OBVIOUS EYES

The true story of the 000Omission* of Elsa vF.

* Ezra Pound.

Being Duchamp Becoming Elsa, 2021. Remastered 2023.
Silent movie, accompanied by sound available at the time of viewing. 10:12.

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 would be very different if E vF. as my protagonist signed her name, was acknowledged as the originator of the infamous urinal – her readymade sculpture Fountain, the artwork that changed the way we view art and what we think about the world.

This many-faceted project reveals the fact behind the fiction. The cross-dressing, gender-bending narrative exploring how, in the absence of any evidence to contradict the myth, Duchamp, the man who lived down the hall, comes to claim Elsa’s oeuvre as his own.

Still frame. Being Duchamp Becoming Elsa, Silent movie,  2021. Remastered 2023.

A Readymade Photostory, 2021.
Riso print on 100% recycled paper, 29.7 x 21 cm. Research compiled with images. Edition of 400.

Why didn’t Elsa claim Fountain as her own? She didn’t have the chance and she most likely lost track of it. She didn’t sell her art, and was constantly moving around and frequently in jail.

This zine follows Fountain from its arrival at The Armoury Show in 1917, Elsa and Duchamp’s brief liaison and lengthy talks into the night, Elsa’s early death in poverty, to surrealist Andre Breton’s erroneous attribution of the lost urinal to Duchamp, who in not denying it, claims it as his own, stepping into the shoes of the originator conceptual art.

She was watching him. And he was watching her. Research leads me to believe that so intellectually enamoured with the strangely beguiling Elsa, Duchamp in his propensity for cross-dressing, literally becomes her. Rrose Sélavy, Duchamp’s female alter ego, bears a striking likeness to the Baroness. Some say, Rrose Sélavy is a partial anagram of Sorry Elsa.

Inspired by Dr Glyn Thompson’s rigorous search for the truth.

That The Living May Know The Features of Your Face.
Live performance at Cromwell Place 2021, accompanied by digital film. (Post-produced documentation) 05:00

Performing with acclaimed Palestinian singer Emmal Baker, who sings أحمد العربي (Ahmad Al-Arabi), an Arabic song about occupation, love and longing, and those who endure. Parallels drawn.

That The Living May Know The Features of Your Face, Cromwell Place 2021.
Documentary photography © Debbie Sears.

That The Living May Know The Features of Your Face, 2023
Documentary photography of performance at Petitou, Peckham.. 

That The Living May Know The Features of Your Face,  2022.
Documentary photograph of performance at Mimosa House, London.
Part of The Baroness group
exhibition dedicated to Dada artist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

 Flexible Tenderness Web, 2021.
(Detail) Installation view: 3D printed Death Mask, Sail-Makers Needle and originating filament.
Dimensions variable. Photo © Debbie Sears.

Various sources, including the artist Alfred Stieglitz, who photographed the large porcelain urinal on a pedestal on its arrival at the salon, confirm it that it was a woman sent it to the show. Was it Rrose? Or Elsa? It couldn’t have been Duchamp.

Pulling apart the tangle of little white lies, 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

White Lies, 2023.
Archival Giclée Print on Platium Etching 42 x 59.4 cm.
To order.

Playing Dead, 2021.
Performing Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s death mask.
STL still image from 3D model. Printed object 42 x 59.4 x 15cm.