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.