Absurdity in art creates bizarre juxtapositions that expose, and question conflicted, even dangerous, aspects of life which have become normalized. Absurd art appears in troubled times, subverting moments of extreme contradiction in which it appears impossible to think differently. For example, Dada (1917–1923) used nonsense to reflect the nonsensical brutality of WW1. The power to unsettle in this form of art rests in disrupting the world of the viewer and positioning them as interlocutors in a new framing. Absurdity in art reveals the absurdity that is inherent in life and its institutions, breaking the illusion of control. It can help us to comprehend the ‘incomprehensible’ in other species and spheres of life. In the challenge of anthropogenic climate change, how might the absurd capture the strangeness of current times in which a gap is widening between the earth we live ‘in’ and the earth we live ‘from’? This article explores qualities of the absurd in art as a possible way in which to grasp and reimagine ourselves beyond the anthropocentric, focusing on the work of the artists John Newling (b. 1952, UK) and Helen Mayer (1927–2018, US) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932, US), known as ‘The Harrisons’.
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