces and energy fluxes. A vital tool in the production of scientific knowledge, the appareil enregistreur was synonymous with values of precision and objectivity that were the hallmarks of an experimental scientific approach and it is discussed here in relation to a notion of experimentalism in surrealism. © Association of Art Historians 2004.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-695
Number of pages68
JournalArt History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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