Friday, December 13, 2019

Two Exceptional Lives

Starting where I left off yesterday, the photographs depicted at the end of the last post are seen in the background at right. A suspended installation is in this room, titled Water Songs. It is by Hannah Claus, whose background includes Mohawk and Kanien'kehaka First Nations.

Another floor involved a very different kind of exhibit, inspired by two artists I was not familiar with, but whose story is a compelling one. Facing Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore mixes together photographs of the two artists with contemporary interpretations of their style.

Their story is an unusual one, shared in panels on the walls. Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe were artistic partners, step-sisters, and lovers in France, prominent in Paris cultural life and the surrealist movement during the 1920s and 1930s. They took the gender ambiguous pseudonyms Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, planned out and staged dream-like and creative photography and collages together, some of it deeply personal. They moved to Jersey when the Second World War came, and when that island was invaded, they would even be active in the Resistance in their own way. They were gender fluid decades before that term was defined, choosing ambiguity in their appearance, saying that the line between masculine and feminine depended on the situation. Some of the photographs of Cahun, with Moore behind the camera, have a masculine look to them. Others are androgynous. And others are feminine. The two women referred to themselves in a gender neutral way, and their lives and artistic expressions were about subverting cultural expectations of their time. 

As fits an unusual pair, the contemporary interpretations are unusual. HEX: Begin Again is a 2019 short film by the artist Laura Taler, using multiple images of herself, all talking in unison. Cahun and Moore would use mirrors in some of their work.

And then there's something very different. Dayna Danger is an artist whose background includes Indigenous family. Large photographs of three women, including herself at the centre, wearing BDSM masks, are featured. The masks themselves are exhibited close by, a mix of leather and bead embroidery, more elaborate than the usual one would see out of BDSM. This reflects Cahun and Moore's perspective on the interest at the time among fellow surrealists about BDSM. 

Here we have a photograph of Cahun, taken by Moore. A nearby panel includes a quote by Cahun: "under this mask, another mask. I will never finish removing all these faces." The multitude of masks, including the one on Cahun's face, is a response to how other Surrealists were depicting women as powerless. 

Another photograph of Cahun, taken by Moore, and taken again by me as I moved on to other spots in the Gallery. I hadn't known their names at all before visiting this exhibit, but left finding the two intriguing. Tomorrow I'll show you the work of another woman, a Canadian,who's also the subject of a retrospective here.


  1. Such interesting exhibits; I could lose myself for a long time in those galleries.

  2. Oh! In the first one I thought of insects!
    So sad there are still people who believe in man and woman as a couple and being only.
    The mask looks a bit scary, indeed, and, yes, powerless underneath you must feel.

  3. BDSM … is not what I think it is ... right? 😅

  4. @John: it is quite a building.

    @Iris: that's true.

    @Francisco: thank you.

    @Ella: it is exactly what you think. And nothing like that 50 Shades nonsense.

    @David: I found them compelling.

    @Gattina: it was.

  5. the first image, it looks like it was snowing!

  6. Hello, it is an interesting exhibit. The mask look a little spooky to me. Enjoy your day, have a happy weekend!

  7. So interesting about Lucy and Suzanne. Thank you for sharing it!

  8. Fascinating story about two exceptional women. I am intrigued by their unusual lives.

  9. Very intriguing photos of museum display ~ ^_^

    Happy Moments to You,
    A ShutterBug Explores,
    aka (A Creative Harbor)

  10. Their exhibitions show a lot of variety, which makes it interesting.

  11. What a fascinating pair. They were certainly way before their time.

  12. I'm not always a fan of installations but I do like that one a great deal. The masks are a little odd by interesting.

  13. very cool, i enjoy the 1st shot. it almost looks like those dots are flying or at least moving??! super great weekend for you, rainy here. take care. ( ;

  14. Interesting. The photos with the mirrors are my favorites.

  15. It looks an interesting exhibition, although I can sometimes find that the contemporary interpretations are a little too unusual for me …

    All the best Jan

  16. What an interesting exhibition, very different.

  17. A bit creepy, especially the last three photos, very interesting though.

  18. @Tom: it does.

    @Eileen: it does seem spooky, but intricate too. The usual masks would tend to just be leather, or rubber.

    @Marie: I found it a fascinating story.

    @DJan: they did lead interesting lives.

    @Jennifer: that it was.

    @Carol: thank you.

    @Marleen: definitely.

    @Sharon: very much so.

    @Jeanie: I agree.

    @Beth: thank you.

    @Jan: they stand out.

    @Padre: quite different.

    @RedPat: I can see that.

    @Jan: that can be.

    @Bill: indeed.

    @Gemel: quite so.

  19. An interesting exhibit, even more so given their era.

  20. Those women were certainly ahead of their time, at least from what I know of that time. Like others, the masks don't do much for me.

  21. Fascinating, I like the installation in the first photo:)