Without a doubt, it is her self-portraits that have aroused the greatest interest among theoreticians of contemporary culture. Here the artist uses her own image to expose, one by one, the clichés of feminine and masculine identity. Claude Cahun (née Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob) reinvented herself through photography (just as she did in her writing), posing for the lens with an acute sense of “performance,” whether dressed as a woman or as a man, with her hair short, long or shaven (which was extremely incongruous for women at this time). However, to speak of identity is also to speak, indirectly, of the body, and by the same token of the self-image that one projects and that becomes social as soon as it is shared. Unlike other artists – mainly men – who made portraits but never or very rarely exposed their own person to the lens (Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, André Kertész), Claude Cahun was at once the object and the subject of her artistic experiments. This is borne out by the care with which she chose her poses and expressions, the backgrounds she used (fabric, bedspreads, sheets, hangings), and her use of specific props (masks, capes, overgarments, glass balls, etc.) – even if the real focus of the image was still the face.
Some of these propositions can be found in the photographs of objects that she began in the mid-1920s and developed throughout the 1930s. The exhibition emphasises the highly innovative quality of these experiments in which she explores questions and visual and symbolic procedures (staging, superposition of photos, photomontage) that continue her speculations on self-metamorphosis.
François Leperlier and Juan Vicente Aliaga
Exhibition coproduced by Jeu de Paume, Paris, la Vireina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona and The Art Institute of Chicago.
> The Jersey Heritage Research Centre holds a large collection of photographs and documents dedicated to Claude Cahun.
The catalogue of this collection is available on http://www.jerseyheritage.org/research-centre
> Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago