All photos: Gerard Garvey / Gayletter

Artist ITEM IDEM's (Cyril Duval) creation for PERFORMA 13 focuses on investigating core components of Surrealist imagery, by mimicking & translating its timeless oniric fantasy through the prism of contemporary culture (beauty pageants, fashion presentations...), whilst investigating XIXth century signals which might have nurtured the symbolic at work behind the notorious art movement.

French romantic & symbolist poet Gerard de Nerval's (1808-1855) unique originality & life trajectory act as a revealing precursory embodiment of Surrealist themes, & the mystical references to occultism, numerology & astrology he constantly applied to his life in poetry, sometimes standing as proto-dadaist pranks or hoaxes intended to produce contemporary shock values "pour epater le bourgeois."

Perfuming his beard, wearing spectacles in bed to envision dreams better, no story mixing romanticism, dandyism, onirism, & mysticism could have been better unbodied than through the urban myth of Thibault the lobster, Nerval's legendary companion he would notoriously have walked in the Jardin du Palais-Royal in Paris, attached to a blue ribbon.

André Breton himself, almost a century later, even acknowledged Nerval's 'supernaturalism' as Surrealism's most direct antecedent, whilst Dali, the movement’s most iconic figure, would appropriate the reference of the mythical decapod with his 'Lobster Telephone' (1936), smartly defining a notorious & influential piece of his own iconography.

But furthermore than a tragic example of his life commitment to the failing psychoanalytic self-remedy he applied to his troubled somnambulism & possible schizophrenia; what stands out from the legacy of Nerval's shattered existence is a vivid interpretation of his desperate obsession with Symbolism & the occultism behind the Tarot, as a poet entirely focused on his dead-end commitment to walk the lucid dream & blur the distinction between onirical worlds & waking reality; or what Nerval would himself unambiguously emit as "Le reve est une seconde vie."


Cyril Duval (b. 1977, Paris), working under the fictional alter-ego brand name item idem, is an artist and designer, producing work situated within the intersection of conceptual practices, visual communication, industrial design, marketing/branding, & public art. Duval’s work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1 (NY), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin); Garage Center for Contemporary Culture (Moscow); Mori Art Museum (Tokyo); NADA Art Fair (Miami), or the New Museum (NY). He is also the founding member & co-president of Shanzhai Biennial.

The decontextualization of pseudo factual cultural elements is inherent to item idem's work within the performative medium. In 2008, he staged in Amsterdam a beauty pageant for toy puddles to introduce his lecture on art & economics, whilst in 2009, he appeared on stage with five doppelgängers all dressed with reverse suit jackets & bowler hats as direct references to Renee Magritte.