Claude Cahun Exhibition-Exeter

Claude-Cahun

Claude Cahun

The Artist

Claude Cahun was a gender neutral nom de plume of Lucy Schwob born in 1894 in France. She adopted the pseudonym in 1917 to free herself from the narrow confines of gender.

In her lifetime she was more known for her writing and aligned herself as surrealist initially, later distancing herself . Having fled to Jersey to escape the Nazis she was active in the resistance during the island’s occupation. Finally arrested, she never got over her treatment in prion and died in 1954 . Only posthumously was her photography recognised.

As a fan David Bowie said “I saw a little of Cahun’s work in Paris a hundred years ago and then I heard that she had a show in the UK last year. I just had to get her for the High Line. You could call her transgressive or you could call her a cross dressing Man Ray with surrealist tendencies. I find this work really quite mad, in the nicest way (Tonight’s high line – David Bowie recommends… – David Bowie official Blog, 2007).

 

The Exhibition

Exeter Pheonix hosted the Haywood touring gallery running from Fri 22 Jan 2016 – Sat 05 Mar 2016 with the  Gallery open from 10am – 5.30pm daily (excluding Sundays). It has free entry.

Set in three rooms with  a minimalist presentation.

The exhibition of forty two contemporary giclée prints puts the photographer at the focus of the work and explores gender fluidity and a little surrealism.

She used masks frequently in her work but this exhibition was entitled ” Behind this mask”  from her own quote  “Behind this mask, lies another”  and mainly consisted of pictures of herself mostly unmasked but in different personae (Claude Cahun: Beneath this Mask, 2016).

 

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Themes

According to the exhibition information “Cahun settled in Jersey where she embarked upon her defining photographic series, in which the subversion of traditional portraiture and the constructed nature of identity and gender are pressing concerns.”

She act out diverse identities–both male and female–in scenes ranging from severely simple to elaborately staged.


Giclée “It is based on the French word gicleur, which means “nozzle” (the verb form gicler means “to squirt, spurt, or spray”)”(Johnson, 2004).


Reflection

Initially I was disappointed to be viewing scanned copies naively believed that this might be originals (my mistake as this was clear from website). Apparently the negatives are lost, so the originals are unique (Claude Cahun: Beneath this Mask, 2016).

Equally having them behind glass with harsh minimalist fluorescent lighting was unhelpful and detracted from my enjoyment because of the reflections. Clearly the native size of the prints was 10’x 8″ but a few blown up and scattered as embellishments in the exhibition would have added interest.

cindysherman-untitled-211-1990Cindy Sherman

The monochrome images are rather stark and the contrast unforgiving. The content and intent is more interesting and needs reflection and study rather than a superficial scan to see the message. They seem intentionally unflattering in some instances.

On a personal level this resonates with me, from the  title onwards. However, I need more time and study to get beyond my initial thoughts of how brutal I found the images. They remind me of concentration camp victims. Technically the contrast, lack of colour ( not unexpected) and a lack of beauty of the image (it is the antithesis of a portrait). A phrase I have used in the past is ..all very clever but I wouldn’t have it on my wall.

LP- Learnt the origin of the word Giclée. Posh name for inkjet. Didn’t really appreciate it was just a marketing spin.

Don’t make assumptions on what you are going to see

Exhibition presentation- Putting images behind glass and harsh lighting detract from my (and perhaps others viewing pleasure) 

Further research

I hope to attend the informal tour of the exhibition on 6th Feb by artist and educator Nicci Wonnacott to gain additional insights particularly ongoing influence on Cindy Sherman and David Bowie.

 

 

References

Websites

Claude Cahun: Beneath this Mask (2016) Available at: https://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk/events/claude-cahun-beneath-this-mask/ (Accessed: 27 January 2016).

Tonight’s high line – David Bowie recommends… – David Bowie official Blog (2007) 18 May. Available at: http://www.davidbowie.com/news/tonights-high-line-david-bowie-recommends-21926 (Accessed: 27 January 2016).

Books

Johnson, H. (2004) Mastering digital printing, Second edition. 2nd edn. United States: Cengage Learning.

Image

Cindy Sherman – biography & art – the art history archive (1975) Available at: http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/photography/Cindy-Sherman.html (Accessed: 27 January 2016).

 

Bibliography

Harrington, R. (2014) Claude Cahun| A photographer you should know. Available at: http://photofocus.com/2014/02/23/claude-cahun-a-photographer-you-should-know/ (Accessed: 27 January 2016).

LP- Learnt the origin of the word Giclée. Posh name for inkjet. Didn’t really appreciate it was just a marketing spin.

Don’t make assumptions on what you are going to see

Exhibition presentation- Putting images behind glass and harsh lighting detract from my (and perhaps others viewing pleasure) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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