[July 27 2011]
For an artist whose faces were so many, this major retrospective chronicles the transgressive character of artist Claude Cahun. Series of photographs, drawings, book art and photomontages illustrate her life, alongside her own literary work of political radicalism and poetic thought.
Rising to cult status in the Eighties, Cahun was born Lucy Schwob. Metamorphosing her identity through neurotic persona switches, from seductress to punk and masculine with a shaved head (1928), her performance anticipates the signatures of artists today like Cindy Sherman, exploring sexual difference and
identity in their social and cultural constructs. As member of the Surrealist circle with friends Andre Breton and the poet Paul Eluard, her interest in the aether through Symbolism, Surrealism and Eastern doctrines are evident in later works, showing Cahun as meditative Buddha, or Le Chemin des Chats: Cahun extravagantly attired on one of her notorious, mystical cemetery wanders with her pet cat on leash. Cahun’s obsession with disguise transcends into expressions of fetish – her legs in erotic fishnets or from a distance, tied up in the nude on a beach. Her concept of a ‘theatre of objects’, manifests itself in ephemeral still lives – a newspaper figure with a black leather cap stands menacing in one. In a time of rising Nazi totalitarianism and her looming arrest, its symbol becomes that of her defiance, her own form of militant propaganda, her art synchronised to her own activism.
Claude Cahun is on view until September 25 at the Jeu de Paume Gallery, 1 Place de la Concorde, Paris.
Photo and text Sophie Pinchetti