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

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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.

 

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Titian, Salome, 1515

 

Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

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

 

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Henri Regnault, Salome, 1870

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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?

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

 

 

Primavera in Portugal! – Posted in Boulder, CO February 13, 2020

all images by Luís Filipe Branco

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Primavera I, 2019, 53 x 80 cm

I have been preparing for the exhibit The Mirror Between Us – it will open April 4, 2020 in Evora, Portugal. Primavera / spring in Portugal! My collaborator Luís Branco and I will be showing a beautiful selection of the performative photographic works we have made over the last five years in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The exhibit will be held in the Igreja de São Vicente, a lovely 15th century church and exhibition space in the center of Evora, supported by the Municipality of Evora (thank you Margarida Branco!). I will go to Portugal at the end of March to install the exhibit with OBRAS Foundation curators and dear friends Carolien van der Laan and Ludger van der Eerden who have supported my work with Luís Branco from the start.

The images on this blog post were all made with Luís last spring 2019 in the landscape near Evoramonte and at Herdade da Marmeleira, the location of the OBRAS Artist Residency in Portugal. Most of these images will be in the exhibit in Evora (along with many others).

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Primavera II, 2019, 53 x 80 cm

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Primavera III, 2019, 53 x 80 cm

We worked in the emerald green landscape surrounding Herdade da Marmeleira. I brought meters of fabric that is close in color to my own skin – admittedly it is kind of a strange pinkish color. The fabric is like extra “flesh.” My performative work has become more and more “naked” in a certain way. I think the contradiction is interesting of the older woman (myself) clothed but also almost naked in the flesh colored fabric. Perhaps this speaks to some kind of process of rebirth in the springtime fields.

 

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Seated, Nude I, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

 

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Seated, Nude II, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

I love this following series Outside Woman I,II,III. There is a kind of reverse voyeurism going on in these images. Luís shot me outside the window while he was inside the Casa Miradouro. You see Evoramonte in the distance.

 

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Outside Woman I, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

 

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Outside Woman II, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

 

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Outside Woman III, 2019, 80 x 120 cm

It is snowing here in Colorado as I post these images. I am looking forward to traveling to Portugal at the end of March for the exhibit opening April 4th, in Evora. Portugal in the spring!!!

 

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.