In celebration of Valentine’s Day, here’s the second of three posts celebrating some of the artists who make us weak in the knees.
“Don’t kiss me, I’m in training”
Gender benders make me swoon – from Judith Butler to Lady Gaga, I just can’t help myself. Most alluring of all are the visual artists whose works are characterized by slippages, sauciness, and shifting identities – the masculine, the feminine, and beyond. Claude Cahun, who began making photographs over 90 years ago, created images of unimaginable complexity.
Portraying a multitude of personas, her photographs pre-figure Cindy Sherman‘s work but with a surreal twist. She often stares into the camera with a fierce gaze – in braids and theater makeup, or a saucy driving jacket. In one carefully composed image, her perfectly round bald head sprouts twice from the same neck – two Claudes in one. Constantly shifting ground, her photographs and writings de-center gender in ways both playful and extremely serious, and deal with sexuality in a manner that defies labels.
Her biography is a remarkable one. In the 1920s she began living with her stepsister, who went by the name Marcel Moore. Lovers and collaborators for life, they moved to the Island of Jersey in 1937. During the war, they created a secret counter-propaganda office to produce literature in opposition to the Nazi occupation. Imprisoned and barely spared execution, they made it out of the war alive, although Cahun passed away soon after, in 1954.
In Disavowals – or Cancelled Confessions, a recent English translation of a series of “poem-essays” originally published in 1930, Cahun’s narrative voice shape-shifts over the course of nine sections, many of which are equally literary and lusty. Seriously, you might find yourself blushing… Of art she writes:
“art is the very great morose delight,
A sad and tender attempt to immortalize our
To remember passing love.”
Information and images from: Don’t Kiss Me: The Art of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore