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.

 

72 - 1976, Untitled, Providence Rhode Island Francesca-Woodman-Providence-Rhode-Island

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we made this work in Portugal “Incarnate / Encarnado” – posted in Boulder, CO March 1, 2019

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Santa Susana 1 (this image will be showing in Delirium), Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

Month of Photography has started here in Colorado and I will be premiering several works from the ongoing performative photographic series titled “Incarnate / Encarnado” in the exhibit “Delirium” at RedLine in Denver. I have been working on this specific series with Portuguese photographer Luís Branco since 2017. I first started working with Luís in 2015 on performative photographic works while I was a resident at the Obras Art Residency in Evoramonte, Portugal. Originally, I was inspired by the remarkable Portuguese conceptual artist Helena Almeida to use myself as the subject in performative photographs. Luís and I had an immediate rapport in our work together. We produced many performative photographs together in 2015 and more works in 2016 when I returned to Portugal. We had a large exhibit in early 2017 of our collaborative works in a beautiful palace/museum in Estremoz titled “Meeting Her Again / Reencontrando-a.” We have since shown much of this work at Michael Warren Contemporary and at various other venues in Colorado.

In the fall of 2017 we started a new body of performative photographic works that were all sited in nature – we have since titled this series “Incarnate / Encarnado”. We did extensive photo-shoots in several different sites – all in the beautiful Alentejo region of Portugal. I am the “subject” in every image. Our original intent with this project was to do work “about water” and about the connection of the (older) feminine body and spirit to water and to nature. I think this is the unusual aspect of this work, you don’t usually see an older woman “performing” in this type of conceptual photography. We shot in the Rio Sever in the village of Portagem near Marvão. We shot in a beautiful lake in the northern Alentejo. We shot in the magical Pego do Sino or Canyon of the Bells that is close to the Obras Art Residency in Evoramonte. We shot in the dry reservoir (dry because of overwhelming drought that year) near the small village of Santa Susana.

Our work process is quite “fluid.” We speak of the process as a process of “mirroring” each other or “echoing” each other. We choose a specific site and then we both respond to that site. I bring different fabrics and objects that we use– the mirror, a chair, a frame. Luís shoots 100’s and 1000’s of images at each site. We edit and look at the work together and separately to choose the significant images. When I returned home to Colorado and showed my dear friend Sama Alshaibi (an amazing artist and professor of photography at University of Arizona) some of these images – she invited me to Arizona to produce and print in their lab. I came back from Tucson with these 14 beautiful large 32 x 48 inch prints on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag.

So back to creating the images – when I started thinking about this project in the fall of 2017, I had a dream or a vision (I can’t remember which) about this oval shaped mirror in front of me in a river, reflecting the river into my body. Sure enough when I arrived in Portugal at the Obras Art Residency I went to the little antique shop in Evoramonte and found the oval shaped mirror from my dream. We used this mirror in several photo-shoots. Here is a selection of the works/series we have titled “Incarnate / Encarnado.” We will continue working on this series this spring in Portugal and we hope to exhibit the whole series in Évora in 2020 (in another beautiful palace).

The following five images were all shot in the Rio Sever in the small town of Portagem near the Roman Bridge. This is a beautiful place in the Northern Alentejo near Marvão. I imagine you can tell from the images, the Alentejo region of Portugal is stunning and varied territory.

 

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Mirror in the River, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Head Rock in the River, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Rio Sever 1, (this image will be showing in Delirium), Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Rio Sever 2, (this image will be showing in Delirium), Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Rio Sever 3, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

The following image was shot in a reservoir in northern Alentejo called the Barragem da Apardura.

 

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Lady in the Lake, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

The following three images were all shot in the beautiful, magical Pego do Sino / Canyon of the Bells near the Obras Art Residency close to Evoramonte Portugal. We had done a whole series at the top of this canyon on the granite rocks in 2016. This time we entered the canyon itself, I think very few humans enter this remote place. There is a tale about the deusa or goddess of this canyon, she is a fierce protectorate. Perhaps she found us during this photo-shoot?

 

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Red Canyon / Canyon Encarnado 1, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Red Canyon / Canyon Encarnado 2 (this image will be showing in Delirium), Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Red Canyon / Canyon Encarnado 3, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

The following three images and the image at the top of the blog post were all shot near the village of Santa Susana in the southeast of the Alentejo. Since we had been shooting in these more luscious environments we wanted to make some images about the lack of water / the drought that was affecting southern Portugal and much of the southern Mediterranean that year. The reservoir was almost totally dry, you can see the dying fish at the waters edge, and the bridge that you see in the pictures is normally covered by water as well. I think these images prescribe something intimate and fragile – a real and existential loss… of water, of youth

 

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Santa Susana Mirror and Bridge, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Santa Susana Mirror, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

 

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Santa Susana 2 (this image will be showing in Delirium), Sherry Wiggins and Luís Filipe Branco archival digital print, 32 x 48, 2017.

I am excited to be premiering several of these works from  “Incarnate / Encarnado” in the exhibit “Delirium” curated by Mark Sink at the RedLine Community Art Center in Denver. The exhibit opens March 9th and runs through April 7th. I am also excited to be returning to the Portugal in April to do more work with Luís Branco on this project.

encarnado/ incarnate, imanência / immanence, vivência / existence – posted January 29, 2019

2 72 lfb7021 ar copyRed Canyon/ Canyon Vermelho, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, archival digital print, 48” x 32,” 2017.

I am thinking about these words in Portuguese and English – encarnado/ incarnate, imanência/ immanence, vivência / exhistance, all in relationship to my performative photographs and drawings of the last several years. I made the work above, Red Canyon, with photographer Luís Branco. We made a large series of works in different locations in the Alentejo region of Portugal while I was a resident at the Obras Art Residency in the fall of 2017. One of the premises of this series is the relationship of the feminine body/mind and nature to the elements of water and earth and to the natural world. We will be premiering several images from this series during Month of Photography in Denver in the exhibition “Delirium” at Redline Contemporary Art Center in March of 2019.  We will be exhibiting a larger selection from this series in Portugal in 2020. We have been talking about a title for this entire body of works. Luís likes the title ‘Encarnado’  for this large body of performative photographs.

I am not sure,  I am thinking …

The rough translation of the noun ‘encarnado’ is ‘incarnation’ in English. 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. As an adjective encarnado/a also refers to the color red (which I like). It can also refer to a spirit ‘possessing’ someone. In English I prefer the adjective ‘incarnate’ over the noun ‘incarnation.’  These are subtle differences in meaning. For me – encarnado, incarnation and incarnate all have a little bit too much of a  religious implication and this is not exactly the meaning I am searching for. I wish I could speak in depth with my Portuguese and Brazilian friends about the meaning of these words. In the mean time I do feel in my recent body of performative works that at times I am “possessed” by other feminine beings, by feminine spirits that occupy these spaces in nature and in these sacred earthly places. Also the color red does figure in my work quite a bit both in the performative works and in the drawings…

encarnado/ incarnate, imanência / immanence, vivência / existence

Immanence or imanência in both English and Portuguese is a philosophical and theological term that I don’t wholly understand (especially when I try to read French philosopher Gilles Deleuze) but that I intuitively relate to. For me ‘immanence’ is the spiritual (or the divine ?) that is manifested in the material world. It is not something that is ‘outside’ the material world. I think there is a similar meaning here to the words encarnado/incarnate. Much of my work in performative photography has been about this manifestation of the feminine (divine? or spiritual? or incarnate?) in the natural world, in the material world.

My drawing practice has also been about articulating  the connections between my inner and outer worlds. I made the sketch below and many others during the same period in Portugal that Luís and I made Red Canyon (above) and other performative works. The sketches I have been making over the last few years have been made in relationship to the  performative images and photographs I have been making and to the landscapes and environments I have been inhabiting.

1 72 gentle breeze thumbnail_sherrys sketches 497 copysketch, India ink and acrylic ink on watercolor paper, 2017.

So on the concept of immanence…

I have been reading an essay by John Rajchman titled “Mira Schendel’s Immanence” it is in the Tate Museum catalogue of Brazilian artist Mira Schendel’s exhibition of 2014. I have been compelled to study and look at Schendel’s work and though much of our work is quite different (there are some similarities in our drawings and paintings) I think that there is a philosophical underpinning in my work that relates to Schendel’s.

“ What does it mean to suppose there exists a pre-linguistic, pre-discursive, pre-textual bodily origin of thinking and yet to show, explore, ‘capture’ it or its ‘moment’ in art? While Mira’s work is filled with the movement of many graphic and pictorial elements, it was not meant to assert or to declare, it was supposed rather to be and to remain ‘opaque’ and ‘ephemeral.’ For it came from a process which, on the contrary, attempts to reinsert the material codes (and related ‘media,’ linguistic or pictorial) of saying and seeing things, back into a turbulent ‘moment of origin,’ in which they seem to break up or spin out of control, discovering a new freedom, no longer simply objects presented to outside subjects to be seen in frontal vision or to be read in linear time. The word ‘origin’ (or ‘moment of origin’) is thus not used in a simple psychological sense, more a phenomenological one, following the development of the Kantian idea of conditions of experience (the principle of phenomenology being that the conditions or origins of appearance are to be found in the appearances themselves).” –  John Rajchman  in the essay ‘Mira Schendel’s Immanence’-  Tate Museum Catalogue, pg. 51.

Rajchman and Schendel have led me to thinking about this idea of the ‘moment of origin’ in some of the performative photographs I have made. Some of the most powerful images have this display of a ‘moment of origin.’ There are instinctual /  incarnate / immanent – qualities that emerge in the photographic images that are very basic and raw. The images display this connection of the feminine and of the (spiritual? divine?) in the material world. Of course these specific images are culled/edited from thousands of other images, but that is the magic of digital photography, you can find these ‘moments’…

Drawing is another way for me to perform /embody/ think about the integration of my inner and outer worlds. The small sketches I have been making over the last several years are very simple, like ideograms. They relate to the elemental landscapes and territories I have inhabited and explored. They also relate to the concepts of immanence and the incarnate and to the various ‘moments of origin’ embodied in the performative photographs…

4 72 silver thumbnail_sherrys sketches 499 copysketch, acrylic ink on watercolor paper, 2017.

 

4 72 woman at evoramonte _dsc7061 copyWoman on Evoramonte/Mulher em Evoramonte, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, archival digital print, 48” x 32,” 2015.

 

7 72 woman on top _dsc6656 copyTop of the Castle/Topo do Castelo, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, archival digital print, 48” x 32,” 2015.

 

7 72 keeping still mountain thumbnail_sherrys sketches 489 copysketch, India ink and acrylic ink on watercolor paper, 2018.

 

7 72 two lakes thumbnail_sherrys sketches 490 copysketch, India ink and acrylic ink on watercolor paper, 2018.

 

8 72 lfb5707 ar copyWoman in the Eye of the Lake /Mulher no Olho do Lago, Sherry Wiggins and Luís Branco, archival digital print, 32 x 48”, 2017.

 

1072ccimg_6839copyRed Cascade / Cascata Vermelha, Sherry Wiggins and Fernando Lima, archival digital print, 18 x 24”, 2018.

Speaking of possession, of the word ‘encarnado/a,’ I made the above image with photographer Fernando Lima in Brazil in a beautiful waterfall near the Kaaysa Artist Residency. One of my fellow residents, artist Deco Adjiman, told me that I might have found or met or been possessed by the goddess of the waterfall ‘Oshun.’ I am not sure about this, but I do know I have found much magic and a wonderful sense of feminine space in these beautiful places in Brazil and Portugal…

 

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9 72 beach chair b and w img_8108b copyBeach Chair / Cadeira de Praia, Sherry Wiggins and Fernando Lima, archival digital print, 18 x 24”, 2018.

 

10 72 img_8471 copy 2sketch, India ink and acrylic ink on watercolor paper, 2018.

I think these images and drawings also relate to the word in Portuguese – ‘vivência’. It has several meanings in English – existence, living, perception, experience…. I love how Portuguese words contain these multiple meanings. All these meanings are ideas I am working with in both the performative works and the drawing works.

I am going to start drawing again, same ideas, big and small…

My Heroine Claude Cahun– posted in Boulder, CO. December 16, 2018

* 1 72 1914 cahunClaude Cahun, c. 1914.

I have spent the last three days in bed with my collection of books and catalogues about French artist Claude Cahun (1894-1954). I have had a bad head cold, so I have taken this opportunity to study and contemplate her works and my relationship to them. I am mostly interested in the vast array of “self-portraits” she made over the course of her life, but I am also interested in her texts and writings. My art practice over the last several years in drawing, installation, performance, research, photography and writing has been an elaborate and exploratory embodiment – with several remarkable international women artists of the 20th century as my guides. Cahun has been on my radar for some time – she was an extraordinary artist – working during the 1920s and 30s as an outsider (as a woman and as a lesbian) in the Surrealist circles of Paris. She was a brilliant woman – an intellectual, a journalist and as writer she created and published complex texts. She also performed in avant – garde theatre productions in Paris throughout the 20s. She is known by visual artists for the mesmerizing photographs and “self”-portraits she created over a period of some 40 years. There is some discussion about how collaborative this practice was with her life-long partner Marcel Moore. This photographic practice was a “private” practice of sorts- the stunning photographic portraits were never shown in her lifetime as singular objects, but they were used in many photo-collages in various publications of her written work.

 

* 2 72 1920 Claude Cahun 20140718-lens-cahun-slide-YLOP-superJumboClaude Cahun, c. 1920.

Claude Cahun had a devoted and creative relationship with her lifelong partner -fellow artist Marcel Moore (1892-1972). Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore adopted their gender-neutral nom de plumes (their given names were Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob and Suzanne Alberte Malherbe respectively) as young women in Paris. Marcel Moore was a talented graphic artist and designer and they collaborated on publications and on theatrical projects and most likely on many of the “self-portraits”. Since the 1990s, there has been a resurgence of interest in Cahun’s work (and her work in collaboration with Moore) – both the visual and textual. They have a cult following amongst art-historians and critics and artists working from post-modernist, feminist and queer theoretical perspectives. Cahun’s photographic portraits are sometimes discussed as the pre-cursers to the works of Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman and Nan Golden – which is a little strange since Cahun’s work was virtually unknown when these artists began working. Cahun’s photographic work and textual work (as well as Moore’s graphic works) and their collaborative works have been archived at the Jersey Heritage Trust on the island of Jersey since the mid 90’s. Cahun and Moore lived on the island from1938 until the end of their lives. Both CC and MM were of Jewish heritage and worked as anti-Nazi/ anti-fascist activists during the occupation of Jersey. Both were arrested and sentenced to death for their resistance work. Luckily the war ended before their death sentences were enacted. Cahun was always of frail health and her imprisonment exacerbated this. Cahun died on the island of Jersey in 1954 at the age of 60. Moore took her own life in 1972 at the age of 80; she was still living on Jersey.

Cahun is probably one of the more radical of the artists I have chosen to work with so far. I have been a little unsure and perhaps even afraid of what I might discover about myself as an artist and woman by embodying Claude and taking her on as one of “my” artists. Perhaps what is most daunting to me in relationship to Claude Cahun – is my own “performance” of feminine heterosexuality. Over the last several years I have been facing my own aging feminine identity in relationship to my partner of 38 years who “came out” as a transgender man to woman after 30 years of heterosexual marriage. This has oddly led to my own reidentification with the feminine in my work. What does this all mean? who the f— knows? But I think the reason C.C. both excites and daunts me is that she was seemingly fearless in facing questions of agency, of femininity, of gender, of identity, of power, of sexuality, of politics, of love and of art.

Following are some of Cahun’s remarkable “self-portraits” that I have culled through. I find these works to be very powerful – there is both beauty and truthiness in these images. Some are thoughtfully composed, some are very theatrical, some styled with costumes and props and some were actually part of theatrical productions Cahun was involved with in Paris. However from Cahun’s early years she projects a gaze that shows remarkable self-knowledge as well as self-exploration and an ambiguous tale of what feminine / lesbian / cross-dressing / androgynous subjectivity entails and exposes. I have arranged them chronologically.

* 3 72 1920 claude-cahun-self-portrait-1920Claude Cahun, c. 1920.

 

* 5 72 1925 004-claude-cahun-theredlistClaude Cahun, c. 1925.

 

* 6 72 1927 12741f897b4d5855755e4fa062d55f0dClaude Cahun, c. 1927.

 

Self Portrait c. 1928Claude Cahun, c. 1928.

 

self portrait (reflected in mirror, chequered jacket) 1928Claude Cahun, c. 1928.

 

* 15 72 1929 as Le Diable claude-cahun-the-claude-cahun-self-portrait-1929-trivium-art-historyClaude Cahun, c. 1929.

 

Self Portrait c.1930

Claude Cahun, c. 1930.

 

* 17 72 1939 autoportrait-1939-webClaude Cahun, c. 1939.

 

* 19 72 1947 Claude-Cahun-Self-portrait-on-sea-wall-1995.31mClaude Cahun, c. 1947.

The working title for the project I am planning with Claude Cahun as my guide and inspiration is Heroines – this title comes from one of Cahun’s texts of the same name. Cahun wrote this text in the early 1920’s. She selected 15 female figures  from biblical history, from classical mythology, from fairy tails as well as a few “modern women” typologies. Cahun was classically educated and read ancient Greek, she knew her heroines “straight” traditional stories. She rewrote these heroines’ stories according to her own ironic, modern and presciently feminist point of view. In this surrealist and anti/patriarchal text Cahun writes about – “Eve The Too Credulous,” “Delilah, Woman Among Women,” “The Sadistic Judith,” “Penelope the Irresolute,” “Helen the Rebel” and ten other female figures.

I intend to create my own codex of heroines in research and writing and to then initiate performances and incarnations of my heroines in photographic portraits. I hope to work in collaboration with photographer Luís Branco again on this new project. In these works I will strive to engage with the fluidity of feminine subjectivity, feminine identity, power, sexuality and gender through the restructuring and reviewing and representations of these heroines (I include Claude Cahun here as well) and uncover new, as well as historic, aspects of the terms of feminine and personal selfhood.

I plan on beginning the Heroines project this spring while I am an artist in residence at Obras Holland in May – lucky me!

 

* 21 72 1927 ob_2a85a6_188-1230-0x0Claude Cahun, c. 1927.

 

tudo bom / muita água – posted in Boulder, Colorado November 19, 2018

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The image above is one of the first images I took with my new Sony RX100 point and shoot upon arriving at the Kaaysá Art Residency in Brazil.

I have been home 2 1/2 weeks now and I am now ready to write more about my artmaking process in Brazil and my experiences at the Kaaysá Art Residency. I am just beginning to look at and produce the performative photographic works and drawings in my studio here. I have not done any final editing of the images and the drawings are also still in process…

Kaaysá Art Residency was an exceptional experience for me as an artist and as a human being. As you know I have been doing international artist residencies the last 4 years, mostly at the Obras Artist Residency in Portugal, but I have also been to the Sanskriti Art Residency in Delhi. I went to Brazil partially because of my connection to Brazilian artist Mira Schendel, and partially to get over my intense connection to Portugal (this did not work), and because Kaaysá and it’s location in the rain forest and near the ocean looked like a potentially awesome environment to work in – and I had never traveled to Brazil…

It was also a very lucky circumstance that I found myself at Kaaysá with an amazing group of artists in a very open and beautiful situation. Kaaysá is a very young artist residency. Lourdina Rabieh and Lucila Mantovani have created a unique and wonderful concept. They are my beloved sisters now. Lourdina, moved from Lebanon to Brazil in the 70’s with her family, she is an incredibly talented energetic woman, running multiple creative projects as well as a gallery in São Paulo. Lucila, a Paulistana, is an equally multi-talented woman – a poet, writer, curator, eco-feminist, activist, yoga teacher and amazing facilitator of multi-dimensional projects.

The residency is housed in a lovely pousada that Lourdina and her brother Tony and family built in the beach town of Boiçucanga, about three hours from São Paulo. It is a couple of kilometers to the praia/beach and literally in the Mata Atlântica/ Atlantic rain forest. The rain forest is a unique environment, luscious and verdant and housing huge biodiversity and it is a rapidly shrinking territory. I found it to be inspiring and overwhelming and beautiful and very wet!

There were 12 of us artists at Kaaysá , some of us were there for the full 4 weeks and some for shorter periods. I set up my drawing table in the group atelier/studio next to Tiago Mestre, a Portuguese (Alentejano) architect and artist who has lived in São Paulo for eight years. Of course I felt immediately comfortable with him. My dear Jorge Medeiros, a Paulistano sculptor and amazing performance artist, became my friend from the first day. Deco Adjiman, a poet and sculptor from São Paulo also set up in the studio at the very beginning.  The beautiful Margherita Isola, an Italian (but has spent a lot of time in Brazil), dancer, activist and artist was mostly working outside the studio. My dear Luciana Magno was not working with us in the studio, but we fell in love immediately. Luciana is an amazing performance video artist from Belém. I call her the 10 x Ana Mendieta (and I don’t mean this as a criticism of Ana Mendieta). Luciana is a remarkably talented artist. My dear Gabriel Nehemy, another Paulistano, joined us in the studio a few days later and produced very hot intense large paintings and drawings. Rafa Alves joined us in the studio, another Paulistano and lovely artist and young man. My dear Sally Sølvstjerne arrived from Denmark a few days in. She is an incredibly talented artist, making drawings that are related to graphic novels and also to sacred geometry, an architect and light designer and just an amazing woman – we became very close… Renata Egreja, a very talented Brazilian painter joined us a week or so in. Then Thato Sbk came from South Africa a couple weeks in, a wonderful young artist from South Africa. And the last artist to arrive was Kitty Paranaguá from Rio – a remarkable photographer and woman. So that just sets the scene – you can look them all up on Instagram…

I followed my research and ritual art making process, surrounded by talented and supportive artists at Kaaysá. My main connection to Brazilian artist Mira Schendel on this trip was my re-initiation of my I Ching practice that relates to my drawing practice and also to my performative photographic works. Schendel and I do have a similar aesthetic in many ways in our drawings and paintings as well. She consulted the I Ching regularly too. The I Ching is the ancient book of Chinese wisdom, composed and compiled over thousands of years. The I Ching configures and forecasts around elemental aspects of nature and humanity – heaven, earth, water, fire, the mountain, the wind, thunder, the lake and many more iconic elements in nature and in human life.   I threw the I Ching every few days while at Kaaysá and integrated it more thoroughly into my drawing and performance practice.

I “threw” a lot of water, and I was so deeply in the water in this environment. It was raining a lot… and there are the waterfalls… I threw “Ching /The Well” my first session, and “K’an / The Abysmal Water” the second time. This brought me back to some of my work in Portugal with photographer Luís Branco and with the red cloth. Red and black, colors I have been using quite a bit. I have posted some of these drawings on my previous blog posts.

I was at Kaaysá for two weeks before photographer Fernando Lima came to work with me. So I was “ready” to do the performative work – I had explored the environment and chosen certain sites. Fernando and I had talked on the phone and I had sent him images of my performative work with Luís Branco in Portugal, and also some of my ideas for Kaaysá. When Fernando arrived at Kaaysá, the sun came out for several days. We started shooting at the big waterfall first, Pedra Lisa. We got there early in the morning and there was A LOT of water and beautiful light. We shot a large sequence of images with this translucent red chiffon. Rafa Alves assisted us, thank you Rafa. There are many beautiful images from this shoot. We have not done any final editing of these images yet. Here are just two images from this series.

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We shot a large sequence of images in the lower water fall as well, a smaller waterfall. We used large swaths of translucent white fabric in this series. I like these five images together as a sequence, maybe printed smaller. Again I have not finished any final editing on these images.

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We also shot this series of images “In Lourdina’s Garden.” Lourdina has created beautiful gardens at Kaaysá and I discovered this amazing flower, the Bastão do Imperador or emperor’s staff, in this beautiful grove in Lourdina’s garden. We used both a nude fabric and the red chiffon in this series. I think these images relate to my performative “flowers” that I made with a fabric flower in Portugal.

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And finally we shot at the beach. I had not spent a lot of time at the beach because it was raining so much. But I had taken an image with my I phone that I wanted to reproduce with me in it and the blue chair. Chairs have figured a lot in my work before. But I have never been this naked… There is a series of these, but this is the one I like. I have been unsure of this image, because it is very different from my other work.

My dear Deco Adjiman refers to this image at the beach and also the images at the waterfall in this short prose he wrote about me. It is so sweet, I don’t think anyone has ever “seen” me this way in words … Here is the text in Portuguese and English, and my most “naked” picture, it’s Brazil why not…

“então o livro-livro de jogar da senhora do colorado, da menina americana que dança em varanda em cachoeira, da garota que brinca nua equilibrada com uma cadeira azul na linha de fronteira entre mar azul e céu azul e nos explica o oscilar azul do horizonte, da mulher que lembra e sorri, que planeja e sorri e faz e sorri e então nos mira em carinho e nos mira como só fazem as mães e nos mira em abraço” – deco adjiman

“then the book-book of playing of the lady of colorado, of the American girl dancing on the veranda at the waterfall, of the girl playing bare balanced with a blue chair on the border line between blue sea and blue sky and explains the blue oscillate of the horizon, the woman who remembers and smiles, who plans and smiles and does and smiles and then looks at us affectionately and looks at us like only mothers do and looks at us in a hug” – (forgive the google translate)

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I miss all my dear friends I met in Brazil, we became a family of artists and friends, really beautiful….

Still Drawing – posted at Kaaysa Art Residency, Brazil on October 26th, 2018

I am still drawing – I only have one or two more days to work at Kaaysa. Though I am hoping the sun will come out and I can go to the praia 🙂

All of these “sketches” are 10 inches x 16 inches or 16 x 10 inches, which is 25 x 40 centimeters or 40 x 25 centimeters. All India ink and some acrylic ink.

I want to continue these sketches when I get home and perhaps go to a larger size for some of them.

They are all related to the I Ching and also the water and landscapes I have encountered here.

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