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Posts Tagged ‘Claude Cahun’

Lesbian Whale: An Interview with Barbara Hammer

December 14, 2015 | by

Installation view of Lesbian Whale. Courtesy Barbara Hammer and Company Gallery.

Barbara Hammer is something of a legend in queer feminist and experimental filmmaking circles. In the seventies, she was the first lesbian feminist to make open, celebratory films about her sexuality. In the eighties, her films took their inspiration from structuralism, using paint, animation, and optical printing to explore notions of embodied spectatorship. By the nineties, she’d helped to pioneer “essay films,” an attempt to produce “a genealogy of survival” amid the thrust of identity politics. Her work foregrounded important queer figures in history—Willa Cather, Alice Austen, and Hannah Höch among them—and their historical erasure.

Hammer’s forays into suppressed queer history have evolved into feature-length documentaries. Tellingly, the subjects of these films are early twentieth-century lesbians—artists and writers whose official biographies often elide their sexuality. Lover Other: The Story of Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (2006), for example, is a moving portrait of the couple’s lifelong collaboration and love affair. Hammer’s latest work, Welcome to This House, a Film on Elizabeth Bishop (2015) follows the poet’s life from her bleak New England childhood to her ten-year romance with the architect Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares. Elliptical and poignant, it runs counter to mainstream accounts of Bishop’s life, many of which—right down to her Wikipedia entry—still omit these relationships and their impact on Bishop’s work.

On the occasion of her recent exhibition, “Lesbian Whale: Early Drawings and Paintings,” I spoke with Hammer about the radical changes she made in the sixties and about her approach to film.

Most of the historical women artists you’ve made films about—Claude Cahun, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Bishop—predate you. Is there a drive, perhaps, to create a sort of record for future generations, a record that you were deprived of? Your generation was denied open lesbian role models, with a few potential exceptions.

My role models were male artists, who I learned about by reading their biographies. It’s a unique way to go to “art school,” reading the life choices of Vincent van Gogh and Emile Gauguin. I was redefining myself between the ages of twenty-seven and thirty, and I noted that these artists I admired had taken great social risks. Gauguin, in particular, had left his family and a bourgeois job. I could do it, too, I thought, just in a different way. I left my husband in April of 1970 and came out in August of that year. I had no idea before then that I desired women. Isn’t it Wittgenstein who says one needs the language before one can think of the concept? I hadn’t even heard the L word until the middle of that summer. Read More »

Invisible Adventure

December 9, 2015 | by

Watching a film about Claude Cahun.

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When Alan Pierson conducts, he stands with his feet together, sometimes springing onto his toes and then plunging forward at the waist. Other times, he takes a step forward, only to return immediately to his original spot. He is tall and thin, and his reedy build exaggerates his movements: he could be one of Robert Longo’s flailing suited men, but he is poised, like an exclamation mark.

He is conducting Alarm Will Sound onstage at Merkin Concert Hall as part of the Sonic–Sounds of a New Century Festival. He is also onscreen at the back of the stage, in a short film in which he conducts the same composition but without orchestra or audience. The live Alan Pierson conducts with his back to the audience in the hall, but onscreen he frequently appears frontally and in close-up, and his expression—of delectation and wonder—is fed by his body’s exuberant movements. Read More »

What We’re Loving: Sundry Practices, New Order, Flower Power

June 1, 2012 | by

The enthusiasms of our Southern editor (plus a fact-checking query from issue 201) have sent me back to Urne-Buriall, Sir Thomas Browne’s 1658 essay on the “sundry practises, fictions, and conceptions, discordant or obscure” surrounding funerals and the afterlife: “Why the Female Ghosts appear unto Ulysses before the Heroes and masculine spirits? Why the Psyche or soul of Tiresias is of the masculine gender; who being blinde on earth sees more than all the rest in hell; Why the Funerall Suppers consisted of Egges, Beans, Smallage, and Lettuce, since the dead are made to eat Asphodels about the Elyzian medows? Why since there is no Sacrifice acceptable, nor any propitiation for the Covenant of the grave; men set up the Deity of Morta, and fruitlessly adored Divinities without ears? It cannot escape some doubt.” —Lorin Stein

“If beauty is defined as a composite quality encompassing both extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior, then possibly the most beautiful flower shop in the world is located in Vienna’s low-key-but-hip 4th District.” So begins The Flower Shop: Charm, Grace, Beauty & Tenderness in a Commercial Context, which is a little hard to describe to those unfamiliar with the work of author Leonard Koren. It’s a profile of Vienna’s Blumenkraft, told through sepia-toned photographs and text, but it’s also more than that. You learn how a flower shop functions, from the selection of the wares to caring for flowers to arranging, and you get to know the staff and experience the challenges and triumphs of running a small business and of trying to bring something beautiful, unique, and ephemeral into the world. It ends up being a much bigger story than that of one florist, however lovely. —Sadie Stein

New Order, “Leave Me Alone.” I’m not sure how I’ve never discovered this masterpiece of new wave mellow-dee. Perhaps it’s been sitting on the toadstool of my mind, elbow on knee, hand on chin, waiting for the perfect moment to ring out. As a fan of New Order’s calmer music—“Regret,” “Love Vigilantes,” “Ceremony (Single Version)”—“Leave Me Alone” ranks high in its moody solitude. Bernard Sumner rolls the song along slow at first, but the urgency in his voice picks up as his “character” becomes more frustrated in his inability to escape the company of others. The lyrics keep in line with New Order’s usual sexual despondence:

From my head to my toes
To my teeth, through my nose
You get these words wrong
You get these words wrong
Everytime
You get these words wrong
I just smile.

—Noah Wunsch

There are so many reasons to be excited about art this year—great gallery and museum shows all around the country. Lucky Chicagoans are catching the tail end of a Claude Cahun exhibition and are a month into the Art Institute’s display of their newly acquired Dawoud Bey collection. The twenty-five black-and-white photographs are comprised by Bey’s “Harlem, U.S.A.” series, which was first shown more than thirty years ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem. If you’re not in Chicago, I recommend the handsome catalogue—the photographs are worth extended viewings, and his images of the Manhattan neighborhood’s denizens stand alongside the work of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, and James Van Der Zee as definitive American portraits. —Nicole Rudick

My favorite movie of the last five years is probably Reprise, by the Norwegian director Joachim Trier. I loved its sense of humor and its sense of possibility. Trier used the devices of the nouvelle vague, not with irony or nostalgia, but as if they were brand new—as if Oslo today were Paris circa 1964. Most of all I loved Anders Lie’s performance as a brilliant writer in the grip of a life-threatening depression. Oslo, August 31, which was released last week in New York, has all of these things, too, including Lie as a recovering addict who thinks he will never piece his life back together. Despite the similarities, Lie’s performance in Oslo is full of surprises. I can’t think of a movie actor my age who is more fun to watch. —L.S.

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