Exquisite corpse is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. It is a technique used by surrealists, and is based on an old parlour game called consequences in which players wrote in turn on a sheet of paper, folded it to conceal part of the writing, and then passed it to the next player for a further contribution.
The exquisite corpse game is played by a group of people who write a composition in sequence. Each person is only allowed to see the end of what the previous person wrote. The name is derived from a phrase that occurred when the game was first played in French, "Le cadavre exquis boira du nouveau vin." ("The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine.") While initially sentences were constructed using the verbal method, poems were later also written by it.
Later, perhaps inspired by children's books in which the pages were cut into thirds, the top third pages showing the head of a person or animal, the middle third the torso, and the bottom third the legs, with children having the ability to "mix and match" by turning pages, the game was adapted to drawing and collage. It has also been played by mailing the drawing or collage -- in progressive stages of completion -- to the players, when it is known as "exquisite corpse by airmail" [apparently regardless of whether the game actually travels by airmail or not].
Some have played the (graphic) game with a more or less vague or general prior agreement as to what the resulting picture will be, but this defeats the essentially surrealist nature of the game.
There have been variations on the original procedure, such as the Exquisite corpse wang-dang-doodle -- a type of very long, rearrangeable exquisite corpse invented by Ted Joans.
The game of exquisite corpse has been adapted to be done using computer graphics, the construction of surrealist objects, and even an adaptation to architecture has been proposed. Exquisite corpse films have even been made, at New York University for example.
"Totems Without Taboos," organized by the Chicago Surrealist Group at the Heartland Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, was the first exhibition of exquisite corpses in the United States.
The San Francisco Cacophony Society performed the Exquisite Corpse game using a theater full of people with banks of typewriters.
See also: Cut-up technique; Eat Poop You Cat; magazines, journals, and novels titled Exquisite Corpse