B. France 1894-1954
“Lucy Schwob, who created the alter ego of ‘Claude Cahun’, manipulated photographic images of herself as Cahun, costumed, disguised and/or masked, which comprises one of the [twentieth] centuries first coherent bodies of work by a woman artist to call into question the very possibility of a unified self.” (Mirror Mirror, Whitney Chadwick)
“[H]er iconography of a fluid transgendered identity derived [in part] from the Dada and Surrealist explorations of sexuality and androgyny evident in Marcel Duchamp’s (1887-1968) gender-bending reinvention of himself through his alter-ego Rose Selavy. Articulating gender and sexuality as positional rather than fixed , Cahun’s self-representations continually return us to the ways that images, even those based on the most personal aspects of our self-identity, derive their meaning in the world from the complex sets if social and cultural signs ands codes on which we depend to make he world legible.
It is also possible to exaggerate the signs of femininity until it becomes almost impossible to locate a ‘self’ in the artifice of display and surface elaboration.” (Mirror Mirror, Chadwick)
“a restless need for metamorphosis […] her creative work was her form of rebellion against any idée fixe about Woman in general and herself in particular. Boasting about her dilettantism her eccentricity, and her unapologetic ambiguity, she used her work to disrupt ideas of gender, social identity, and femininity that were too restrictive…” (Rice, Shelley, Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, Massachusetts: MIT, 1999)
Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Untitled: Cahun and mirror image (1928), print from original black and white photograph [Frye Art Museum, Seattle WA, Sept 24-Feb 12].
Masquerade & Identity
“Cahun’s oeuvre, with its consistent play with the instability of identity, its frequent deployment of masquerade, its penchant for masks and mirrors, is startlingly close to the terms of contemporary feminist thinking about identity, gender and sexual difference.” (Imaging Others, Rice)
“The notion of gender as masquerade, like Judith Butler’s conception of gender as fundamentally performative, resonated strikingly with Cahun’s work not merely because of the recurring appearance of costume and masks – the self as an affair of smoke and mirrors – but because it appears to enact the most radical part of Riviere’s argument. Womanliness, in Riviere’s account, did not mask something beneath it (say the pre-Oedipal, polymorphously perverse, lost continent if primal femininity) but was itself a vacancy, an emptiness.” (Imaging Others, Rice)