Duchamp, Marcel. (1887-1968): "Esquivons Les Ecchymoses Esquimeaux Aux Mots Exquis" - SIGNED Screenprinted Disk Trial Proof
Exactly which films Duchamp was working on at the time are unknown. In the early 1920s (sometime between 1923 and 1926), we know that Duchamp got the idea of making a film that combined his interest in optical experiments with his fascination for puns and word games. On July 28, 1921 (the occasion of Duchamp's 34th birthday), Henri-Pierre Roché, John Quinn and Jeanne Robert Foster visit Duchamp and his brother Jacques Villion in the latter's studio on the Rue Lemaître in Puteaux where they admire Le Cheval by Duchamp-Villon and a bicycle wheel on which Duchamp has attached his spirals for filming, an event that was recorded by Roché in his diary (C. H.-P. Roché, Carnets: Les Années Jules et Jim, Première Partie 1920-21 Jim, Marseille, 1990, p. 295). Man Ray also describes his filmmaking activities with Duchamp, but seems to confuse sessions that took place in Paris with those that took place in New York (M. Ray, Self Portrait, London, 1963, pp. 99-100). Man Ray was now living in Paris and, together, they worked on this project by attaching circular-spiral designs that Duchamp had made to his bicycle wheel, spinning them, and filming the results. At some point, Duchamp decided to intersperse the optical forms with examples of his puns. Most of the puns that he selected had appeared in earlier publications, but here--by attaching small-scale marquee letters to the surface of a cardboard disk, which was in turn glued to the surface of a 78-rpm record--their text was arranged in the pattern of a corkscrew or spiral, matching the pattern generated by the spinning spiral disks. The process of making the film was laborious and time-consuming, for in those days film speed was so slow that moving images tended to blur. It was necessary, therefore, to shoot the entire film frame-by-frame, placing each disk on the bicycle wheel and moving it only a millimeter at a time before opening the camera lens for the next exposure. "The thing took us a week or ten days to do it," Duchamp later recalled. "It was a little jerky at times, because we didn't do it very very well" (From an unpublished interview with Sidney, Harriet and Carroll Janis, 1953, transcript, p. 86). The results was a film called Anémic Cinéma, an appropriate title, some might argue, for during the entire seven minutes of its duration, the audience is subjected to a continuous viewing of revolving spirals, the pulsating action of which could easily cause some members of the audience to become nauseated.
Among the most popular and gracefully rhythmic of Duchamp's puns is the one that reads ESQUIVONS LES ECCHYMOSES DES ESQUIMAUX AUX MOTS EXQUIS. This sentence was first published in a slightly variant form as "Nous estimons les ecchymoses des Esquimaux aux mots exquis" (We esteem the bruises of the Eskimos of exquisite words). Duchamp's puns have always presented a challenge for translators, but the puns in Anémic Cinéma were skillfully translated and analyzed in an article by Katrina Martin. Excerpts of her translation of the ECCHYMOSES pun follows: "Let us flee from (cleverly and with some disdain) the bruises of the Eskimoes who have exquisite words."
The present label was produced for the 1968 SMS Contrepetrie Record. SMS Portfolios were a collaboration between William Copley & Dmitri Petrov which they published through their Letter Edged in Black Press, working with some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Exemplifying the community ethos of the '60s, Copley sought to produce a new form of art journal that would bypass traditional institutions to distribute the artist's work directly to its audience instead. Copley accepted contributions in almost any medium, carefully reproducing each artwork in his Upper West Side studio. All contributors, from the world-renowned to the obscure, received the same sum of $100 for their work. Presented without comment, each portfolio was mailed directly to subscribers every two months. Only six portfolios were produced, in an edition of 2000. Each portfolio contained from eleven to thirteen artist objects. The SMS edition record for which this label was produced is a seven-minute recording by Duchamp of "contrepetrie," a word play involving transposing words, letters, and syllables and their sounds to make puns and effect new meanings.
A. Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. II, New York, 1997, p. 711, no. 416 (illustrated).
R. Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1959, p. 172, no. 162 and pl. 104b (illustrated)