Gender-bending Surrealist photographer
Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954) was a French artist, photographer and writer. Her work was both political and personal, and often played with the concepts of gender and sexuality. She was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes. Cahun began making photographic self-portraits as early as 1912, when she was 18 years old. She moved to Paris in 1918 to study Literature, but ended up finding her vocation as an artist and photographer there, at a time when the Parisian arts scene was exploding with experimentation.
Cahun work was tied to the Paris Surrealist school of the 1930’s, along with André Breton and others. She cannot be strictly categorized as a surrealist, however— while some of her works, notably collages in collaboration with her life partner and fellow artist Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe) are more clearly related to the Surrealist aesthetic, much of her photographic oeuvre seems oddly independent of any single movement. Cahun’s photographs record an extraordinary life, and are the record of an enormously prescient artist whose chief concern was transforming and transcending her self. She created herself, and singled herself out.
Her most famous works are a series of self-portraits taken mostly in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Sporting a shaved head and staring intensely into the camera, or laying in a bed of leaves like some parodied version of Ophelia, dressed as a man, a buddha, an eerie doll or a “proper” lady at a portrait sitting, Cahun multiplies her guises and disregards boundaries of gender, desire, and even person-hood.
Claude Cahun worked closely with her life partner Suzanne Malherbe, who worked under the artist’s name Marcel Moore. The two women met in high school in Nantes and remained inseparable until Cahun’s death in Jersey in 1954. Their relationship began as a clandestine one, but after a few years they lived openly as a couple, at a time when same-sex relationships between women were tolerated
Cahun and Malherbe were ardent political activists and nearly paid with their lives for their resistance efforts during World War II. They were living on the island of Jersey when Nazi troops occupied the island. The two women (one of whom, Cahun, was Jewish) printed and distributed anti-Nazi propaganda tracts aimed at German soldiers, and written in German. They were arrested in 1944 and condemned to death by the Gestapo, spending the duration of the war in prison.
The end of the war led to their release in 1945, but Claude Cahun’s health had deteriorated. She stayed in Jersey with Malherbe despite wishing to return to Paris and reconnect with her Surrealist circle, but continued to produce photographs in spite of her fragile condition. Cahun died in Jersey in 1954. Malherbe died in 1972 and was buried with Cahun.
There Will Be ________ / Greystone, 2012
Since I first worked a wedding at the Greystone Mansion which is nestled on the hillside bordering between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, I have been fascinated by both the stunning property and it’s mysterious, tragic and scandalous history. I worked a few weddings there in my time as an event planner and have been enthralled by the stories from various guards working the venue who are convinced the site is haunted by the two men who died there back in 1929. There is some room for debate as to what happened the evening of the murders/murder suicide, but the golden-age Hollywood crime has some believing that there is some unfinished business on the property.
While tossing out some old magazines this week I came across images from artist Kerry Tribe's 2012 exhibition based on the history of the mansion and filmed on the actual site.People are rarely allowed inside of the house so this piece also offered a view of the property most never get to see. Not to mention the various takes the artist gave on the events that transpired in 1929.
Kerry Tribe’s new work There Will Be ________. is centered around her 30 minute film Greystone, which walks viewers through the famously mysterious suicide deaths (or was it murder?) at Greystone mansion on the night of February 16, 1929. On that night, at the Beverly Hills abode of oil-baron heir Ned Doheny Jr., he and his assistant and longtime friend (and possibly lover?) Hugh Plunkett were both found shot dead.
Tribe’s piece was shot on location at Greystone and wanders through five possible narratives that re-construct what might have occurred that fateful evening. The only words spoken in the piece are appropriated from the scripted lines of films actually shot in the mansion (62 feature films have used the mansion as a set).
Monica Bonvicini - She Lies (2010)
"A permanent installation floating in the fjord by the Oslo Opera House in Norway. 39 feet above the water surface, the sculpture turns on its axis on a concrete platform with the tide and wind.”