The Baroness Elsa Project
The Baroness Elsa Project
The Baroness Elsa Project reaches back a century to bring elemental traces of the radical art, poetry and personage of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) into conversation with the work of eight contemporary artists. The exhibition explores Freytag-Loringhoven’s challenges to societal norms and experimentation with art’s materials and forms as core to and in a continuum with the work of artists today.
Active in New York’s Dada scene in the 1910s and 1920s, “the Baroness” was an extraordinary artist, poet and agent provocateur. She punctured gender and societal conventions through her sexual self-expression, subversive self-fashioned dress, performative presence in the city and revolutionary use of language and found materials. Living in poverty, she sustained herself as an artist model, considering her body an artistic medium and posing as essential to her “sheer life power.”
Freytag-Loringhoven was described as “the only one living anywhere who dresses dada, loves dada, lives dada.” Glints of her energy endure in photographs taken by Man Ray and others, and in the vibrant accounts of artists and friends. Marcel Duchamp declared that, “[The Baroness] is not a futurist. She is the future.” Recent scholarship has illuminated her artistic and literary contributions to Dada during a fervent period of Modernism, yet she remains under recognized.
This project illuminates Freytag-Loringhoven’s life and oeuvre by situating her in relation to the work of contemporary artists. These artists likewise explore identity and self-expression, intervene in dominant social and art historical narratives, work against systems of exclusion, challenge social and disciplinary boundaries and claim agency and power.
Sheilah ReStack’s sculptural photographic works probe relationships with those around her, indexing her body, daily activities and queer identity as an artist, mother and partner. Amautiit (women’s parkas) created by Taqralik Partridge explore material culture and its role in identity, resilience and “homefullness,” while signalling the precarity and homelessness many Inuit face.
In her Headdress series, Dana Claxton explores identity, beauty, pleasure, gender and the body through photographs of Indigenous womxn, their heads, faces and torsos abundantly adorned with beaded cultural belongings.
Wit López deploys textiles in all their tactility in digital quilt portraits of the artist and their peers that joyously celebrate their identities. Language and fluid poetics unfurl in the work of ray ferreira, rhythmically sounding aqueous depths, the body and resistant identities.
Continuing her research of historic women artists, Carol Sawyer channels one of Freytag-Loringhoven’s radical poems in a video performance. Lene Berg also pays homage to the Baroness, reimagining a famed (since destroyed) film that Freytag-Loringhoven, Man Ray and Duchamp made in 1921.
Cindy Stelmackowich reflects on the devastation of trench warfare during WW I, which many European artists fled by immigrating to New York. She reworks medical splints used to treat injured soldiers into an installation exploring the era’s reckoning with the body, mortality and notions of impervious masculinity.
The works of these artists constellate around language, poetry, performance, materiality and embodiment. Like the Baroness, all the artists in the exhibition at once signal the present and the future.
Supported by the Joe Friday and Grant Jameson Contemporary Art Fund
Organized by Carleton University Art Gallery
Image: Wit López, Don’t Talk to Me or My Sons, Pt. 1, 2021, digital photograph and digital quilt, courtesy of the artist