Óscar Domínguez
Autonomy and autoeroticism
in Surrealist sabotage and the war on work
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Chapter 3 demonstrates how surrealism applied its aesthetic sabotage tactics into the realm of its visual art production through an extended case study of artworks in different media from the 1930s by the Spanish surrealist Óscar Domínguez, all of which represent scenes of work or work-tool dysfunctionality and interference. The first section situates an analysis of Domínguez’s representations of work tools in the context of surrealism’s final overtures to the PCF and its participation in protests against fascism in 1934 – as well as the June Strikes that shook France in 1936, just as the Spanish Civil War was about to erupt. This contextual framing anchors an argument that Domínguez’s preoccupation with representing the subverted work tool during the 1930s can be seen as part of a surrealist critique of ideologies of productivism and authoritarianism through a celebration of worker and artist autonomy and self-management (autogestion) via artistic themes of autoeroticism and occasionally, autodestruction. The second section consists of an extended iconographic and contextual reading of Domínguez’s striking painting Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle (1934–35) in relationship to cultural histories of female sexuality. A lengthy formal analysis of this oil on canvas reveals the presence of a quasi-covert set of sexual references about women’s sewing-machine work, which are in turn corroborated by a substantial nineteenth-century historical discourse tied to the garment industry and domestic labour about the sewing machine as an involuntary autoerotic device for the secondary labour force of hyper-exploited female workers.

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