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Room 419 Öyvind Fahlström. Opera, 1952-53

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Created in 1952-1953, Opera is a liminal work in Öyvind Fahlström’s career as it boldly sums up his engagement with French surrealism while also anticipating the combinatory approach that would become the hallmark of his concretist period. At a first analysis, the work’s overall structure seems indebted to André Breton’s notion of automatism and the drive to create new languages that characterized the work of André Masson. An exploration of writing seems to have been the scroll’s original impetus, as hinted by Fahlström’s sense of wonder at the discovery of the felt-tip pen. At a closer look, however, Opera exposes a process of discovery for the artist as the initial dense chaos evolves onto a formidable sequence of forms that allude to recognizable elements, such as alphabet letters, words, and architectural floor plans. The proliferation of forms throughout the scroll is impressive for its eclecticism and variety of sources, contemporary and ancient. Indeed, the discoveries associated with Opera constitute the beginning of Fahlström’s conceptualization of concretism, which he will publish the following year and which will guide his career from then on.