A story about the 000Omission* of Elsa vF.
* Ezra Pound said this.
White Lies, Archival Giclée Print on Platium Etching 2023.
A cross-dressing, gender-bending fiction inspired by fact, about an artwork that changed the way we view art and what we think about the world, and how, in the absence of any evidence to contradict the myth, Duchamp, the man who lived down the hall, comes to claim it as his own.
What would it mean if arguably the most important artwork of 20th century was made by a woman? Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. Artist, poet and magical thinker.
Art history and the world would be very different if E vF. as she signed her name, was acknowledged as the originator of the infamous urinal – her readymade sculpture Fountain.
Still frame: Becoming Elsa. Being Duchamp Becoming Elsa, Silent movie, 2021 & 2023.
Being Duchamp Becoming Elsa, 2021.
Silent movie, accompanied by sound available at the time of viewing. 10:12.
Still frame: Elsa’s Death Mask. Being Duchamp Becoming Elsa, Silent movie, 2021.
A Readymade Photostory, 2021.
Riso print on 100% recycled paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Research compiled with images. Edition of 400.
From the arrival of Fountain at The Armoury Show in 1917, Elsa and Duchamp’s brief liaison and lengthy talks into the night, to Elsa’s early death in poverty, and Duchamp’s acquisition of her oeuvre.
Why didn’t Elsa claim Fountain as her own? She didn’t have the chance and most likely lost track of it. Constantly moving around, arrested frequently and in jail. She didn’t sell her art and her art was often misattributed. It was lost. However, conceptual art was born.
It 1935 surrealist Andre Breton brought attention back to the forgotten urinal and attributed it to Duchamp, who didn’t rebuff the claim. In 1950, years after the Baroness’s death and four years after Stieglitz died, Duchamp fully takes credit for it and authorises his replicas to be made.
The only piece of evidence that needs considering is Duchamp’s letter to his sister, discovered in 1982, and dated 11th April 1917.
My dear Suzanne – Impossible to write – I heard from Crotti that you were working hard. Tell me what you are making and if it’s not too difficult to send. Perhaps, I could have a show of your work in the month of October or November-next-here. But tell me what you are making – Tell this detail to the family: The Independents have opened here with immense success. One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture it was not at all indecent-no reason for refusing it. The committee has decided to refuse to show this thing. I have handed in my resignation, and it will be a bit of gossip of some value in New York – I would like to have a special exhibition of the people who were refused at the Independents – but that would be a redundancy! And the urinal would have been lonely- See you soon, Affect. Marcel
In a letter to Georgia O’Keeffe dated the 23rd April, Alfred Stieglitz confirmed that it was a woman that sent a large porcelain urinal on a pedestal to the salon. The woman could have been Duchamp’s female alter ego Rose Sélavy, who I suspect was the Baroness’s likeness.
So, with reference to Duchamp’s alter ego Rose Selavy, I put forward the idea that Duchamp, so intellectually enamoured with the strangely beguiling Elsa, that in his propensity for cross-dressing, he literally becomes her and comes to occupy her territory. Some say that Rose Selavy is an anagram of Sorry Elsa.
Revealed academic research and inspired by Dr Glyn Thompson’s rigorous search for the truth.
That The Living May Know The Features of Your face.
Documentation of performance at Cromwell Place 2021. 05:00
Performance with acclaimed Palestinian singer Emmal Baker, singing أحمد العربي (Ahmad Al-Arabi), an Arabic song about occupation, love and longing, and those who endure. Parallels drawn. Much of the modern world is touched by E vF.’s thinking, yet no one knows her name. Claiming her territory for her.
Documentary photograph of performance at Cromwell Place, 2021. That the living may know the features of your face.
Photo © Debbie Sears.
(Detail) Installation view: Flexible Tenderness Web, 2021.
3D printed objects – Death mask, sail-makers needle and originating filament. Dimensions variable.
Photo © Debbie Sears.
Documentary photograph of performance. Part of The Baroness group exhibition dedicated to Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at Mimosa House, London 2022.