Amongst her Surrealist counterparts, Kahlo was notorious for her racy, downright erotic contributions to the Exquisite Corpse genre. But like Kahlo, many of the game’s devotees used it to experiment with styles or modes of representation that pushed them beyond their own day-to-day practices. In particular, they were enamored with the exercise’s inherent spontaneity and dependence on chance. As Surrealist poet Simone Kahn, an early adopter of the game, remembered in a 1975 essay
, “We were at once recipients of and contributors to the joy of witnessing the sudden appearance of creatures none of us had foreseen, but which we ourselves had nonetheless created.”
Exquisite Corpse was hatched in 1925 by the Surrealists
, Jacques Prévert, and
during one of their ritual hangouts on Paris’s Rue du Château. Breton had effectively founded the movement a year prior, formalizing it with his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto
. That text called for art that engaged the unconscious by using dreams and automatic drawings as creative fodder. One way of unlocking psychic space, according to Breton, was through games—and he and his cohort were constantly inventing them.
One of their favorites was the old parlor game called Consequences, in which players took turns writing phrases that eventually formed an absurd story (sort of like an early version of Mad Libs
). Before long, Breton and his compatriots swapped words for drawings, dubbing the new game Exquisite Corpse, after a sentence that emerged during a round of Consequences: “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.”
Surrealists immediately took to the collaborative game. Many of the movement’s practitioners played it regularly, almost addicted to the automatic drawing it inspired.
“The suggestive power of those arbitrary meetings…was so astounding, so dazzling, and verified surrealism’s theses and outlook so strikingly, that the game became a system, a method of research, a means of exaltation as well as stimulation, and even, perhaps, a kind of drug,” Kahn wrote. “From then on, it was delirium. All night long we put on a fantastic drama for ourselves.”