Mons en Lumières : Between Poetry and Surrealism

For this first edition and to celebrate the 100th anniversary of surrealism, the route’s running theme will be surrealism and poetry.

This surrealist movement is deeply entrenched in the memory of la Cité du Doudou (Mons).

The history of Mons and its region is linked to surrealism through different rapidly-created artistic groups, such as ‘Rupture’ in 1934, the ‘Groupe surréaliste du Hainaut’ in 1939 and the ‘Surréalistes révolutionnaires’ formed in 1947. Leading figures like René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, Achille Chavée and Marcel Lefrancq or Armand Simon all come from Hainaut. Thus, for a number of years, the BAM (Mons Fine Arts Museum) has been organizing exhibitions around this theme, such as ‘Surrealism in Belgium 1924-2000’ or other monographic exhibitions dedicated to Fernand Dumont, Giorgio de Chirico and, more recently, Joan Mirò.

Our goal is not to reproduce past actions, emanating from the principle that surrealism is not a movement, but from a mindset that expresses a different opinion over time. Undoubtedly, we have never adequately considered the urban and social dimension of this movement. It is within this context that British artist, Robert Montgomery, was solicited to put forward forms of poetry to give the event its tone and spirit. Through his urban poetry, he fully embodies what we were looking for: a contemporary platform of expression interspersing the route, infiltrating our outlook, creating emotion and inquiry throughout our stroll around the city.

“This long necklace of wasted time… We will spend at least one day trembling with liberty around the neck of the drifting and silent statue of our life.”

This poem, written by Robert Montgomery, was inspired by a poem written by Fernand Dumont. The Scottish artist took his inspiration from the memory of Mons. For a long time considered to be a conceptual artist, his frame of reference resides in poetry, words which, for numerous decades, he has attempted to implant in an urban world that advocates mockery, images and clichés.

Robert Montgomery

Contemporary British artist, Robert Montgomery, combines poetry and visual art to create pieces that have an evocative power, distorting advertising signs to use as vehicles of urban poetry. His innovative work explores the borderlines between concrete poetry and textual art, taking inspiration from Belgian surrealist poets like Paul Nougé, Paul Colinet, Fernand Dumont and Irène Hamoir.

On display in the collections of renowned museums, his pieces incorporate social and environmental themes, transmitting a poignant message through public art.

For Mons By Light, his illuminated and metallic installations take inspiration from architecture and surrealist poetry, transforming the streets of Mons into a poetic urban landscape, captivating the public through the fusion of light and words.

“When I was asked to create pieces for the first light festival of Mons, I was very enthusiastic, especially when I was told about the theme, namely the celebration of 100 years of surrealism. The first edition of La Révolution Surréaliste was published in Paris in 1924. In the 1990s, when I was studying painting at the Edinburgh College of Art, I discovered the poetry of André Breton and Paul Éluard (by reading them in English translations by Samuel Beckett and Paul Auster). These poems had a fundamental influence on me. In fact, this is what made me decide to use text in my work. Before reading the surrealists’ poems, I was just a painter.

After reading them, I wanted to be both a painter and a poet. Therefore, these poems really changed the course of my work and my life. Something special happened when Beckett and Auster tried to translate Breton’s and Éluard’s work from French into English – they had to push the limits of the English language to achieve what the surrealists had and push it to do things that it could not do before. The way I use language in my work and the reason why I use it in the first place, is always strongly influenced by Breton and Éluard with the help of Beckett and Auster.”