Miriam Cahn is known to create works crawling on her hands and knees, sometimes naked and sometimes with her eyes closed. Performance and product bleed into one as the Swiss artist leaves her physical residue on her roughed up paper canvases.
Since the 1970's Cahn has been creating work that both incorporates and departs from feminist ideals. Evading traditional classifications of method and material, body and mind, Cahn shifts fluidly between media and styles. Some of her practices are imbued with female rituals; for example, she sometimes creates work around her menstrual cycle. Other processes involve hunching over a canvas and grinding a chunk of charcoal into dust to create abstract forms. But her physical routines seem only to summon the artwork, not dictate it.
Her enigmatic forms, innocent and raw with a hint of violence, form like ghosts emerging from her blind sketches.; the androgynous creatures become totems of beauty, violence and sexuality. Although Cahn's fingerprints and footprints peak out from her shadowy forms, their haunting affect suggests their construction involves some otherworldly secret. The combination of physicality and ghostliness mimics Cahn's recurring themes of experience and memory.
While Cahn's long career is well-known abroad, her work was only shown in the US for the first time last year at Elizabeth Dee Gallery, heightening its already mysterious nature. The largest German exhibition of her work to date is coming to Badischer Kunstverein this fall in an exhibition titled "Lachen Bei Gefahr," or "Laughing When It's Dangerous." We reached out to Cahn via e-mail to touch on her upcoming exhibition. While she emphasized that her English was not the best, she was still able to whip us into shape a couple of times, as you'll see in our interview below. Scroll down for a slideshow.
HP: On one hand your work has feminist roots, a fact highlighted by certain titles like 'Mean Girlfriends' and 'Menstruation Work,' and yet the subjects you depict are often androgynous. How you attempt to depict and eradicate femininity in your work?
MC: The subjects are not androgynous, they are unclear, and I hope art -- also mine -- has the ability to depict AND eradicate.
HP: Much of your artistic technique gives the body more agency than the mind, whether working around your menstrual cycle or crawling around nude with your eyes closed. What can the body bring to art that the mind cannot?
MC: The mind is part of the body and there is never "body" without "mind." To work with eyes closed for example means only to work with less control than by looking with open eyes -- that's all. It's never or-or, it's and-and.
HP: You were partly inspired to begin working with color after viewing Antonioni's "Red Desert" (1964). What about this film inspired you to change your style after spending so long in black and white?
MC: No artist changes his or her "style," anyway. As an artist you might change procedures. Antonioni is one of the three million influences. I like how he uses color by coloring the real landscape to take the picture.
HP: Performance art is one of the few artistic realms where it seems women lead the way. Why do you think this is? How is the female body privileged over the female mind?
MC: Again: this is feminist kitsch to think female body as privileged over the mind. (Women as nature, men as culture... I thought this sort of shit is over.)
HP: In the past your works have been hung up unframed, their rips mended with tape, described as if someone "had beat the shit out of it." How will your work be installed this time around?
MC: "Lachen Bei Gefahr" means something like "laughing when it's dangerous" -- I hope that's how the whole show will look!
'Lachen Bei Gefahr' will show at Badischer Kunstverein, Germany from September 28 to November 9.
See the images below and let us know what you think. (Note: The gallery specified that the titles are in German, and not meant to be translated, so you'll have to sprichst sie Deutsch.)