The level of their sophistication with respect to performance reveals itself in a series of aerial shots taken from an upstairs window of their building. Within Moore's bird's eye view, Cahun acts out something akin to semaphore code in the courtyard below. A black and white swimsuit abstracts the contours of her prone body and defines her form against the white sheet that serves as a backdrop [figs.18-19, JHT/1995/30/e and JHT/1995/30/c].

In 1926, around the time that these photographs were taken, the expressive dance movement leader Rudolf von Laban devised a "revolutionary alphabet" for the transcription of his choreography. Laban's code--which synthesized verbal, visual, and corporeal signs--inspired a publication featuring photographs of one of his students, the Czech dancer Milada Mayerová, whose signaling body mediated "a meeting of [the] autonomous arts [for] solving a common task."10 Somewhat surprisingly, Mayerová's Alphabet received international critical attention. As Laban, Mayerová, and much of the European artistic avant-guard acknowledged, the alphabet--building block of language (and therefore culture)--offered a logical starting point for the project of cultural reconstruction in the wake of the Great War. Mayerová's choreographic alphabet may also have held interest as a sort of primer for devotees of expressive dance (a movement that had emancipatory implications with respect to the female body and female sexuality). Moore's photographs offer evidence that she and Cahun were not only aware of this didactic performance trend but, further, aimed to personalize its rhetoric. Looking at the signals formed by Cahun's body in this light, it is possible to see the initials "C.C.," posed back to back in one exposure and an "M" emerging from the side of an "S" in another.

At the other end of the performance spectrum, photographs from this decade picturing Cahun "in training" contain multiple references to more popular pastimes such as boxing and matinee theater. Costumed in boxer shorts, wrist guards, and a leotard inscribed with hearts and the admonition "Don't Kiss Me I'm In Training," Cahun balances weights bearing the names of the comic heroes Totor and Popol in her lap, and preens for the camera in a manner that accentuates signs of hyper-femininity: paste-on nipples, painted-on lips, lacquered-down spit curls [fig.20, JHT/1995/30/j].

"Training for what?" she prompts us to ask. Training to become a woman...or to un-become one? Training to be a lesbian? Keeping in mind that theories emphasizing the role of social conditioning in the production of gender (the psychiatrist Joan Riviere's 1929 essay, "Womanliness as a Masquerade," for instance), were coming into circulation at this time, we may justifiably consider the couple's escalating investment in the spectacular arena as a logical extension of their original engagement with L'Image de la femme.

Toward the end of this spectacular decade, Cahun and Moore joined an obscure theater company, Le Plateau, directed by Pierre Albert-Birot, whom they had probably encountered at the Théâtre Esotérique. Albert-Birot--a typographer, poet, and visionary--had long dreamed of venturing into the dramatic arts and Cahun and Moore numbered among the handful of collaborators that he recruited from Paris' theatrical margins. Cahun performed as Satan (Le Diable) in an adaptation of a twelfth-century mystery play about Adam and Eve, Les Mystères d'Adam, produced by Albert-Birot in March of 1929 [fig.21, JHT/1995/31/u].

She earned critical praise for her role as Blue Beard's wife (Elle) in a feminist parable, Barbe bleue [fig.22, JHT/1995/30/k],

and also performed as the character Monsieur in a satire titled Banlieu (which was not as well received) [fig.23, JHT/1995/30/h].

Moore apparently did not produce costumes or sets for Le Plateau, but documented several of the plays photographically, including those in which Cahun performed.

Albert-Birot mapped out his research program for new modes of dramatic and poetic expression in a "Programme-Revue" also named Le Plateau. Cahun contributed excerpts of her writings to the publication, where Moore's portraits of the members of the company were also reproduced [fig.24, Moore, illustrations from Le Plateau].

Le Plateau (the name evokes the "naked stage," theater at its essence), survived for only one season but left a mark, nonetheless, upon the history of modern theater. Although the members of the troupe invariably outnumbered the members of the audience (they performed Barbe bleue before a single spectator), the productions nevertheless lent impetus to the era's radical dramatic trends, in dialogue with theorists like Bertolt Brecht (the alienation effect) and E.G. Craig (the displacement of dramatic emphasis from the actor to the scene). Le Plateau was to be a place where "the theater was as purely theater as possible, that is to say a scene that depends uniquely upon the two originators of drama: the Author and the Actor."11 Reviewers commented on the starkness of the productions, where "no nuance of lighting...no artifice of decor...creates an atmosphere of mystery, of anxiety, of fright à la Maeterlinck."12 An admirer of Chinese and Japanese dramatic arts, Albert-Birot instructed his actors to paint their faces into characterless masks and trained them to strip their lines to the essence, so that the words became "white", and the phrasing "monotonous."13 The dramatic gesture followed suit, reduced of all embellishment, firm, legible, rigorous. "In everyday life, we waste words and gestures because we have time to lose and no one is looking, but the actor, a thousand eyes follow his movements and he has only an hour or two to transmit the drama that he performs, it is therefore indispensable that he act and speak with the greatest economy, on stage no waste, nothing must be lost."14 Cahun's body language as she poses for photographs in her Barbe bleue costume conveys something of the choreographic precision that Albert-Birot exacted from his cast members. A note to the metteur-en-scène penned by Cahun "correcting" his staging of her role as Elle evidences the give-and-take that prevailed, however, even in the face of the Albert-Birot's strong artistic convictions.

Among the convictions that Cahun and Moore shared with Albert-Birot, I would cite a profound mistrust of realist representational traditions, whether they be literary, dramatic, or pictorial. "We challenge realism because the realism we are given is false," Albert-Birot declared, "...we do not believe that it is real. Today, most actors reproduce reality from the outside, whereas to reconstitute reality from the inside is to create; it is the beginning of creation."15 With Apollinaire, Albert-Birot envisioned a theater in the round where the audience, activated as participants, occupied the center of the dramatic arena.16 This, too, struck a chord with Cahun and Moore, whose work explored the negotiation of meaning in similarly multilateral terms.

It is easy to understand why Albert-Birot’s ideas about theatrical play (performance as a "mode of research" into new forms of social and artistic interaction) would have inspired Cahun and Moore. Even after Le Plateau disbanded, they remained close to its leader. What is more, their encounters with Le Plateau and Le Théâtre Esotérique emboldened Cahun and Moore to widen their circle of artistic collaborators and to forge alliances with activists in the surrealist milieu. These milieux constituted the artistic and intellectual context in which Cahun and Moore created their second major collaborative publication, Aveux non avenus (disavowed confessions).17 The book, an anti-realist literary mosaic assembled by Cahun, features photocollage illustrations that Moore composed from the store of pictures she had taken of her lover, including several from Théâtre du Plateau performances. Amidst images of Cahun’s avatars and cultural icons (including Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas), Blue Beard's Wife, Elle, attracts our attention at the center of the scrambled family album that introduced the book's first chapter, for instance [fig.25, moore, heliographic reproduction of collage, plate for chapter 1, Aveux non avenus].18

The emphasis on the stage career within the literary/pictorial framework of Aveux non avenus signals the relevance of theater as a model for the couple's other artistic initiatives. It is not surprising that Albert-Birot--who strove to free expression from the falsities of a commodity-driven cultural system--chose to publish excerpts from Aveux non avenus in his short-lived review Le Plateau. The book, like Albert-Birot's endeavors, targets narrativity, realism, the cult of celebrity, and the cult of self.

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