St. Petersburg arts community kicks off international Exquisite Corpse game

In mid-August, the legs started to arrive in small wooden crates, nestled in Styrofoam peanuts to protect them from damage. Each was carefully secured to hide them from prying eyes.  

No, it wasn’t a shipment of rare animals, but the first step in an exceptionally creative game called Exquisite Corpse. 

St. Petersburg’s artistic community is not known to take a back seat when it comes to cool new ways to showcase their talent. But Exquisite Corpse is definitely taking out-of-the-box thinking to a new level.

“Exquisite Corpse is a game that has been around for about 100 years or more, but this is the first time it’s been translated into a 3D art form,” says glass artist Josh Poll of Zen Glass.

Exquisite Corpse stems from a turn-of-the-century, old-fashioned parlor game in which people added sentences, paragraphs or even chapters to a story that was passed around among friends.  

It’s also known as a surrealist drawing game, in which participants fold a piece of paper into thirds, with each person adding a different body part, from the toes to the head, without knowing what the others have drawn. The end result is unexpected, quirky and fun. 

St. Petersburg artist Jeremiah Jacobs thought it would be fun to add an interesting, modern twist. Why not make it 3D?

Earlier this year, he approached fellow artist Salvador Saint Germain with the idea. They in turn sought out Ann Marie Cash Levasseur, managing director of local internet radio station, Rhino on Air.  

An avid fan of the arts and the local arts community’s go-to marketing expert, Levasseur loved the idea.

“I saw it as a great marketing tool and a good opportunity for our local artist community to gain greater exposure,” says Levasseur. “We want the world of art collectors to get an idea of the amazing talented people who have chosen St. Petersburg as their home.”

The group also thought it might be fun to take the game international and Exquisite Corpse International was born.

A total of 30 artists have been invited to participate, from 3D sculptors specializing in ceramic, steel, glass, mixed media and wood, to 2D fine artists working on canvas. Twenty-four are local; one is from the U.K.

Secrecy is key to creativity

Sarah Thee Campagna, who creates 3D CyberCraft Robots, from her home workshop in St. Petersburg’s Kenwood neighborhood, was one of the artists invited to participate.

“When Sal talked to me about this, I knew he would choose great artists to participate,” says Thee Campagna. “3D art often gets short shrift so anything I can do creatively to be involved is great.”

One of the interesting aspects of the game is the secrecy involved.  

It wasn’t until the launch party at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg on July 30, that the artists found out exactly who else was participating in the game. Some had never met each other before then.

Each of the artists will be working in three-person teams – but they won’t find out who the other team members are until everything is completed. 

“The artists can post videos or photos on Facebook of them working, but they can’t show any aspect of what they are creating,” says Levasseur.  

The rules are fairly straightforward. Each artist is assigned either a leg, head or torso. It can be male, female or gender-neutral; fantasy, sci-fi-horror, macabre, or humorous; animal or insect. And it can be created in just about any medium. Artists have 21 days to complete their section before passing the corpse to the next person.

A prototype corpse for inspiration

At the art museum, the wooden crates and canvases were lined up on stage, waiting to be distributed to the first group of artists.  
“I feel like it’s Christmas looking at all these crates,” said Jacobs, who helped emcee the program.

To give the group some inspiration, he unveiled a prototype corpse that he, Saint Germain and Poll had put together – a creature with a blown glass head, a lifesaving device around its metal torso, and legs and feet fashioned out of clay with one foot wearing a flipper.

“This is really something special and exciting,’’ says Poll. “Working together with other artists secretly is pretty awesome and the idea of taking it 3D is bending our minds.”  

November 12 is the date when the completed “Parade of Corpses” will be on display at an “Exquisite Evening” event open to the public at the Museum of Fine Arts. It will also be the first time the artists see their completed projects.

“It will be exciting to see how it all comes together,” says artist Mark Mitchell.  “I love how differently artists can interpret the same thing.”

Levasseur says the plan calls for shipping the Parade of Corpses on tour throughout the U.S. and overseas. The group is currently in discussion with various museums and galleries, including venues in Manchester, U.K. and Japan. The corpses are expected to arrive back in St. Petersburg by September 2016 just in time to launch Exquisite Corpse International II. 

Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.
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