My Medusa 2019 – posted in Boulder, CO. on December 28, 2019 (revised Jan 11 2020)

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all images (except Cahun’s and  Caravaggio’s and Bernini’s ) are shot by Luís Filipe Branco

“My Medusa 2019” arose as something of a surprise phenomenon during a photo- shoot last May with Portuguese photographer Luís Branco during a stay at the Obras Art Residency in Holland. We were working on a recreation of a self-portrait by French feminist surrealist artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954), made in 1914 when she was just 20 years old. I was 63 years old. Cahun’s head (and mine) appear almost disembodied, our necks and bodies not in the picture. Her gaze is direct, mine too. Both portraits confront the viewer.

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Self-Portrait, Claude Cahun, c. 1914

 

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When I first looked at these images last spring (there are hundreds from this shoot) – I had a strong, visceral response. These particular portraits shocked me, “OMG I look like Medusa!!” But I didn’t really know what I was looking at. Who is Medusa, anyway? Why do I look so much like her? What is she looking at? Who is she looking at?

I soon realized it would take several PhD’s and a lifetime of research to sift through the ambiguity of Medusa’s mythology- beginning with her original matrifocal goddess form, through more than two thousand years of violent patriarchal projection, and into an abundance of contemporary feminist re-readings of the myth. Is Medusa the ultimate femme fatale or a silenced tragic heroine? Was her transformation from beautiful maiden to hideous monster an act of punishment or protection?

I’m interested in her complicated and contrary personas. She repels and attracts at the same time, she is a snake monster and equally a femme fatale, she unites beauty with the beast. She is not always feminine, she displays male characteristics, you could say “queer” characteristics. She hangs out at the gates of Hades and lingers in the twilight zone between life and death. She represents a liminal space between the visible and the invisible. She occupies a territory where dreams and the unconscious are displayed.

And then there is the “gaze”…  (the one that only turns men to stone) and the question of who is looking at who?

Despite formal likeness, My Medusa 2019 and Cahun’s self-portrait are very different images and perhaps together represent the duality of Medusa’s myth. Cahun’s twenty-year-old body is obscured (detached), her young face devoid of femininity. Her androgyny is an act of feminist defiance. By covering her body she denies the male gaze its pleasure. Cahun’s young face lends itself to the blankness of her stare – she offers a stone-faced affront to misogyny.

My portrait is different. I am older, I wear make-up. My sexuality is clearly evident. This is also an act of feminist defiance. I am an older woman, but I refuse to become invisible. Instead, I challenge the male gaze by daring them to look at me. My stare is a boldfaced claim to power well-earned.

So of course Medusa came to me when I was lying on this pillow inhabiting a dreamlike space with Claude Cahun as my inspiration, looking out directly at the camera (and it is Cahun’s gaze, always, that lures me in and her unabashed feminist/queer power that holds my own). Medusa and Cahun bring up similar questions for me – how am I looking at myself in this work and how am I expecting others to look upon me? How am I casting my gaze upon myself, am I finding new versions of my selves, am I manipulating Luís Branco’s gaze upon me, is he manipulating mine? Am I asserting the camera as a mirror, my gaze as gendered, as feminist? Are these images intersubjective, subjective, objective, unconscious, self- conscious? Am I subject or object or both?

 

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I have to sneak in Caravaggio’s Medusa (he paints his own face within her snake-like hair):

 

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Medusa, Caravaggio, c. 1595.

 

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and Bernini turns Medusa to stone:

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Medusa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1630.

 

and Luís Branco makes My Medusa a ghost:

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Happy  New Year /  New Decade and Medusa lives on…

end note: I have revised this several times with help from writers Barbara Shark and Sarah Millar. Helen Cixous would be proud. It is hard work finding My Medusa’s “voice” and I will persevere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

– Designing an exhibition in Portugal (and trying to choose a title) – posted in Evoramonte, Portugal Oct. 23rd, 2019

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Mirror in the Rio Sever, 80 x 120 cm, 2017.

I am at the Obras Art Residency in Evoramonte, Portugal designing an exhibition of the work photographer Luís Branco and I have made over the last four years in Portugal. It is wonderful to look back at this large body of work. Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden are the curators of the exhibition (with some input from me.) The exhibition will be in the lovely Igreja de São Vicente in Evora opening April 4th 2020 and running through the end of May 2020. This exhibit will be a celebration of the unique collaboration I have formed with Luís Branco with the generous support the Obras Art Residency. The work also revels in the simple beauty of this region that I have come to love – the Alentejo. There will be more than 20 large prints in the exhibit and several smaller works. The works come from my several residencies – the first one in 2015, then 2016, 2017 and from the spring of 2019. About ½ the work has been exhibited before both here in Portugal and also in the U.S.

I have had a hard time coming to complete happiness with a title for the exhibition. Many of the titles that we have come up with in Portuguese have multiple meanings that I like but in English the word has only one meaning. News flash from December 2019. We have decided upon a title for the exhibit – The Mirror Between Us / O Espelho Entre Nós. I really like this title and thank you to everyone who helped with this!

  • Luís came up with the title Encarnado which in English means Incarnate has multiple meanings in Portuguese – it means the color red (which figures in our work) and it also means “in the flesh” or embodied as well as a reference to a kind of divine incarnation. I am a little wary of the religious implications with this title but I also like the multiple meanings.
  • I love the word Alento that means Breath in English but in Portuguese it also means nurturance, courage, encouragement as well as the breath or respiration. Could you say Novo Alento / New Breath???
  • I like the word Renascer that in English is Reborn but also means to revive or to be rekindled. I think it also implies a renaissance of a kind. Again I am a little wary of the religious implication of this word.
  • My kind friend Antonio Pliz who came up with our previous title for the exhibit Reencontrando – a / Meeting Her Again which is such a great title suggested Revigorando which means Reinvigorating and new energy, becoming stronger, remotivation.
  • I also asked Antonio to translate some other titles for me. I like the idea of the work as The Breath Between Us this is O Fôlego Entre Nós or The Breath Around Us is O Fôlego Ao Nosso Redor
  • Here is another one Antonio translated for me which I like a lot The Space Between Us is O Espaço Entre Nós. Maybe it is a little conceptual but I like the idea that a photograph is the space between the photographer and the subject (me in this case) and it also becomes the space between the viewer or audience and the subject and the photographer. It is both a space of intimacy and a space of separation.
  • I also like the idea of using the word echo in the title. At the end of the blog I talk how the concept of “echo” is present in the work. I am not sure if An Echo of Her is properly translated as Um Eco Dela??
  • My dear friend Cydney Payton who has been involved with this work from the beginning added this possible title (in the comments on this blog) : “Why not call the exhibition, Mirror Image? That’s what it is. Whether there is a mirror in the actual image or not, they are mirrors of your inner self, mirrors of other artist’s work as inspiration, mirrors of love, mirrors to an outward audience and an inward expression. There is also the mirror stage—which would not be a title bad either. These days I like straight titles.” Mirror Image  is Imagem em Espelho in Portuguese.

So if you have any response to these words or titles let me know please, or any suggestions!! Por favor! Following are a few of the images that will be in the exhibit in Evora.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Face-up in the Rio Sever, 80 x 120 cm, 2017.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Canyon Encarnado/ Red Canyon, 120 x 80 cm, 2017.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Mirror at Santa Susana, 80 x 120 cm, 2017.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Goddess or Witch/ Deusa ou Bruxa, 80 x 53 cm, 2019.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, 25th of April, 80 x 53 cm, 2019.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Viewpoint 1/ Miradouro 1, 80 x 120 cm, 2019.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Viewpoint 2/ Miradouro 2, 80 x 120 cm, 2019.

 

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Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, Nude Chair, 80 x 120 cm, 2019.

While looking over all the images of the last four years, I have also been looking back at my own writing about the work. I found this excerpt from my blog post of January 22nd, 2018. I was writing about the concept of echo and/ or the mythical figure of Echo in my collaborative work with Luís Branco. So I am just going to quote myself here 🙂

“Echo is a sound, but she is also an answer, a mirror image, a parallel, a reiteration, a repetition, and a response. She is hidden from normal sight, a reverberation only available to a few.

In my own experiences in Portugal, I have repeatedly “met” a mythical or divine feminine force or power in the landscapes and waterscapes of the beautiful Alentejo. My premise is that in these encounters with the feminine, I have been continually meeting and re-meeting echoes of different aspects of myself. My collaborator, photographer Luís Branco, has documented these “meetings” within Portugal’s beautiful environments of water and earth. His eye and the magic mirror of his camera have helped me see various aspects of feminine space held within myself, which would have been impossible for me to see on my own.

Luís and I have talked about the phenomenon of “Echo” or “echo” in our work together. Our working process is intuitive and open-ended and in a sense enchanted and alchemical. We both respond to each site viscerally and emotionally. We use fabrics to cover, reveal or extend my body. We use a chair or a mirror as a point of reference or reflection. We have created open-ended narratives in these natural environments – echoing each other in gesture and image. The echo continually reverberates in multiple images and different sites, telling different stories. Echo herself might be revealed in these images, which in turn reveal “me” – my aging body, my face, my emotions. My Echo is older, she is strong, she is vulnerable, joyful, pensive, and sensual. She echoes life and death and transformation in these images. “

There will be many more images in the exhibition. Luís Branco and I have made a lot of work over the last four years. I have  more than a week left here in Portugal this visit. We will be printing the work in Lisbon and I will be back at the end of March to help install the work in the beautiful Igreja de São Vicente in Evora with Ludger and Carolien. The exhibit will open April 4th !!

A performance artist – who knew? posted in Boulder, CO August 11th, 2019

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all images by Luís Branco

You have been in my dreams Claude Cahun …

I have been (obsessively) editing the images that I made with Luís Branco in the Netherlands in May. My relationship to you Claude, your oeuvre, and your Heroines text is embedded and embodied in this work. The pillow “remake,”  a petulant princess, kitchen gloves, pearls on the eyes, Androgyne, a Dutch study, cigarettes in the garden. I have been writing my own text/narrative for this project. I am making an artists book. The book is a new form for me – but very Cahunian (which I understand is now an art historical term.) The following images have not been selected for the book, but they give an idea of the flavor of the performance…

 

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Luís Branco pushed me hard with this work, this has been a whole new level of collaboration for us. Curator and writer Cydney Payton, has been with me every step of the way – looking at images and text. Joseph Logan, my step-son and talented book designer, has agreed to help me make the book. Cydney and I have narrowed it down to 21 images (and I won’t be showing these images until they are either in the book form or an exhibit.) We have refined and edited my text. I am very excited!! I am also very grateful for the opportunity to make this work in Holland at the Obras Art Residency in Renkum – it was the perfect situation!!

 

 

Aveux non Avenus /Disavowals– blog posted in Boulder, CO July 8, 2019

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Photomontage from the book Aveux non Avenus – MYSELF (For want of anything better) The siren is beguiled by her own voice. Claude Cahun (most likely in collaboration with Marcel Moore), c 1920 to 1930.

I just came back from two days in San Francisco and I went specifically to see the exhibit that highlights Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s work in a large group exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum titled “Show me as I want to be seen.” I freely confess that I was only there to see Cahun and Moore’s work and that is what I looked at, read, and was mesmerized by. I am so happy I went. The exhibit closed Sunday.

Forgive me for only recently diving into the remarkable work of text, language, image and “self” examination – the book “Aveux non Avenus.” This book, first published in 1930 in an edition of 500, was only recently translated into English by Susan de Muth, and was first published in English by Tate Publishing in 2007, and is available in North America from MIT Press. I didn’t realize the importance of this text or the elaborate photomontages that are part of the book (some made in collaboration with Marcel Moore) until a few days ago. In the beginnings of my research into Cahun I was so seduced by the remarkable black and white self-portraits (most likely also made in collaboration with Marcel Moore) and of course the text Cahun published in 1925 titled “Heroines” – that I had overlooked this book.

 

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“Aveux non Avenus” installed at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco

The title “Aveux non Avenus” is translated into English as “Disavowals,” it could also be translated as “Cancelled Confessions” or “Confession not Delivered” or “Confession not Admitted.” The museum had reproduced the photomontages from “Aveux non Avenus” quite beautifully. You can see in the image above that the montages in the book were quite small about 6 x 4inches 15 x 10 cm. The museum produced one very large, the one I show below.

 

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Photomontage from the book “Aveux non Avenus,” Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, c 1920 to 1930.

The rest were reproduced at about 11 x 18 inches or so and were posted directly on the wall. I really liked them at this scale. But I also see that the original book was a pure work of art. The scale, the printing, the photomontages and the text… Anyway, I get it now, this text and these montages are just more clues to unravel Cahun’s genius. And I vow to try to do this.

 

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Photomontage from the book “Aveux non Avenus,” Claude Cahun (and most likely Marcel Moore), c 1920 to 1930.

 

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Self-Portrait, Claude Cahun, silver gelatin print, 18 x 24 cm, c 1915.

The above image of Cahun at about 20 years old is still one of my favorites, the delicate silver gelatin print is only about 7 x 9 inches, and it is one of the larger prints. Notice how this image is used in the photomontage above as well. I had no idea how small these prints are from looking at the images in catalogues, etc. I will write more about these later. The one below is still one of my favorites as well, but I kind of love them all…

 

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Self-Portrait, Claude Cahun, silver gelatin print, 23 x 15 cm, c 1928.

I have a lot of thoughts about Cahun’s gaze… Also about collaboration… I am for sure going to go and see Cahun’s archive on Jersey Island in the Channel Islands where she and Moore lived the last parts of their lives. I want to see more of the “real” stuff and I also want to experience the “place” that was so important to both of them. I am hooked, line and sinker….

The text from “Disavowels” that I quote below blows me away and furthers my obsession with Cahun – with her process of self-revelation and other-revelation, her process with photography itself, the process of representation, of “self” representation, the process of “intersubjectivity” where the many “selves” are unpacked, the flexibility and reflectivity of the self in the other and how a text or an image reveals the subject and the author or the photographer but also subverts all these “selves” at the same time… And I want to make a book myself…

“The invisible adventure.

The lens tracks the eyes, the mouth, the wrinkles skin deep…

The expression on the face is fierce, sometimes tragic. And then

calm – a knowing calm, worked on, flashy. A professional smile –

and voilà!

            The hand-held mirror reappears, and the rouge and eye

shadow. A beat. Full stop. New paragraph.

            I’ll start again.

            To those who know nothing of the steps, obstacles and enor-

mous chasms I’ve leapt over – and I’ve revealed none of it – this

all must seem the most ludicrous merry-go-round.

            Should I then burden myself with all the paraphernalia of

facts, stones, cords delicately cut, precipices… it doesn’t interest

me at all. Guess, recover. Vertigo is implied, ascension or the fall.

            To please them, would you have to follow the unknown, step

by step, illuminating it up to the ankle ? Heels worn down , mud,

feet bleeding – these humble and truthful testaments – they

would surely touch somebody’s heart. Whereas…

            No. I’ll trace the wake of vessels in the air, the pathway over

the waters, the pupil’s mirage.

 

           No point in making myself comfortable. The abstraction, the

dream, are as limited for me as the concrete and the real. What

to do? Show a part of it only, in a narrow mirror, as if it were

the whole? Mix up a halo with spatters? Refusing to bump into

walls, bump into windows instead? In the black of night.

            Until I see everything clearly, I want to hunt myself down,

struggle with myself. Who, feeling armed against her own self,

be that with the vainest of words, would not do her very best if

only to hit the void bang in the middle.

            It’s false. It’s very little. But it trains the eye.

            Only with the very tip would I wish to sew, sting, kill. The rest

of the body, what comes after, what a waste of time! Only ever

travel in the prow of myself.”

– Claude Cahun, Disavowals, p 1 – 2

 

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THE HOUSE – stair series, Luís Branco and Sherry Wiggins, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 

“Heroines” – THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess – posted in Renkum, Holland May 24th, 2019

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all images (except the one by Claude Cahun) are by Luís Branco and Sherry Wiggins

I began shooting with photographer Luís Branco last week on Tuesday at the Obras Art Residencies house (mansion) in Renkum, Holland. The house itself is a character in this new series. And how does Claude Cahun fit in?

I have been thinking about French writer, scholar, artist Claude Cahun (1894 – 1954) and the series of essays “Heroines” for several years. Please look at my blog post from December 16, 2018 in the archives on this blog. The text “Heroines” was originally published in 1925. I am using the English translation by Norman MacAfee that was published in the book “Inverted Odysseys,” edited by Shelley Rice published in 1999 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (with an introductory essay by my remarkable friend Lucy R. Lippard). Maya Deren and Cindy Sherman are also featured in this book alongside Claude Cahun. In these 15 essays Cahun inserts herself and other women into various female characters, figures that are historical, biblical, mythical while introducing few modern twists. She is deconstructing these women and portraying them within within her own unique feminist perspective of the 1920s (also Cahun was Jewish, a lesbian, a cross-dresser, a surrealist…) of the 1920s.

 

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Claude Cahun, c. 1925.

I decided to start with “THE ESSENTIAL WIFE or the the Unknown Princess,” which is the 10th essay in “Heroines.” I am not an actress and have no training whatsoever in performance or theatre, but I can quite relate to this one multi-faceted character in “Heroines” that fully relates to my own life.

Curator and writer Cydney Payton made some comments about the mansion (it is called Grynsfoort) when I sent her I phone pictures of the place. To me, an American and kind of a modernist to boot, the architecture is strange. There is a contradiction between the big beautiful windows and some claustrophobic parts of the mansion. Grynsfoort was originally built in 1907 and named after a castle, but there have been some beautiful additions, the sunroom off the kitchen, and the glassy room leading to the back garden.

So, the house seemed the perfect setting for “THE ESSENTIAL HOUSEWIFE or the the Unknown Princess.”

Cydney suggested using the architecture, the spaces as places of confinement. Luis responded in kind, the mansion (or alternately a castle) is like a prison for the Wife and the Princess.

The characters/environments that Luís and I have been responding to in the mansion are – the sunroom off the kitchen, the small door used to pass things between the kitchen and the dining room, the stairs and bannisters, the stained glass window on the stair landing, the small downstairs bathroom, the glassy room off the garden, the garden (just a bit) and the upstairs study.

In four days and nights Luís and I shot 4000 images. Cydney has kindly been fully engaged in this project. She cued me and Luís at the beginning, then she selflessly examined all the images we selected and gave comments about the images. Luís is totally committed to this new project. He pushed me every step of the way. Some images are more “set up” and many are more spontaneous, he never misses a shot.

I have selected only a few images to show on this blog and on Instagram Facebook etc.. We have already posted a few on Instagram and Facebook. The following images have not had any digital treatment and they will most likely not be our ultimate selections. They are meant to just give a “feeling” for how we are working and thinking…

 

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Below I retell the story of the Princess (and the Wife) in Claude Cahun’s essay – “ THE ESSENTIAL WIFE and the the Unknown Princess.” I invite you to get the book or ask me to send you the pdf. Cahun’s writing style is fabulous, unique, modern, surrealist, and fully feminist with many allusions to French literature, Greek history and mythology, etc.. You must read the “real thing.” But here is my condensed retell:

The Queen refused to name (baptize) her daughter the Princess and this gave the unnamed Princess many possibilities…

The modest Princess wed the intelligent Riquet a la Houppe and took his name – though they were quite mismatched. They were very happy and they had many children.

At a dinner party the Beauty cut her husband’s tassel of hair as an impromptu action, this led to a change in their relationship. The husband’s spirit was on the decline, and the Wife retained her beauty quite handsomely.

When he died first she was still quite something to see – a “fine specimen.”

The Princess endures in the form of the flat stone that indicates the empty tomb as the memory of the “Unknown Heroine” for all women.

 

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Also thank you to writer/curator Jennifer Heath for editing and helping me with writing this blog.

This is a long-term project for me with Claude Cahun and her “Heroines.” I am very exciting about this beginning!!

 

12 days in Portugal – posted in Renkum, the Netherlands – May 2, 2019

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all images by Luís Branco and Sherry Wiggins

I am now in Holland at the Obras Artist Residency (the sister residency of Obras Portugal) I wrote this text in part before I left Portugal. It was a wonderful and productive time for me in the place I love so much, Herdade de Marmelaire near Evoramonte, but such a short time. I flew into Lisbon and as I crossed the Vasco da Gama Bridge I felt the joy! Driving into springtime in the Alentejo. I have never been in Portugal at this time of year – amazing skies and so green. As I approached Evoramonte I felt like I was coming home. Carolien and Ludger welcomed me at the Obras Artist Residency – my dear friends who I have not seen for a year and a half. I settled into the little Casa Miradouro that I love so much. It was a Friday that I arrived and Saturday morning I went to the market in Estremoz to find the chair I had been imagining for this new work. In my work over the last several years in Portugal with photographer Luis Branco, I always start with one or two objects that we will use in the images. I had imagined a more feminine chair, not as simple as the chairs we had used before, perhaps a little more throne like. I found it right away in the market, a chair with some curves and a red (encarnado) pillow. Over the weekend I settled into the land that I love so much and scouted some of my old locations from previous trips and previous photo-shoots.

I started shooting with photographer Luís Branco Monday morning. We have been in communication and talking about this new work, but we have not actually worked together on site for a year and a half. People often ask about our process and I have written about it on different blog posts – it is a very fluid process, a little bit of a dance, a little bit of torture and also a quite magnificent approach to space and time for me – almost like a meditation. Luís is such a pro too. We approach a site, we place me in the site (or does the site place itself in me?) sometimes with an object – the chair figured in this new work. I brought A LOT of different color fabrics with me this time, some dresses (or no dress sometimes just the fabric). I will show some of the images from our 5 days and nights of shooting in this post. These are very preliminary choices – more like a record of the 5 days – we have had no real time to edit or sort through the images together or separately. Luís likes to convert some (actually he likes to convert all) images to black and white, and this really changes the meaning of the images. He has not had time yet to do this yet. I have shown some initial selections to the other artists at Obras Portugal and to Carolien and Ludger and to Cydney Payton as well and gotten a little feedback. But they really need some time to breath …

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But I am going to go through some of the days while it is still fresh. The first morning we started shooting on the path from Evoramonte near the castle. I had photographed this beautiful stone oak tree that arches over the path in 2015 and had this site in my mind ever since. We started with the red cloth, this is actually the very transparent cloth I had taken to Brazil and used in the waterfall with photographer Fernando Lima. The title we have been using for this series in nature we started in 2017 is “Encarnado / Incarnate.” Encarnado means the color red, it also refers to the flesh as well as to incarnation. Luís was using the flash on many of these first images. But I think this one above is kind of wonderfully strange, almost ecstatic.

Then we moved up to the area inside the old walls of Evoramonte. Luis shot me sitting in my new old chair in front of this stone wall. I love the scale of me seated in the chair -it is the same as the scale of the door on my right. I put on the black dress for these images.

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Then this white wall was so beautiful, the sky a white grey blue. I love the minimalism of these with the black dress and the white wall. These images refer to some of our previous work as well.

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The weather improved in the afternoon and we went down to the mouth of the Pego do Sino near the tall trees. I try the silver cloth, then the red again… The images below I call them “a prayer for Ludger,” it’s kind of a joke. I had brought these leather work gloves as a present for Ludger from Colorado (because he is always working). I like these images a lot.

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It started raining again and we went back to residency. We decide to shoot around the small Casa Miradouro, where I am staying. I piled a piece of the nude or blush fabric that I had brought with me. Luis shoots from inside you see Evoramonte in the distance. Am I naked or nude or neither? This is an ongoing question…

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Then I use the large piece, piling it around me, the cloth shields me, it is like a naked cloud on my body… so much green surrounding – primavera…I like the one with the chair… We have started a rhythm with the camera, with each other – there is a strange alchemy between us, of the camera the observer and the observed. The sound of the shutter is like a metronome, a reminder to pay attention to everything…. I think these might be interesting converted to black and white…

The whole landscape becomes a horizon.

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Another day early in the morning – we decide to try something early in the morning with the white flowers, so many white flowers. Luís asks me who are you incarnating, what is it you want to convey? This is difficult for me; I don’t like to expose my face. Looking at yourself this much is difficult. He really likes these images under the cork tree; I can only bear to show this one image, to look at this one. This is hard to face your face.

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It is Thursday now the 25th of April, I bought the red carnations / cravo vermelho at Pingo Doce – it is the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution / Revolução dos Cravos. April 25th 1974 is the day the Portuguese that led to the overthrow of the authoritarian regime of the Estado Novo and the beginning of the new democracy. Even though this was just for fun I like this one quite a bit.

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The rain stops and we go to the Pego do Sino in the late afternoon. The rocks can be quite slippery. They are pretty dry and we climb up to the beautiful rocks where we worked together for many hours in 2016. The light is good here only at the very end of the day. It is cold and windy but the birds are everywhere and the trees and rocks and the sky is magnificent. We are waiting for the light, I am swathed in the red cloth in a small cavern in the rocks. Waiting… Then the light gets good, the clouds are magnificent – I am up on top of the rocks with the red cloth protecting me in a way. Luís shoots a lot with the flash without the flash – again the shutter clicking is a reminder of each moment. I am freezing now the wind the cold rocks, enough of the red, chega (my new word in Portuguese).

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Luís says he wants to shoot against the sun in my shadow. I swath myself in the nude cloth. It is warmer I feel protected…. then I say I will put the red on my face as a veil. He shoots against this last light with the flash….his camera is always moving calculating responding to the light, to the shadow to everything… These images turned out very classically…kind of divine?

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Ok, chega. I am so cold and it is getting dark and we must get back to the car without falling. I get in the car and put my warm coat on and I am just exhausted spent… We start back to Obras, it is dusk Luís wants to shoot something on the road that we have been discussing. I don’t think I can do it, then we get to the place on the road and I say ok let’s do it…

Luís sets up the camera and tripod and I put the black dress on. Of course I never wear shoes in any of the images. The road is cold. He wants to do a long exposure in this beautiful dusk light, the white flowers surrounding the road. I comply – I move for the long exposure then dusk really happens and I take the pose and hold it. It seems like minutes I am holding the pose, but it is not. But again it is moment by long moment of awareness… These are really beautiful shots I think.

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The last morning of shooting Evoramonte was shrouded in fog and clouds, eerily beautiful. We shot on the castle wall.

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Then the last shots were on the platform of green next to the castle. Such a sense of spaciousness… Luís has converted these last two to black and white (but I don’t have them yet) I think they are better in black and white.

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So now I am going to give the images (and myself) a chance to breath for a few weeks…

I am in the Netherlands at Obras Holland with a beautiful peaceful house. I am hoping to start a new project and also draw, but I wanted to get this down when it is still fresh.

Another heroine – Francesca Woodman – posted in Boulder, CO, March 28, 2019

Space?, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1978 1975-8 by Francesca Woodman 1958-1981

Francesca Woodman, Space series, 1975-1978, Providence, Rhode Island.

I love this image above by Francesca Woodman, it is from her Space series. It intimates the fragility of our inhabitation of space and time. She made this series of images while she was a student at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. Francesca Woodman had an amazingly productive but short life. She grew up in Boulder, Colorado (my home town) and studied at RISD, worked in Rome and in New York and made thousands of beautiful photographic images in her short life. In 1981 she killed herself by jumping from a loft window in New York City  at the age of 22.

I am beginning to think about Francesca as one of my “heroines.”

a heroine is defined as…

– A woman admired for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.

– The chief female character in a book, play, or film, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.

– In mythology and folklore – a woman of superhuman qualities and often semi-divine origin, in particular one whose deeds were the subject of ancient Greek myths.

 

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Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1972-1975, Boulder, Colorado.

I will be working on my “Heroines” project in both Portugal and Holland with photographer Luís Branco in April and May. I am assembling a pantheon of heroines, both ancient and modern… Aphrodite, Sappho, the female bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara or Guanyin and other women of historical, mythological and divine lore will be part of my pantheon. Of course surrealist writer, photographer and all round fascinating woman Claude Cahun is my heroine and inspiration for starting this project. I will choose several other modern women heroines as well. I might revisit surrealist filmmaker Maya Deren, and Ana Mendieta. And in the last weeks I have been looking at photographer Francesca Woodman’s work.

This is really the first time I have considered Woodman’s work in depth, even though her work is so well known. Perhaps her cult-like status deterred me and I had not seen the coincidence in our work until quite recently. A few weeks ago Mark Sink made the connection for me during a walk-through of my performative photographic work from Portugal with photographer Luís Branco at RedLine in Denver (thank you Mark!). It is an odd matching – because I am a 63-year-old woman artist who has only started performing in photographs and considering female subjectivity in this way in the last decade or so. Francesca was 22 years old when she committed suicide after making a huge body of remarkable work with herself as the subject and object of her work. I had steered clear of her work – after all I was not a “photographer” earlier in my artistic practice and I was also particularly saddened by her life story. I knew her parents, not well, but we have had a similar circle of artist friends. George and Betty Woodman both taught in the art department at University of Colorado Boulder. I had taken a class from George in the 80’s. Betty, a very well-known ceramic artist, had worked with my dear friend master printer Bud Shark up until her death in early 2018. Betty was exactly my mother’s age. And very much like my mother in her energy and amazing life force. Francesca was born in 1958, I was born in 1955. We both spent our early teenage years in Boulder, Colorado. She went to Rhode Island School of Design at 17 and went on to Italy to work and study. I went to Japan when I was 17 and studied the tea ceremony (in retrospect the ultimate “performance art”) then went on to live in Canada and study textiles. I became an artist at a much slower pace than Francesca, not going to actual art school until my mid-20’s and having children at a young age certainly slowed down my artistic practice. I have suffered bi-polar disorder (she must have suffered depression, not sure about bi-polar) but very luckily I got help in my 30’s.

Anyway she was a remarkable artist in her short life and I am looking at her work now with much more attention and connecting it to my own most recent performative work.  There are threads that link the young woman artist Francesca and the older woman artist (me) who is emerging even now at this late stage. Of course as my dear Cydney Payton told me – my work is much more controlled than Woodman’s, but that is the purpose that my “heroines” serve, they help me to push the boundaries and ideas of my art practice.

Here are just a few images from Francesca Woodman’s remarkable body of work…

 

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Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1976, Boulder, Colorado.

 

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Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1972 – 1976, Boulder, Colorado.

 

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Francesca Woodman, Verticale, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.

 

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Francesca Woodman, Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.

 

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Francesca Woodman, untitled, 1976, Providence, Rhode Island.

 

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Francesca Woodman, from the Space series, 1977, Providence, Rhode Island.

 

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Francesca Woodman, Self-deceit #5, 1978, Rome.

 

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Francesca Woodman, from the Eel series, 1978, Venice.

 

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Francesca Woodman, self-portrait, 1978, Rome.

I am so happy to be looking at your remarkable work Francesca Woodman, even at this late date! Bless your talented and beautiful heart and soul.