The current exhibition, Against Nature: the Hybrid Forms of Modern Sculpture, draws our attention to the fact that hybridity is a central theme for the modern condition, and that the theme of hybridity in art has for over a hundred years been in some way a reflection of the changing nature of human subjectivity in the modern age. Hybridity has been the theme of a number of exhibitions of recent years which have explored the notion, its attractions and anxieties, from the perspective of contemporary sculpture, installation, and digital media. The unsettling and uncanny character of, for example, Thomas Grünfeld’s hybrid creatures or Stelarc and Nina Sellar’s ‘Blender’ , a mixture of the artist’s bodily fluids, fats, and nervous tissue, are examples of recent explorations of hybridity which suggest concerns with cloning and the kind of uber-Cartesian mind-body duality that current technology seems to promise. Such themes are now at the forefront of broad contemporary interests in the implications of technological advancement for the shifting boundaries of species identification and human self-consciousness, and yet, as the historical weight of this exhibition shows, such concerns with hybridity are in no way exclusive to the internet age.
In this paper I would like primarily to discuss the idea of hybridity as it was explored in surrealist thought, not only however through art but also through a kind of hybrid psychological identification that developed within surrealism via archaic natural or modern technological phenomena. I want to look at how we might see the surrealists’ concerns with hybridity as a force that could transgress strict boundaries of identity with potentially subversive and yet also deeply anxious consequences. The particular modern conditions of surrealism have a strong background of hybridity, and I would like to touch upon certain elements of this background, which include the Darwinian and Freudian model of the human-animal, the accelerating reality of the modern technologised human, and the peculiar surrealist adaptation of Henri Bergson’s distinction between instinct and intelligence within a fantasy of the insect-human hybrid.
Secondly, I would like to discuss certain examples from the history of surrealism and indeed its legacies that reflect a broad interest in hybridity as arguably a further manifestation of the notion of the marvellous. This is a category that is inherently characterised by its blurred boundaries. It has its origins in natural philosophy and pre-scientific discourse, and yet has been translated quite prominently in recent academic debates around surrealism through a specifically psychoanalytic discourse relating to the uncanny.