Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beware of Domestic Objects: Claude Cahun

Prenez garde aux objets domestiques - Claude Cahun

I am reading a book (Disavowels) by Claude Cahun (25 October 1894 – 8 December 1954)... a pseudonym for a woman who explored gender identity ... and many other things. She was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France. Cahun was a name on her maternal side of the family. In the early 20's, she settled in Paris with her long-time partner and stepsister, Suzanne Malherbe. Malherbe (who adopted the pseudonym "Marcel Moore") collaborated with Cahun on various written works, sculptures, photomontages and collages. By World War II they were living on the island of Jersey -- part of the Channel Islands. [Why is it that the Channel Islands never come up ... then this year I read Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and then a few months later ... I become fascinated with Claude Cahun? I love that sort of thing. And what led me to Disavowels was my interest in a book called Rrose is a Rrose is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography -- Cahun's self-portrait which is above ... is on the front cover of the book. I LOVE THAT PHOTOGRAPH. Plus, I've been reading a lot about Marcel Duchamp (aka Marchand du Sel) and the Putteaux Group. Life is funny that way.]

Cahun and Moore were very active in the resistance and had a front row seat -- the Germans occupied Jersey during the war:
Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazi's crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing them in soldier's pockets, on their chairs, etc. Also, fliers were inconspicuously crumpled up and thrown into cars and windows. In many ways, Cahun and Malherbe's resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. [source: Wikipedia]
You can read more about Cahun here.

And you can watch a slide show of her photographs and collages here:

Fascinating! I can't wait to read more.

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