A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|Consequences, Head, Body and Legs, Reviews and Le Cadavre Exquis|
|This page attempts to
record what is known about the origin and history of the
parlour games known as Head, Body and Legs, Consequences
and Reviews and their surrealist development Le Cadavre
Exquis (also known, in English, as the Exquisite Corpse).
Please contact me if you know any of this information is
incorrect or if you have any other information that
should be added. Thank you.
Head, Body and Legs
The game of Head, Body and Legs appears in 'Every Little Boy's Book', which was published by Routledge, Warne and Routledge in London and New York in 1864. In this game the paper is divided into three parts. One person draws a head on the top third, folds the paper so as to conceal what they have drawn, then passes it on to a second person who draws the body without knowing what the head looks like. A third person draws the legs in a similar way before the strange creature they have created is revealed.
Page 762 of Cassell's Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes, published in London in 1882, describes the parlour game of Consequences in which part of a strongly structured story is written on a sheet of paper which is then folded to conceal the writing before being passed to another person who then writes another part of the story on the paper which is then folded to conceal it etc and so on until the story is complete. The completed stories are then unfolded and read out. The point of the game is the amusement caused by the disconnect between the various parts of the story. The first sentence of the description states, 'The old-fashioned game of Consequences is so well known that there are doubtless few people who are not thoroughly acquainted with it.' In this version the parts of the story are:1, One or more adjectives 2, Gentleman's name 3, One or more adjectives 4, Lady's name 5, Where they met 6, What he gave her 7, What he said to her 8, What she said to him 9, What the consequence was 10, What the world said about it.
The version that I remember playing as a child in the 1950's was very similar except that we did not include the adjectives.
The April 1887 issue of the American children's magazine St Nicholas contained a reader's letter, in the Letterbox column, which described a game called 'Reviews' which also uses paperfolding in a similar way.
Le Cadavre Exquis
In his book 'Dada & Surrealist Art', Thames and Hudson, 1978, William S. Rubin writes, 'Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution.The technique got its name from results obtained in initial playing, "Le cadavre / exquis / boira / le vin / nouveau", and 'It was natural that such oracular truths should be similarly sought through images, and the game was immediately adapted to drawing, producing a series of hybrids the first reproductions of which are to be found in No. 9-10 of La Révolution surrealiste (October, 1927) without identification of their creators. The game was adapted to the possibilities of drawing, and even collage, by assigning a section of a body to each player, though the Surrealist principle of metaphoric displacement led to images that only vaguely resembled the human form.'
A collaborative Cadavre Exquis drawing by Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Morise, 1928. The creases where the paper was folded to conceal the previous parts of the drawing are clearly visible.
Andre Breton, writing in the catalogue of an exhibition at La Dragonne, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris, 7-30 October 1948, entitled "Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation" asserted that 'The Exquisite Corpse was born, if we remember correctly (and if that is the proper expression), around 1925 in the old house at 54 rue du Chateau, since destroyed.' and that '... we had no difficulty in agreeing that the Exquisite Corpse method did not visibly differ from that of 'consequences'. Surely nothing was easier than to transpose this method to drawing, by using the same system of folding and concealing.' and 'These drawings represent total negation of the ridiculous activity of imitation of physical characteristics, to which a large and most questionable part of contemporary art is still anachronistically subservient.'
Wikipedia states 'but Pierre Reverdy wrote that it started much earlier, at least before 1918', but I have been unable to verify this reference.