the limited edition artists’ book – THE UNKNOWN HEROINE, posted in Boulder, CO, April 22, 2021

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is a 64-page limited edition artists’ book made by conceptual artist Sherry Wiggins in collaboration with photographer Luís Filipe Branco and curator and writer Cydney Payton. The book is comprised of text and images that are based on Wiggins’ interaction with French photographer and writer Claude Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” The book includes this essay by Claude Cahun as well as an essay by Cydney Payton. You can download Payton’s essay below. The book was designed by Joseph Logan.

PROLOGUE FOR C.C. – Sherry Wiggins

I am writing to you, C.C., about what happened in The House.

The House, named Grunfoort after a castle that disappeared long ago, was strange at first. It was beautiful, old-fashioned. White tulips grew in the garden. Aren’t they a symbol of loss? I saw them for their other meaning—regeneration.

Persephone called to me. Or was it Demeter? Daughter or mother? This always confuses me.

I brought your Heroines* with me. The stories (allegories, para­bles) are so good, so complicated, filled with references to history, to the Bible, to literature, mythology, fairytales, and they are so wickedly feminist and modern: EVE THE TOO CREDULOUS, Penelope the Irresolute, HELEN THE REBEL, SAPPHO THE MISUNDERSTOOD, SALOME THE SKEPTIC, BEAUTY (OR THE TASTE FOR THE BEAST), THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess, THE ANDROGYNE and the rest. I want to make all of your Heroines my own.

As I delved into the tale of “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” allusion by allusion, I understood that, though the story is yours, this is really my story. And though you tell the story well, I have lived this story. I also realized that The House was the perfect setting for the tale, a perfect abode for both THE WIFE and the the Princess.

That’s how it all began—the embodiment, this practice, this the­atre—with me enacting the story—your version, my version, our version, in The House.

I took my role as THE ESSENTIAL WIFE quite seriously, and the the Unknown Princess emerged as well. I dressed in black. I pulled my hair back severely. Lots of makeup—Chanel and more. Was it a parody, a performance or truth? The truth, is an older woman looks better with makeup, not too much.

I am no actress. I have become a performance artist. Who knew? Maybe you knew, C.C.; you did all that theatre in Paris in the twenties. I love those images of you as The Devil, The Buddha, The Dandy, The Maiden. Identity is a fluid subject, but you already know that.

Day after day I performed quite well—almost not a performance— as THE ESSENTIAL (House) WIFE. What drudgery! What fun! Well, the the Unknown Princess certainly appeared too. It was all somewhat exhausting: the cooking, the cleaning, the play acting. I needed lots of cigarettes in the garden.

That last morning, while putting on makeup, eyeliner, red lip­stick in the upstairs bathroom, standing there in my tights and Spanish socks, I thought, Why not? I went to the banister and posed. What do you think, C.C? Am I THE ANDROGYNE? 

Still performing, I put on my robe and went into The Study, the most beautiful room in The House. The windows, the light . . .

What do you think, C.C.? What is a Masterpiece anyway? Masterpiece or not—who decides?

* Claude Cahun, “Heroines,” translated Norman MacAfee, in Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, ed. Shelley Rice (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1999), 43 – 94.

You can download the pdf of Cydney Payton’s essay “A Room of One’s Own” below:

All 19 performative photographs in the book were made in collaboration with Luís Filipe Branco. All 19 images are also available as limited edition archival digital prints.

All photographs of the book were made by Robert Kittila.

Please contact me if you would like to receive a copy of the book.

A brief biography of Claude Cahun – posted in Boulder, CO, April 22, 2021

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Untitled ( I am in training don’t kiss me), 1927, gelatin silver print ,4 5/8 x 3 ½ inches, Jersey Heritage Collection.

For many of us, French artist Claude Cahun has materialized as a kind of queer superheroine. Cahun first appeared on the world art stage in the early 1990s, nearly forty years after their death, when French scholar François Leperlier intro­duced Claude Cahun’s written and photographic work in the monograph Claude Cahun: l’écart et la métamorphose. Since this introduction, Cahun has been well examined, repub­lished and widely exhibited. Today, the artist Claude Cahun is lauded as a feminist, performance artist, photographer and Surrealist writer.

Claude Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France in 1894. Early in life Schwob identified as androgynous, resisting a gendered life. As a teenager, Lucy met Suzanne Malherbe; they became best friends and would later become life partners. Lucy’s father married Suzanne’s mother, making them stepsiblings as well. By the end of World War I, Schowb identified as Claude Cahun and Malherbe as Marcel Moore. The pair moved to Paris in the early 1920s. Cahun came to be well regarded as a writer, performer and artist even within male-dominated Surrealist circles; Moore was equally acknowledged for their original drawings and illustrations.

Cahun was a prolific writer. Two of their most signifi­cant literary works are Héroïnes and Aveux Non Avenus. Héroïnes (Heroines) was first published in 1925 as a series of fifteen short stories and monologues. It remains a radical text that decon­structs gender roles and stereotypes in Western literature with such figures as Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho and Androgyne. Aveux Non Avenus (DISAVOWALS), first published in 1930 as a limited edition artists’ book, takes the form of a literary mon­tage: a compilation of dreams, stories, poems and philosophi­cal musings. In this complex work, Cahun approaches some of their favorite subjects, including love, narcissism, gender and androgyny. Each of the nine chapters begins with a unique pho­tomontage made by Cahun and Moore.

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, photomontage for the book Aveux non Avenus, 1930,  original size for publication,8 7/16 x 6 ½ inches, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Library.

Throughout the many years Cahun and Moore spent together, it is almost certain that Moore was behind the lens— shooting most of the exceptional black and white portraits that Cahun inhabited. These images appear to us as intimate explo­rations of identity, gender and selfhood. Until the late twenti­eth century, these groundbreaking photographs remained in relative obscurity, with the exception of their use by Moore and Cahun in the elaborate photomontages produced for the book Aveux Non Avenus.

118mm x 94mm (whole) 107mm x 82mm (image) also neg

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Untitled (reflected in the mirror), c.1928, Jersey Heritage Collection.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project is a modern retelling or interpretation of Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (one of the fifteen essays in Heroines). The resulting performative photographs can be viewed as a tribute to the work of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and to their collaboration.

Please read my blog post about “the limited edition artists’ book-THE UNKNOWN HEROINE, posted April 22, 2021

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE – the exhibit and the book coming in March and April to Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver – posted Feb 21, 2021

All images by Luís Filipe Branco

I am thrilled that THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project, initiated in Holland in the spring of 2019 with photographer Luís Filipe Branco, will be exhibiting at Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver in March and April and will also be available as a limited edition artists’ book—all during Month of Photography in Denver.

This project began with my investigation of French, feminist, surrealist writer and artist extraordinaire Claude Cahun (1894-1954). My research into Cahun led me to their groundbreaking feminist text, Heroines, first published in 1925. Here, Cahun traces the stories of fifteen heroines‑Eve, Sappho, Delilah, Cinderella, Helen and Judith among them. Cahun updates these well-known (and some lesser known) heroines with panache and humor and points out the gender oppressive characterizations that these heroines have endured over the last few centuries and millennia.

One of the essays in Cahun’s Heroines is titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (the the is not a typo). This heroine of Cahun’s is written as an archetype of a more ordinary woman. I chose this specific essay and character to enact and embody because I have lived out these roles of “The Wife” and “the the Princess” (albeit a self-proclaimed princess). The OBRAS Artist Residency in Holland was the perfect setting for my performance of this character; located in a beautiful Victorian house in the small village of Renkum. My long-term collaborator, photographer Luís Branco, joined me there. The house presented a variety of mise-en-scène for my performance. We shot thousands of images of me in the rooms and gardens of this house. This was an intense experience for me, perhaps more cinéma-vérité than performance art. Luís captured these charged and sometimes unsettled moments in rapid fire. These images appear as revealing and personal portraits of an older woman‑the unknown heroine. I started writing a text in Holland as well. The text is stream of consciousness in form and mirrors Cahun’s style.

Early on, I enlisted curator and writer (and dear friend) Cydney Payton to help me with the project. She has been an invaluable and trusted contributor: working with me on the text; helping with the selection of images and just recently she has written an incisive essay for the book. Joseph Logan, my step son and talented book designer, has skillfully and graciously designed the book that documents this project. The small but beautiful 64-page book includes: 19 of the color and black and white images that Luís Branco and I made together; my own experimental text; the essay ”THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” by Claude Cahun; and Cydney’s essay “A Room of One’s Own.” The book is going to print and will be available in the middle of March. The exhibit will be at Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver March 9th to April 17th 2021.

Following are some of the images and text from the project.

The house was beautiful in an old-fashioned way.

There were white tulips in the garden.

Her hair was like a snare. She found some truth in being there.

She saw herself in “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” This was her story and that of countless others.

That’s when Talking Heads played. Stop Making Sense.

She thought, “Why not please him?”

There were the small things, . . . the pearls he shot on her eyes.

. . . the the Unknown Princess dreaming with a cigarette in the garden.

It was all about the gaze. That history being everywhere.

As the Dutch Study filled with light . . .

The question became: What is a Masterpiece?

Many thanks are due to friends and family near and far who have given time, support and their responses to this project. I owe tremendous gratitude to Carolien van der Laan, Ludger van der Eerden and and Josien Jongejan of The OBRAS Foundation. I am very grateful to Mike McClung and Warren Campbell of Michael Warren Contemporary for their support of this exhibition and book. A big thank you ALL AROUND!

Mike and Warren create a safe environment in their spacious gallery during these times. Of course masks are required. We have scheduled a timed opening event and a book signing event that you must sign up for on-line to maintain social distancing. For my friends in Denver and Boulder I am more than happy to schedule a time when I can meet you in the gallery and discuss the exhibit and the book more privately.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE – March 9-April 17, 2021

Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO

Gallery Reception: Friday, March 12 (4-8PM) must register on-line

Book Signing: Saturday April 10 (12-5 pm) must register on-line

Phone: (303) 635-6255 Website: https://www.michaelwarrencontemporary.com/

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the book.

Encarnações em Portugal / Incarnations in Portugal – February 9, 2021 posted in Boulder, CO

All images by Luís Filipe Branco


Woman Rising, 2019

Spring is on the horizon and I am looking forward to Month of Photography in Denver in March. I will be showing my performative works produced with Portuguese photographer Luís Filipe Branco in several shows in Denver. We will be exhibiting THE UNKNOWN HEROINE at Michael Warren Contemporary March 9th to April 17th. THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is a photographic and book project that I initiated with Luís in Holland in 2019 while at the Obras Artist Residency in Renkum. We will exhibit this project as an installation of photographs and text at Michael Warren Contemporary. I am also producing a beautiful book of text and images with the help of Cydney Payton and my step – son and brilliant book designer Joseph Logan, with accompanying essays by French artist Claude Cahun and Cydney Payton. The book will be available during the exhibition. I will be posting more about this project, the book and the exhibit, as Month of Photography draws nearer.

I will also be exhibiting several of the works I have made with Luís in Portugal in three different Month of Photography group exhibitions in Denver. Following is a selection of works made at OBRAS – Portugal in the spring of 2019 with Luís Branco. Looking at this group of images I think – who is that scantily clothed woman? She is so free and unconstrained in the landscape. It is as if I become someone else in Portugal, I seemingly transform, I am reborn into many different women – Incarnations / Encarnações. This body of work is particularly poignant to me this spring, as I view this older woman (me) in the verdant spring landscape. This rural region in Portugal, the Alentejo, is close to my heart. Portugal is now undergoing a very difficult time with the pandemic. We will be exhibiting these works in 2022 in Portugal in a large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work made in the Alentejo over the last 6 years – “The Mirror Between Us”  in the beautiful Igreja de Sao Vicente in Evora. This exhibit has been rescheduled with the Municipality of Evora for spring of 2022 because of the covid pandemic.


Outside Woman I, 2019.

The woman is ghostly/ mysterious in the b&w image Outside Woman I. There is a kind of reverse voyeurism going on when Luís shot from the inside out. This work will be shown in the exhibit “Eye of the Camera – Myths and Legends” at the Littleton Museum March 19th to April 26th juried by John Barnabas Lake.


Outside Woman II, 2019.

Primavera III, 2019

Nude Chair, 2019

Nude Chair was selected for the fabulous ongoing Mark Sink project THE BIG PICTURE 2021. THE BIG PICTURE is a massive undertaking which Mark leads – grand scale contemporary photography is gathered from artists around the world and expanded as Xerox prints that are displayed in galleries and in outdoor locations throughout Denver and around the globe.


25th of April, 2019

Luís and I made this image on the 25th of April, 2019. This is the date celebrated in Portugal as the date in 1974 of the “Carnation Revolution.” This is when the military and civil resistance in Portugal overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo regime and thus began the Portuguese democracy. Carnations were offered to the soldiers and placed in their gun muzzles and on the lapels of their uniforms.


Shepherd’s Umbrella, 2019

This work Shepherd’s Umbrella, will be exhibiting at Redline Contemporary Art Center in the large group exhibit “Shame Radiant,” conceived and curated by Todd Herman. The Alentejo region of Portugal is known for it’s cork trees, vineyards and the sheep and pigs and cows that inhabit the region. This really is a shepherd’s umbrella.


Seat at Evoramonte, 2019

This work Seat at Evoramonte will be exhibiting at the Littleton Museum in the “Myths and Legends” exhibit. This image was taken on the mountaintop at Evoramonte in Portugal. This is a magical mountain with a castle on the top and one of my favorite places in Portugal. I have incarnated in several forms on this mountain . . .

I am excited to be exhibiting in Colorado this spring. Month of Photography programmers, Michael Warren Contemporary and all the galleries and museums are doing extraordinary jobs at keeping culture going safely; timed openings, zoom artist talks, instagram everything … We owe much to these tireless cultural workers for all their efforts over the last year. Big air hugs to all!

Twenty Twenty, The Magic Mirror and Claude Cahun – posted in Boulder, CO December 29, 2020

Mirror at Santa Susana, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, 2017.

The image above, Mirror at Santa Susana, was to be shown in the exhibit The Mirror Between Us ‑a large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work made over the last five years in Portugal that was scheduled to open in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente in Évora in April 2020.

2020 began, for me, with the excitement of preparing for the exhibit The Mirror Between Us. I had returned to Portugal in Oct 2019 to plan the exhibit, sponsored by the Municipality of Évora and the OBRAS Foundation. Curators and friends Ludger van der Eerden and Carolien van der Laan and photographer Luís Branco and I had the exhibit planned, produced and ready to install. Cydney Payton wrote an insightful essay “Mirror Image” specifically for the exhibit. Announcements were ready, my plane tickets bought, parties planned. In the middle of March, with the rising specter of covid, we decided we must postpone and reschedule the exhibit just weeks before it was to open. What a disappointment! Thankfully, Ludger and Carolien have rescheduled The Mirror Between Us with the Municipality of Évora for the spring of 2022, though this seems a long time away . . .

The good news is that this rescheduling has offered me the time to reflect, write and produce the work I had initiated with French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954) as my inspiration in May of 2019 while at OBRAS-Holland. Cahun has become a double mirror for me, reflecting in both my written and visual work.  Cahun was a prolific writer and visual artist, producing Surrealist texts as well as stunning black and white “self-portraits” (and many other forms of writing, sculptures, photo-montages) throughout their life. With Claude Cahun fully in my mind, this last spring, I began again the process of writing and rewriting text, and the editing and selection of images, and the production of my own work inspired by this remarkable artist.

First I produced My Claude My Medusa. Luís Branco and I had performed a “remake” of a photograph Cahun had made in 1915 when Cahun was about 21 years old. We shot hundreds of images of me with my head on a pillow and my hair splayed out in a similar fashion to Cahun’s iconic photograph (when I was 63 years old). When I first saw the images (of me) I said “Oh My God I look like Medusa.” I decided to exhibit the image of myself as Medusa and the reprint of the image of Cahun together (both large!) and write a poem about this enactment and embodiment with Cahun. My dear friend Cydney Payton, curator, writer and creative agitator stepped in and helped me with this poem. These works were installed and exhibited together in the exhibit “Pink Progression Collaborations” at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities this past summer and fall.

Reprint of Claude Cahun’s 1915 Self Portrait for My Claude My Medusa, b&w digital image,36 x 48.”

My Claude My Medusa, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019, color digital print, 36 x 48.”

The poem above expresses the complexity of entering into dialogue (and embodiment) with another artist who was obviously queer in today’s terminology and in Cahun’s own terminology neuter or androgynous.

“Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.”

– Claude Cahun in Disavowals

Concurrently with the development of the My Claude My Medusa project this last spring I began to pour myself back into my larger project with Cahun – THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. This was the primary project that I initiated with photographer Luís Branco at OBRAS-Holland in May 2019. Cydney Payton has been involved with this larger project from its inception as well. Luís and I shot 1000’s of images in the beautiful Huize Grunfoort in Holland‑ all based on my embodiment and interaction with Cahun’s short essay titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess.” This short story is one of fifteen essays in Cahun’s text Heroines first printed in 1925 in France and translated by Norman MacAfee into English and published in the 90s. Heroines remains a transgressive text that deconstructs gender roles and stereotypes in Western European fairytales, classic literature, and biblical stories. In this complex work Cahun approaches archetypal figures such as Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho, Androgyny and then reconstructs/rethinks these heroines into modern life with feminist acumen and sardonic humor. I selected Cahun’s essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” to contemplate, enact and perform, because this narrative (of all the Heroines stories) is closest to my own (though my own real-life story has diverged in the latter part of my life from what are considered stereotypical gender roles).  During the time in the Netherlands I also began writing my own text that I addressed specifically to Cahun.

I returned home from Holland in June 2019 and realized that I wanted to make a book with (some) of the images from Holland and my own text, an “artist’s book”. I spoke with my stepson, Joseph Logan who is a brilliant book designer in New York, and he agreed to design the book for me. I started working with Cydney on the text. Luís did some initial editing of our images with me. I started putting together short pieces of narrative text with specific images with Cydney. It was all very exciting, but I also realized I needed to give some time and space to the project to distill and find it’s form  …  I decided to put the work aside and go on to other projects for a period.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

This last spring, I was able to begin again and look a fresh at the images and the text. At a certain point Cydney and I decided that she would work as my “official” editor on the book. Over the last several months we have worked and reworked (or as Cydney describes it “burnishing”) the text and the images.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco , 2019.

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco , 2019.

Self Portrait, Claude Cahun, 1928.

Concurrently, I have continued my research into Cahun’s work and life‑examining Cahun’s Heroines text in more detail and reading their Disavowals. Both of these Surrealist style texts are complex and full of allusions to classical literature, to history and other authors, not easy reading but fascinating and compelling. I have also read some of François Leperlier’s scholarship on Cahun (though most of his work is not yet translated into English and I am not literate in French). I have continued to investigate more recent feminist and queer scholarship and critique of Cahun and their partner Marcel Moore’s life and work together.

my Claude Cahun library

A few months ago I wrote Norman MacAfee, the translator of Cahun’s text Heroines, to ask if I could use the essay “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess” (yes it is “the the” not a typo) in my book. MacAfee and MIT press have graciously allowed me to reprint Cahun’s translated essay in my book.

Joseph designed the initial draft of the book THE UNKNOWN HEROINE in November and it is going to be gorgeous! Cydney is writing an essay for the book! She has a keen understanding of this project as well as my long-term practice Searching Selves with other remarkable women artists of the 20th century. I owe tremendous gratitude to Cydney, Joseph and Luís – they have been and continue to be my “dream team” for this book and project.

Michael Warren Contemporary will exhibit the project THE UNKNOWN HEROINE as an installation of text and images March 9th to April 17th 2021, during Month of Photography in Denver. The book will be printed and ready for the exhibit. I am so grateful for Mike and Warren’s support and the support from OBRAS-Holland and OBRAS -Portugal, and for the encouragement and support of many friends and family near and far. I hope that my Colorado friends will come out to see the exhibit. I will get a copy of the book to all who want one. And I am forever grateful for the inspiration and the magic mirror of the remarkable Claude Cahun.

QUE ME VEUX –TU? (WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?), Claude Cahun, 1928.

Happy full moon in Cancer!! The last full moon of the decade. Here’s to our New Year in 2021 (and a vaccine for all) and to times when we can all be together safely.

Curating an exhibition – Shark’s Ink: The California Crew – posted in Boulder, CO October 28 2020

Hung Liu, Crossing the River: Leaping, 2003, 30 x 44 ½ ”, color lithograph

The beautiful print above by Hung Liu is in the exhibition I recently curated titled Shark’s Ink: The California Crew. This exhibit is now installed at Frasier Meadows Retirement Community in Boulder, Colorado and is part of a unique collaboration between the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and Frasier Meadows. It is a gorgeous exhibit! However because of covid restrictions, people outside of the Frasier community will not be able to see the exhibition. So I have put together a “walk-through” and document of the exhibition. It was so much fun to work with my dear friend master printer Bud Shark and his “team” at Shark’s Ink and also with the BMoCA staff in putting this exhibition together.

Introduction:

Master printer Bud Shark has been creating highly crafted fine-art prints in collaboration with respected artists from across the United States and Europe since 1976, right here in Colorado. Shark’s Ink: The California Crew showcases the prints of fourteen accomplished California-based artists made with Bud Shark over the last four decades.

You will see – golden landscapes from Susan Hall; an exuberant abstraction by Rex Ray; beautifully rendered portraits by Hung Liu; a ferocious climbing tiger from Don Ed Hardy; a cartoonish Rin Tin Tin by Roy De Forest; the digitally based abstract works of Amy Ellingson; a striking painterly print by Italo Scanga; Mildred Howard’s elegantly repurposed and collaged antique engravings; Alison Saar’s modest portrait of an African American washerwoman; William T. Wiley’s finely wrought woodcut print of the ancient biblical sea creature Leviathin; Enrique Chagoya’s sardonic but serious commentaries on contemporary culture; Kara Maria’s explosive and almost psychedelic patterned prints; Brad Brown’s delicately torn and reconfigured monotypes and Robert Hudson’s monumental lithograph that seems to refer to the abstract sculpture for which he is known.

The prints in this exhibition represent the talents of the individual artists combined with the unique artistry and vision of master printer Bud Shark.  While working with Shark and his skilled team each artist is invited to manifest their work with a variety of printmaking processes – lithography, monotype, three-dimensional prints, woodcut, chine collé, collage, digital, and hand coloring. The results are beautiful, masterful, stunning.

Sherry Wiggins  – October, 2020

The exhibit begins in the big open gallery space with the landscapes of Susan Hall and the brilliant abstraction by Rex Ray:

Susan Hall, Solitary Oak, 2012, 18 x 24”, color lithograph

Susan Hall, As the Moon Rises, 2012, 18 x 24”, color lithograph with pochoir

Rex Ray, Pyzinerol, 2010, 44 ½  x 30 ¼ ” , color lithograph

Hung Liu’s painterly portraits are hung in the main gallery:

Hung Liu, Unofficial Portraits: The Martyr, 2001, 30 x 30”, color lithograph w/collage

Hung Liu, Official Portraits: Immigrant, 2006, 30 x 30”, color lithograph w/ collage

I couldn’t resist hanging Don Ed Hardy’s finely wrought climbing tiger next to Roy De Forest’s wonderful dog print/sculpture:

Don Ed Hardy, Climber, 2011, 40 x 26”, color lithograph

Roy De Forest, Ode to Rin Tin Tin, 2002, 34 x 39  x 4” , color lithograph/woodcut in artist made frame

We juxtaposed the elegant computer based abstractions of Amy Ellingson with the large vibrant painterly print by Italo Scanga:

Amy Ellingson, Variation (White/Oak), No. 1, 2019, 32 ¾ x 30 ”, color lithograph

Amy Ellingson, Variation (White/Oak), No. 2, 2019, 32 ¾ x 30”, color lithograph

Italo Scanga, Celeste, 1991, 53 ¼  x 37”, color lithograph

In the more intimate hallway we hung Mildred Howard’s series of multi- layered monotype collages with Alison Saar’s lusciously drawn figure of the washer woman:

Mildred Howard, Assegnazioni con De Seingalt II, 2017, 20 ¾ x 17”,  collage/ chine collé/ digital/ litho 1/1

Mildred Howard, Assegnazioni con De Seingalt IV 2017, 20 ¾ x 17”,  collage/ chine collé/ digital/ litho 1/1

Mildred Howard, Incontro con Casanova: il potere dell’Altro VII, 2018, 20 ¾ x 17”,   monoprint/ digital/ litho / collage 1/1

Mildred Howard, Incontro con Casanova: il potere dell’Altro XXII, 2018, 20 ¾ x 17”,  monoprint/ digital / litho / collage 1/1

Alison Saar, Washtub Blues, 2000, 30 x 20” , color lithograph

And the magnificent Leviathin creature by William T. Wiley is hung on it’s own, this is a very large print, and incredibly detailed!

William T. Wiley, Leviathin #VIII, 1992, 26 ¼ x 78 ½ ”, hand colored woodcut

The delicate collages of Brad Brown’s are hung next to the large sculptural print of Robert Hudson’s:

Brad Brown, By and By #12, 2005, 17 x 29”, color monoprint collage

Brad Brown, By and By #17, 2005, 26 x 36”, color monoprint collage

Robert Hudson, White of the Eye, 1986, 47 ½ x 31 ½ ”, color lithograph

And the powerfully patterned prints of Kara Maria are hung next to the thoughtfully thinkfully prints of Enrique Chagoya’s:

Kara Maria, No Heroes, 2004, 22 x 30” , color lithograph

Kara Maria, Hawaiian Punch 2, 2010 , 20 x 15”, color monoprint

Kara Maria, Hawaiian Punch 5, 2010, 20 x 15”, color monoprint

Enrique Chagoya, Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over The Rainbow, 2010  24¾ x 40 ¾ ” color lithograph w/chine collé

Enrique Chagoya,The Thingly Thingness of Things , 2013, 22¼  x  30”, color lithograph

It is a fantastic exhibit and I want to thank Bud Shark – for being the remarkable artist and master printer and good guy that he is, Barbara Shark and Roseanne Colachis for all their help on the exhibit and of course the wonderful staff at BMoCA, Nicole Rausch, Kiah Butcher and David Dadone and Frasier Meadows for hosting this exhibit.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE in process… posted in Boulder, Colorado June 18, 2020

1 72 _LB24433

from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

During the last few months, while I have been relatively isolated in my home and studio in Boulder, Colorado, I’ve had time to review and produce THE UNKNOWN HEROINE project. I initiated this performative project in May 2019, while at Foundation OBRAS in the Netherlands, working with my long-time collaborator, photographer Luís Branco.

This work was inspired by an essay written by the remarkable French artist, Claude Cahun, titled “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” originally published in the 1925 book, Héroïnes. Héroïnes remains a transgressive text as it deconstructs gender roles and stereotypes in Western European fairytales, classic literature, biblical stories and modern life (circa 1925). Cinderella, Salome, Eve, Sappho and Androgyne are among the heroines Cahun renders. I have been working with the English translation of Heroines translated by Norman MacAfee that was published in the book: Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman, that is edited by Shelley Rice.*

 

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Cover of Claude Cahun’s Héroïnes (photo-montage by Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore,) Éditions Mille et une Nuits, 2006, Héroïnes was first published in 1925.

I have chosen Claude Cahun as a heroine of my own, an artist to study and embody. Cahun was born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob in Nantes, France, in 1894. Lucy Schwob chose to take the gender-neutral name Claude Cahun. Cahun became a significant artist ─ feminist, intellectual, performance artist, photographer, sculptor, Surrealist writer and a committed, even jailed, anti-Nazi activist. Claude was also a lesbian, cross-dresser, possibly transexual, but definitely gender ambiguous. Cahun lived and worked with Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe) from an early age, until Claude’s death at sixty in 1954.

For more on Cahun, please read my blog post from December 16, 2018: https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2018/12/16/my-heroine-claude-cahun-posted-in-boulder-co-december-16-2018/

I selected “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess”  to embody, enact and perform, because the story is close to my own. Cahun characterizes this double heroine with humor, compassion and astute feminist analysis. The heroine, the the Unknown Princess, is unnamed (not baptized) by her mother, the Queen, and this allows her certain freedoms. She marries, though apparently mismatched, and lives a privileged life with her husband. Cahun writes:

“They were very happy, with a goodness without egotism, because they had many children who would unite the ugliness of the father with the incorrigible beastliness of the mother.” 

As the husband and wife age, his attributes diminish, whereas she blossoms and outlives her “Lord and Master.” But “she was still a fine specimen…,” Cahun writes. When our heroine dies, Cahun prescribes her epitaph:

And the entire Race of women, recognizing themselves in this dead sister, consecrated the flat stone of a symbolically empty tomb and solemn feasts in memory of the Unknown Heroine.

There is coincidence in my own life with this story of the Wife, the Princess, the Unknown Heroine, as well as with Cahun’s life. Like Cahun, I come from an intellectual family. I have been married for most of my adult life and am ─ admittedly ─ a bit of a princess. I have raised four children and been (mostly) happy in my marriage. Several years ago, my husband of thirty-two years made the decision to transition towards a more feminine identity. I continue to live with my trans partner and her freedom to choose her gender identity has created freedoms for me as well. I live as a straight woman in queer territory and this liberates me to a certain extent ─ I no longer need to live out cisgender roles (like the Wife and the Princess in Cahun’s tale), and it has emboldened me as an artist so that my work has become more exploratory, performative and personal.

 

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

When I arrived at the OBRAS Foundation house in Renkum, Netherlands, a little over a year ago, my first thought was that this beautiful place, named after a castle, was the perfect setting to enact both the Wife and the Princess. My dear friend, writer and curator Cydney Payton, suggested that I use the architecture of the house. Luís arrived, and we worked intensely on photo-shoot after photo-shoot. Most of our previous work had been performed in more wild and natural landscapes and all had been accomplished in Portugal. Within this Dutch mansion and it’s surrounding gardens, Claude Cahun pushed me from the grave; Cydney Payton pushed me from afar; and Luís Branco pushed me right there.

Luís  and I moved through the house: the sunroom, the kitchen, the garden, the stairs, the living room, the bedroom, the study. The performances were alternately oppressive and unconstrained. Luís skillfully captured my emotions and inhibitions within these domestic spaces.

 

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

When we finished, we had thousands of images to sort through and I returned to the U.S. with a diary or narrative text as well. Cydney helped sort the images and edit my text. Her skills as both a writer and curator were precisely what was needed. Luís did color corrections and edited photographs we’d agreed upon. I printed more than a hundred of the selected images at 6″x 9″, then printed a few that I intend to exhibit at 32″x 48″ or 80 x 120 cm. I have invited curators and friends to visit my studio to see the array of photos and texts. Their responses have been very encouraging. Many have named the image below as the “masterpiece” of the project. It was shot in the upstairs study during one of our last sessions in the Netherlands.

 

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

I knew I wanted to make a book. I asked my stepson, Joseph Logan, a talented book designer in New York, to create the volume for me and he agreed. I was preparing the materials for him last summer but came to the realization that the project wasn’t quite where I wanted it. I put the work aside, went on to other projects and am happy I did. THE UNKNOWN HEROINE needed time to breathe.

This spring the covid pandemic forced Luís and I to postpone our major exhibit in Portugal titled  THE MIRROR BETWEEN US. You can read about this on my blog from April 1st, 2020 : https://sherrywigginsblog.com/2020/04/01/postponing-the-exhibit-the-mirror-between-us-in-portugal-and-a-narrative-posted-in-boulder-co-april-1-2020/

I have now had plenty of time to thoroughly review the texts and images for THE UNKNOWN HEROINE. In the editing process, I’ve discovered more images that should be included, and I’ve excluded others. I am confident there is a narrative between image and text that relates to Claude Cahun’s heroine and to my own life. The story is both personal and universal.

 

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

Luís and I have had many discussions about the image selection. There are between twenty and twenty-four images that we want to produce for the book and for exhibition as well. We are in the process now of looking at images in both color and black and white.  As well as his marvelous color images, he excels at black-and-white conversion.  Above is an image we both love in color and below is one of my favorites in black and white.

 

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from THE UNKNOWN HEROINE series, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 2019.

THE UNKNOWN HEROINE is moving along. The book format is a fresh challenge, something new to learn ─ very Cahunian! I expect to have all the material ready for Joseph’s preliminary book design this summer. We hope to produce THE UNKNOWN HEROINE as a book and an exhibition ready in 2021. Wish us luck.

*Cahun’s Heroines was translated into English by Norman MacAfee and published in Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren and Cindy Sherman, edited by Shelley Rice (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000). Exhibition catalogue, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, 1999, 43-94

 

postponing the exhibit “The Mirror Between Us” in Portugal and a narrative – posted in Boulder, CO April 1, 2020

all images by Luís Filipe Branco

As I write this post I am thinking of all my friends in the global art community – in Portugal, in Brazil, in the Netherlands, in Hungary, in South Africa, in Palestine, in Denmark, in the U.K., in Canada, in Italy, in Germany, in France, in India, South Korea, in Australia, EVERYWHERE and in the US…

 

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Two Chairs, at Herdade da Marmeleira, 53 x 80 cm, 2015

 

Photographer Luís Branco and I made the above image in 2015 on the grounds of the OBRAS Foundation (Herdade da Marmeleira). I am sitting on a chair on the stone platform that is the ruin of an old house – looking out over the rolling hills towards the nearby mountain of Evoramonte. This beautiful place in the Alentejo region of Portugal has been a very special and productive place for me over the last five years.

I had planned (until just a few weeks ago) on flying to Portugal this past week to help install the large exhibit of Luís Branco and my work The Mirror Between Us / O Espelho Entre Nós in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente in Évora and to attend the opening/inauguration that was scheduled for this coming Saturday April 4th. We have been designing and producing this exhibit for more than a year now. For the safety of all, curators Ludger van der Eerden and Carolien van der Laan of the OBRAS Foundation and Margarida Branco with the Municipality of Évora postponed the exhibit several weeks ago. Now, Portugal is shut down and the whole world is coping with the Corona virus pandemic. All the work for the exhibit is produced and in storage in Portugal. We hope to reschedule the exhibit for sometime in 2021 – oxalá / inshallah/ god willing. I hope for everyone’s health and well being now and in the future. I am writing this from the relative safety and seclusion (with my partner Jamie) of my home and studio in Boulder, Colorado.

A thought that compels me at this time is that the title for the exhibit we have planned, The Mirror Between Us, and the ideas embodied in the works themselves reflect our interconnectedness and our vulnerability as individuals and as a global community. During the current pandemic, the ability to travel and collaborate with other artists, and to exhibit in far-away places (or exhibit anywhere close by for that matter) seems like such a privilege and a treasure.

I realize for myself, personally, that the works in this exhibit (as we have planned it) document a generative and illuminating period of my life. I have had the opportunity and the freedom to travel to Portugal multiple times and to make artwork in a supportive and enriching environment at OBRAS. I have made great friendships in Portugal with artists from across the globe. I have had the privilege to work with photographer Luís Branco and develop a remarkably fruitful collaboration. We have had tremendous encouragement and support from Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden of the OBRAS Foundation. Luís and I have exhibited our work widely with wonderful responses in both Portugal and the US. I am alternately very sad not to complete this exhibition at this time and I am also extremely grateful for all the opportunities that have been given me.

For the rest of this post I will be showing several of the images that were selected for inclusion in The Mirror Between Us and at the same time recounting my experiences of working in Portugal over the last five years at OBRAS with my collaborator and friend Luís Branco. Truth be told writing is cathartic for me as well as part of my “artistic practice.”

 

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Woman Standing, Still, 120 x 80 cm, 2015

 

Woman Standing, Still was shot on the grounds by the castle that is located on top of the mountain of Evoramonte. This image was shot during my first trip to the OBRAS Foundaton in 2015. I had come to Portugal, inspired by the work of the remarkable conceptual artist Helena Almeida (1934-2018) who has used her body as the subject in her performative black and white photographs since the late 1960’s. I had asked Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden (founders of the OBRAS Foundation and art residency) to introduce me to a photographer I could work with while in Portugal. They introduced me to photographer Luís Branco. We began a collaboration that has continued over the last five years and my six visits to Portugal and one to the Netherlands and many many photo-shoots and the making of 1000’s and 1000’s of images.

This black and white image, Woman Standing ,Still, is one of the first of what I call the “masterpieces” (though I prefer to use the Portuguese term “obra-prima” which is a feminine noun and reaches beyond the gendered art historical inference of “masterpiece” and my friend Antonio Pliz says this is proper usage). Luís was very aware that I was inspired by the work of Helena Almeida. Almeida, who passed away in 2018 at age 82, is tremendously respected in the Portuguese art world (and hopefully in the entire art world). Luís understood that I was not interested in traditional portraiture but in a kind of “still” performance of feminine subjectivity similar to Almeida’s. Woman Standing, Still is one of hundreds of images that Luís and I shot that day in 2015 at Evoramonte. In this “moment” Luís told me to stop and cover my face with my hair. Later when I saw Luis’ beautiful conversion of this image to black and white I knew we were on to something. In this image I become a more universal or archetypal “subject.” It is me but it is also many women – a matriarch with her feet planted firmly on the earth with the broad Alentejo sky surrounding her.

We shot hundreds and thousands of images in 2015 – in the large studio at OBRAS (Herdade da Marmeleira) and in the surrounding landscape, on top of the castle and on the grounds of Evoramonte. Luís Branco and I initiated a fluid and intuitive working style during this period.

 

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Woman in the Canyon of the Bells, 120 x 80 cm, 2016

 

In the fall of 2016 I returned to OBRAS to work again with Luís Branco. I wanted to work specifically in a place called the Pego do Sino (rough translation – Canyon of the Bells). I had visited this site in 2015 with my dear friend Cydney Payton (who was also at OBRAS on my first visit in 2015) and my newly found OBRAS friends Noortje and Akiko. It is a beautiful rock canyon that is hidden and hard to access – but simply magical. There are tales of shamans and priests occupying this canyon, as well as a fierce goddess or deusa residing at the bottom of the canyon. Luís and I performed multiple photo-shoots in this location trying to get the right light and composition. The rocks drop off sharply into the deep canyon below and it is a little precarious. On our last photo-shoot in the canyon Rui Fernandes came and assisted us and we got this shot. I used the gauzy black cloth like a shroud and I did imagine a kind of death and a rebirth in this canyon as Luis shot 100’s and 100’s of images. For me this process is quite contemplative or meditative. When Luís converted this image to black and white I knew we had another “obra-prima” and that this process in the landscape was something special. We were offered the opportunity of a large exhibit of our collaborative works in a beautiful palace in Estremoz in early 2017. We worked with Carolien and Ludger and the Municipality of Estremoz to produce that exhibit titled Meeting Her Again/ Reencontrando-a. It opened in late January of 2017. Rui Fernandes of GMT shot and produced a 6 minute video for us that describes that wonderful exhibit. Here is the link to YouTube:

 

Meeting Her Again/ Reencontrando-a, 6 minute video by Rui Fernandes

 

In late September of 2017 I returned to OBRAS to work with Luís again. Our plan was to focus on the element of water during this intensive period. Our previous work had been more focused on the element of earth. I had been re-reading Gaston Bachelard’s (one of my favorite phenomenologists) Water and Dreams. Before arriving in Portugal I had had a dream or a vision (I can’t remember which?) of an oval shaped mirror. In my vision I had been standing in a river with this mirror facing out towards the river. During my first few days at OBRAS I wandered into the tiny antique store in the small village of Evoramonte (the center of my Portuguese universe) and found this simple beautiful mirror that I had “seen” in my vision. Needless to say I bought the mirror.

 

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River in the Mirror, 80 x 120 cm, 2017

 

Luís and I drove to the northern part of the Alentejo to the small village of Portagem near the more famous hilltop village of Marvão – searching for water. Our mutual friend António Tavares had instructed us on where to go and where to look (for water). The Sever River winds through Portagem. I swathed myself in white gauzy fabric and “wore” the mirror in the river. Again hundreds of images – The River in the Mirror is pretty much my “vision/dream.”

 

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Face Up in the Sever River, 80 x 120 cm, 2017

 

This image Face Up in the Sever River has both stillness and movement. The rock mirrors my head, the gauzy white cloth covers my face like a veil and swirls around the rock. I love the “upside down” viewpoint of the camera. The water was shallow in the river at that time. I lay down in the river, Luís stood directly over me and shot (100’s) of images while I faced the sky. This image brings to my mind different Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Ophelia, especially the famous one by Odilon Redon. Many of these images in the water, remind me of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of “woman” in nature. However, I think Luís and I turn this paradigm of the male artist and his female subject around. Our process is entirely non- hierarchical, collaborative and reciprocal in all aspects.

 

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Canyon Encarnado, 120 x 80 cm, 2017

 

That same period in the fall of 2017 we returned to the Pego do Sino (near Herdade da Marmeleira), this time to the bottom of the canyon. This is a place where few humans ever go, a place for turtles and water birds and I do believe there is a deusa or goddess of the canyon who resides there. We waded up the deep canyon through pools and more shallow areas. I had a large swath of red fabric. I drug this red fabric through the water wearing it like a cape, again hundreds and hundreds of images…. But this one, Canyon Encarnado where I am pulling the wet red fabric towards me has an intensity about it. It is as if the deusa or goddess of the canyon has entered my body. In Portuguese “encarnado” has several meanings – encarnado refers to something ‘made flesh,’ it implies the embodiment in the form of a person – of an idea, or of a religious ideal, or a divine spirit. Encarnado also refers to the color red. It can also refer to a spirit possessing someone.

 

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Dying Waters at Santa Susana, 80 x 120 cm, 2017

 

We also ventured to the southern Alentejo to the small village of Santa Susana in 2017. There is, under normal conditions, a very large reservoir close to the village of Santa Susana. In the fall of 2017 there was a severe drought in much of southern Portugal. The reservoir was almost completely empty, the earth that was normally covered by water was cracked and like a dry sponge, the small amount of brackish water was full of dead and dying fish. Here again we took hundreds of images, the apocalyptic scenery was remarkably photogenic and the fragility of the situation unnerving. In Dying Waters at Santa Susana I walk across the dry landscape towards the receding water (if you look closely you can see the dead fish).

I returned last April of 2019 to OBRAS Portugal to work again with Luís Branco. I had never been to Portugal in the spring; my previous trips had all been in the fall or winter. The fields were a verdant green. I brought with me some different fabrics – a long swath of translucent red fabric and a large amount of voile fabric that is roughly the color of my flesh, also a nude or flesh colored dress.

 

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Woman Rising, 80 x 53 cm, 2019

 

We began shooting on the path that leads from the top of Evoramonte and the castle down to Herdade da Marmeleira. I had walked down this path in 2015 with Ludger, Cydney, Rachel and Akiko. I had taken a photo of this arched stone oak tree and had it in my “mind” ever since. Luís and I started shooting in the early morning light, with the flash and without the flash – 100s of images. This image above is titled Woman Rising. It reminds me of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa.

 

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Shepherd’s Umbrella, 80 x 53 cm, 2019

 

No one else seems to like this image as much as I do. It is strange and almost funny but also intense and sad? I find it especially poignant now. In this image, Shepherd’s Umbrella, the sumptuous green environment near the Pego do Sino is the background for my body, the translucent red fabric and the big black umbrella – my “coverings”. It was stormy and rainy and I had purchased this umbrella in Estremoz – which was literally a traditional Alentejo shepherd’s umbrella beautifully crafted of wood and black canvas. I think there is a feeling of total vulnerability in this image – neither the sheer red fabric nor the large umbrella can protect me.

 

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Primavera I, 53 x 80 cm, 2019

 

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Primavera II, 53 x 80 cm, 2019

 

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Primavera III, 53 x 80 cm, 2019

 

I love this series of images Primavera I, II, III even though the flesh colored fabric against the emerald green fields is kind of creepy and weird, or maybe because of that. We shot these in the fields surrounding Herdade da Marmeleira. It is as if a strange woman / being is emerging or being born from the folds of pinkish nudish fabric in the springtime fields with the stormy sky above.

 

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Seat at Evoramonte , 80 x 120 cm, 2019

When Carolien van der Laan saw this image above for the first time, Seat at Evoramonte, she said that it looks like one of Alberto Giacometti’s drawings of his mother (I love Giacometti’s drawings, it is the sense of space). This image is one of 100’s of images we took during our last photo-shoot in Portugal in April 2019. It was a misty and atmospheric morning on the top of the mountain at Evoramonte. This is a special place and I think Seat at Evoramonte is another “obra-prima.”

I am so thankful for the opportunities to make and exhibit this work and all the support offered by the OBRAS Foundation and the Municipality of Evora to reschedule this exhibition hopefully for the spring of 2021. Again – oxalá/ inshallah/ god willing.

ALSO!! Cydney Payton’s beautiful essay about Luís Branco and my work titled Mirror Image is posted on my recent blog post of March 21st and you can also download the pdf here: Essay by Payton about Wiggins Branco_Mirror Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirror Image – essay by Cydney M. Payton – posted in Boulder, CO March 21, 2020

all images by Luís Filipe Branco

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Woman at the Bridge, 2017, 80 x 120 cm

 

The following essay was written by curator and writer Cydney M. Payton for the occasion of the exhibit The Mirror Between Us / O Espelho Entre Nós, a major exhibition of Luís Filipe Branco and my work, that was scheduled for April and May in Évora, Portugal in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente. The exhibition is now being rescheduled by the OBRAS Foundation and the Municipality of Évora for sometime in 2021 (we don’t know when yet). I am very grateful that the show is postponed. The exhibit will feature twenty-two performative photographs that photographer Luís Filipe Branco and I have made over the last 5 years in Portugal. The work is all printed and produced and now in storage in Portugal. I would like to share this insightful essay by Cydney Payton and thank everyone involved for their efforts and support of Luís and my work. The themes of fragility, reflection and collaboration that are embedded in this work have relevance for all of us at this time. You can read it here on my blog or download the pdf here:

Essay by Payton about Wiggins Branco_Mirror Image

 

Mirror Image

 “The camera is the ideal arm of consciousness.” Susan Sontag

Mere scattered light and atoms make photographs. A photograph multiplies the self into another dimension, a rotation in the vector of two objects to create a mirror image of the other. As Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography, the camera allows one to lay claim to another reality. Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco’s collaborative project The Mirror Between Us / O Espelho Entre Nós presents us with questions about female agency in such reality creation.

Today, the general nature of self-representation has become complicated by the full-throttle world of image manufacturing and collection—Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, news cycles. We are overburdened with sorting not only pictures but their implied histories and meanings. It is clear that making artistic work is far from the immediacy of a snapshot. So, when we look at the Wiggins/Branco photographs what are we to look for? The subject, easily identified as the artist Wiggins, is a woman of a certain age. Yet, it is in the broader subjects of landscape and nature that the narrative splits from that preconception. Amid lush fields and ancient cork trees, an artisanal past comes forward in idyllic even aggressive presentations of womanhood in nature.

The collaboration between Wiggins and photographer Luís Filipe Branco began in 2015 when Wiggins entered a residency at the rural OBRAS Foundation near Evoramonte in Portugal. Arriving from her home in Boulder, Colorado, Wiggins was already committed to a long-term investigation that she termed Searching Selves, a conceptual process whereby she would delve into the artistic practices of other artists. The aim was to challenge her studio practice by studying then traveling to locations where the artists lived to make work that conceptually spoke about her art and its relationship to those she was excavating. For Wiggins, intellectually and artistically embodying other artist’s work has become a unique methodology to confront ideas about female (re)presentation. At OBRAS, she’d chosen to investigate the late Portuguese artist Helena Almeida who, like Wiggins, had a history of making performative photographs.

Initially, Branco came to OBRAS to document Wiggins’ Almeida-adjacent performances. For this work—performance, photographs, drawings—Wiggins entered into an Almeida-like emotional space. Where Almeida sought to arrange the body as a performance of painting, Wiggins would arrange the body against a material structure. Branco’s first photographs of Wiggins show a woman almost dancing on an overblown abstracted red flower designed with fabric. Branco, known as a photojournalist but trained as a fine artist, wanted the chance to make his images using Wiggins in a classical sense as an artist’s model. However, once their work began things quickly changed; the making of images became more of an exchange between the two artists, a mirroring, as seen in Two Chairs, at Herdade da Marmeleira, 2015 and Two Sherrys at Herdade da Marmeleira, 2015. Over the following four years, Wiggins/Branco would create five projects with Wiggins in the roles of creative agitator, model, and director and Branco as producer and image-maker. The Mirror Between Us represents work from four of those collaborations all produced in Portugal. The most recent project, inspired by the French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954), began in the Netherlands in 2019 and is planned for production in 2021.

 

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Two Chairs, at Herdade da Marmeleira, 2015, 50 x 75 cm

 

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Two Sherrys at Herdade da Marmeleira, 2015, 50 x 75 cm

 

By creating a process of collaboration built on sites and ideas—some of which followed Wiggins continued Searching Selves investigation and others which evolved from their mutual interest in the landscape—Wiggins/Branco have generated several bodies of work largely gripped by issues of feminist presentation. By this I mean, that we cannot look at these photographs without impressing upon them the various histories of how women have been, and are, looked at. To some viewers, the largest consideration might be Wiggins’ age. By examining it, weighing it against notions of youth and beauty, we can see the agency that an older female body can have when captured by the lens against the landscape.

As we know, the notion of landscape is a modern invention. Historically, it was a word that came to represent the way gentry borrowed views thus cultivating and often stealing both image and land. In this regard, landscape implies acts of aggression, theft of property. The term arose in isolation from a true understanding that woodlands, hills, plains can never be truly owned. Landscape provided the means for nature to be lawfully bartered, traded, occupied. Borrowing a view might seem noble but it also suggests gendered exploitation of boundaries as property rights were for generations the domain of men. We can easily imagine that Seat at Evoramonte, 2019, suggests a kind of occupation by an unwanted figure on someone else’s land or expulsion of the woman in the frame from inside a home to the wilds outside. We see the body in this image precariously situated on a chair that tilts against the horizon with a single, almost skeletal tree, her hair echoing its loosely structural form. Branco has given the image weight by pushing the dynamic between the two objects—body and tree—with a sparseness that relates his work to Portuguese photographer Paulo Nozolino known for high-contrast black and white images with raw yet poetical graphic power.

 

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Seat at Evoramonte, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

 

In the series Outside Woman I & II, 2019, there is a reversal of this historic reading of the feminine body and nature. Until the nineteenth century most women, those without wealth and status, were held captive by domestic roles that led them to be rarely seen unaccompanied outside. Even peering from a window was seen as dangerous; the female body uncontained and being of nature posed a threat to male sexuality and power. In the photographs Outside Woman I & II, the woman is not only literally outside the window but she is draped in sheer flesh-colored fabric seemingly autoerotically possessed, drawing us into a conversation about statuary and ancient goddesses. Aphrodite comes forward but it is pre-Hellenic goddess Astarte in her aspect as the “Queen of the Evening Star,” a goddess of love, who resides in Wiggins’ provocation.

A more contemporary view suggests that the female form in Outside Woman I & II, being released from the bondage of domesticity, finds its natural footing unbound in nature while the camera with its implied maleness—to aim and shoot—remains trapped inside. Still, it has to be acknowledged that there is an edge of voyeurism to the images, a tilt of the power toward the lens and its operator. However, the woman appears unaware of the presence of being viewed—being shot—deferring the position of power to an external body of viewership such as us.

 

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Outside Woman I, 2019 80 x 120 cm

 

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Outside Woman II, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

 

The coupling of these two artists—female and male, artist and cameraman—court criticality. Issues of power and sexuality are entwined with any reading of the work. These are issues in this era not to be overlooked. The bargain that is being struck between informed audiences and the image makers is that the work holds value in the presentation of the very ideas and concepts that might be objectionable in feminism; that we can gauge the power that is being brought into question, seeing it lob back and forth between the two artists.

Ultimately, the structure of this collaboration is directed by Wiggins’ incisive pursuit of self through reflection. It becomes evident in the repetitive figuration and performative practice that is being worked. However, Branco’s role is more than one of an absorptive responder, it requires attunement and mediation of technical and ephemeral factors. From Sontag, we also learn, “Photographs don’t seem deeply beholden to the intentions of an artist. Rather, they owe their existence to a loose cooperation (quasi-magical, quasi-accidental) between photographer and subject.” If this holds, then the images from the Wiggins/Branco collaboration move beyond a gendered platform into a more open conversation about dialogue in artistic practice, something that is often overlooked by a continued interest in the preciousness of production as largely an individualistic form to be codified as genius, even today, and especially in photography. Regardless, the photographs are not moralistic, but more representative of the oft-overlooked subjects—women and age.

This mirroring between the artists lends complexity to the Wiggins/Branco photographs as they are seen against the contemporary gloss of pictures created and consumed today. In Mirror at Santa Susanna, 2017, a woman holds an oval mirror refracting a blot of sunlight. It blinds the viewer from seeing the reflection of the camera lens, the photographer, and the artist in the mirror. This blast of light directs us to look in more detail at the background where arches of an ancient aqueduct run alongside a lake, now almost emptied by severe drought.

 

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Mirror at Santa Susana, 2017, 80 x 120 cm

 

Civilizations’ first mirrors were pools of water—ponds, lakes, streams, oceans. Searching for a reflection of self in the surface of water, metal or glass is as ancient as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Yet, even to this day, mirrors like cameras, are seen by some as instruments that trap the soul negating individualism and soulfulness. It is as if the artists have chosen Santa Susana as a site for their project to speak about its lost abilities as a soul-catcher since a lake without a watery surface is a lake abandoned by its phantasmagorical language. Wiggins/Branco’s Mirror at Santa Susana bids us examine the connections between Santa Susana and her lost art of reflection.

Reflection by definition throws back a body or surface of light without absorbing it. What makes us want to see ourselves in such a transitory dimension? Philosopher Jacques Lacan posited that “mirroring” is necessary to the primacy of development. Lacan’s concept of the mirror stage theorized that our earliest recognition of selfhood through reflection creates a way for the individual to define self against the spatial objectness of all that is around us. With the title, The Mirror Between Us, Wiggins/Branco have suggested that a mirror need not be directly situated for self-image. That it is in the middle space, between two objects, two reflections, that we are bound to what is timelessly feminine, axial and a vector, for the self and others.

The last word from Sontag on what appeals to us about looking at such images as those in this grouping and questioning what gives them artistic grounding. “Through photographs we follow in the most intimate, troubling way the reality of how people age.” She continues by stating, that to look back at a photograph of oneself or of anyone, famed or ordinary, artist or not, “is to feel, first of all, how much younger (she, he) was then.” No matter how long ago the image was made it still sits in the past. This is the experience, putting a gage on mortality, that attracts us to photography in general but it is also what attracts us to The Mirror Between Us, as we are witnessing a historic event, a past encounter, some kind of documentary evidence of the subject’s age made ageless by its photographic transcription.

– Cydney M. Payton, February, 2020

Notes

1- Susan Sontag, On Photography, (New York, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971). iii-lxx

2- A listing of Wiggins’ project Searching Selves to date, by order of production, includes Russian-American avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren; Indian minimalist Nasreen Mohamedi; Portuguese conceptualist Helena Almeida; Brazilian multimedia artist Mira Schendel; and French writer and photographer Claude Cahun.

 

Other projects by Wiggins/Branco include Meeting Her Again / Reencontrando-a for the Palácio dos Marqueses de Praia e Monforte, Estremoz, Portugal and Michael Warren Contemporary, Denver, Colorado (2017-18), and Selected Works for The Month of Photography, Redline Contemporary Art Center, Denver (2019).

LUÍS FILIPE BRANCO began his career as a photojournalist at the Jornal Público in Lisbon. Since then, Branco’s career has focused on freelance photography and photojournalism. More recently, he has worked as filmmaker and producer with GMT, a company dedicated to the production of documentary films on culture and on institutions. Branco has also collaborated with numerous musicians, poets and visual artists on fine art photography projects. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal. 

SHERRY WIGGINS, an interdisciplinary artist, focuses on art as a specifically feminine/ feminist relational process and enactment. Her intensive international research and art practice is documented on her blog. Wiggins has exhibited extensively in the US and internationally in museums and art spaces in Brazil, India, Palestine, and Portugal, to name a few. Wiggins is represented by Michael Warren Contemporary in Denver, Colorado. She lives in Boulder, Colorado. 

CYDNEY M. PAYTON is an independent exhibition maker and writer. She lives in Monterey, California.

The artists wish to extend their gratitude to Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden, founders of the OBRAS Foundation, Evoramonte, Portugal; the Municipality of Évora; Margarida Branco; and Joseph Logan, designer of the brochure.

Please note you can download the essay here as a pdf:

Essay by Payton about Wiggins Branco_Mirror Image

Or you can email me to send you the pdf: sherrywiggins55@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re – presenting Salome – posted in Boulder CO, March 6, 2020

If I vibrate with vibrations other than yours, must you conclude that my flesh is insensitive? – Claude Cahun from the essay ‘Salome the Skeptic’ (note 1)

 

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Aubrey Beardsley, The Climax. 1893. One of Beardsley’s sixteen drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.

I am beginning a project with my new heroine Salome – based on fabulous French feminist artist Claude Cahun’s essay ‘Salome the Skeptic’ in her book of essays titled Heroines. Cahun published the book in 1925. The fifteen essays in her book question and reconstruct the representations of some of our most famous heroines – from the bible, antiquity, fairy tales and from popular culture. Cahun’s essay in Heroines, ‘Salome the Skeptic,’ is odd and a little hard to understand, and also fascinating if you try to engage with it. The thing I love about Claude Cahun is that she pushes me to do my own research and examination of history, of art and of our heroines and how they have been performed and personified.

Salome has been represented over two millenniums as a historical figure, a biblical persona and as a mythical and fantastical creature and woman. She has been portrayed extensively in paintings, in literature and in the late 19th century and early 20th century in theatre, opera and dance and ultimately film. Salome is a fascinating character and she, of course, has been primarily portrayed by men. Many of these depictions of Salome are (as in the New Testament) portraits of the young Judean princess who danced for her stepfather Herod Antipas and in return asked for the head of John the Baptist (on a silver platter). Whether she acts to appease her vengeful mother Herodias or as the story morphs through time, because she is actually in love with the prophet and spurned by him, Salome’s persona becomes by the 19th century a portrait of a femme fatale, a wanton, lustful, seductive creature and a stereotyped and “orientalized” woman to boot.

 

2 72 Titian Salome 5b2d8ac8fac148f89f56daba6aa515cf

Titian, Salome, 1515

 

Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Carravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 1609

 

4 72 Henri_Regnault_(French,_Paris_1843–1871_Buzenval)_-_Salomé_-_Google_Art_Project

Henri Regnault, Salome, 1870

 

5 72 Gustave_Moreau_-_The_Apparition_-_Google_Art_Project

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1876

Cahun addresses her essay ‘Salome the Skeptic’  “for O.W.” (for Oscar Wilde).  Cahun was an ardent admirer of the infamous Irish poet, writer, playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). They were both brilliant artists and intellectuals with homosexual and bi-sexual tendencies and to greater and lesser degrees they were both ostracized for their queer proclivities. Cahun never reached the level of notoriety of Wilde. In 1891 Oscar Wilde wrote the (then and for many years after) controversial play Salomé in French, it was translated into English in 1893. The play, in its book form, was illustrated (also scandalously) by the young Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) with these , erotic, gender bending, Japanese inspired black and white ink drawings that  were first published in 1894. The play (and the drawings) were severe rebukes to Victorian repressive views of women, sexuality, gender and to some degree homosexuality. Wilde mentions “the dance of the seven veils” that Salome is to perform in the play (without any direction or choreography). The play, the illustrations, Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley were seen as transgressive – the eroticism, the biblical references, the murder story, Salome’s kissing the head of Jokanaan (John the Baptist), were all shocking at the time. The play was not produced in England for years and was first performed in Paris in 1896. Wilde never saw the play produced as he was put in jail for sodomy and “gross indecency” from 1895 to 1897 and died in 1900. He spent the last three years of his life impoverished and in ill health and and died of meningitus at 46 years old. Beardsley also died young at 26 in 1898 of tuberculosis. However, they seemingly set off a firestorm of representations of Salome.

 

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Aubrey Beardsley, The Stomach Dance, 1893. Another of Beardsley’s sixteen drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.

 

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Aubrey Beardsley, The Dancer’s Reward, 1893. Another of Beardsley’s sixteen drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.

In 1906 Richard Strauss created the opera Salome based on Wilde’s play, with a “dance of the seven veils” as a main feature– this opera continues to be performed to this day. Wilde’s play inspired a form of “Salomania” at the beginning of the 20th century where many women performers put on acts inspired by Salome’s “erotic” dance. This dance of Salome was ultimately performed in the nude (as well as in scant clothing) by several renowned actresses and is sometimes considered the origin of the “strip tease.” Maude Allan, Mata Hari, Ida Rubinstein, and eventually Rita Hayworth and many other actresses have performed as Salome. In the last decade Al Pacino became obsessed with the play and with Wilde – Pacino acts in the play, and produces and acts in a documentary and a film with Jessica Chastain as Salome and Pacino as the lustful Herod. The stories, the paintings, the literature, Oscar Wilde’s play, the films and these women performers and Salome herself can all be viewed within contradictory frameworks of contemporary feminism and gender politics. Are the performers empowered women dancing with and displaying their bodies as sexual beings with agency and artfulness? Or does the “male gaze” upon these beautiful dancers and performers somehow disempower them? Is the self-stripping down of the female body, the “unveiling” an act of freedom or an act of acquiescence to male power and dominance?

According to what I have read, Wilde is one of the first to mention “the dance of the seven veils” in literature (or anywhere for that matter). Some scholars think that Wilde’s intention was more esoteric then erotic, and that the unveiling of the soul was inherent in this action/dance. The unveiling dance has also been linked to the Mesopotamian goddess Innana’s ( and also Ishtar’s) descent to the underworld and her return through the “seven gates.” In this epic tale the ancient goddess “lets go” of a garment or a jewel or an element of power at each gate, eventually arriving in the underworld naked and unadorned. Wilde (and Cahun) were both classically educated and must have known this ancient myth as well.

All these stories and representations of Salome have transfixed me. I am seduced by this femme fatale heroine in all her various incarnations. I am considering how I might “embody” Salome in performative photographs myself. The 64 year old Salome might be quite strange, we will see… Following are more of the myriad representations of Salome I have found –  starting with the Salome fetish at the beginning of the 20th century through Al Pacino’s 21st century obsession with O.W. and Salome.

 

10 72 Mata Hari

Dutch actress, dancer, courtesan and spy Mata Hari as Salome, 1906

 

8 72 Maud Allan salome-allan

Canadian actress Maude Allan as Salome, 1908

 

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Maud Allan as Salome, 1908

 

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Russian actress, ballerina, art patron Ida Rubinstein as Salome, date?

 

12 72 Alla Nazimova performs the dance of the seven veils

Russian American actress and producer Alla Nazimova’s film production of Salome, 1922

 

13 72 Rita Hayworth 3c40e642e3ad239a5e759a82bffedee0

American actress Rita Hayworth as Salome in the film Salome, 1953

 

14 72 Jessica Chastain and Al Pacino ws-image3

American actress Jessica Chastain as Salome in Al Pacino’s film Wilde Salomé, 2011

 

and I end with one of Beardsley’s more haunting images:

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Aubrey Beardsley, The Woman in the Moon, 1893. Another of Beardsley’s sixteen drawings for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.

“How strange they are, people who believe that it has happened. How can they? One thing only in life, the dream, seems to me beautiful enough, moving enough, to merit your becoming so disturbed that you have to laugh or cry.” – Claude Cahun from the essay ‘Salome the Skeptic’ (note 2)

 

Notes 1 and 2: I am quoting Cahun from Norman MacAfee’s English translation of Cahun’s text. Cahun, Claude (translated by Norman MacAfee 1998). ‘Heroines – Salome the Skeptic,’ in Rice, Shelley (ed.) Inverted Odysseys. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, pp. 76-79, 1999.