This installation explores some of the sexism that impacted negatively on the life and work of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, whilst acknowledging the strength she drew from her roots in Munich’s Dionysian movement and attitudes as New York’s first punk.
In doing so, the work shifts the accepted reading of the last painting Elsa painted in 1924, Forgotten Like this Parapluice am I by You – Faithless Bernice! Rather than an autobiographical account of a self-pitying victim, Elsa is pointing out specific structural forces that were preventing her from building a career and celebrating her major achievements. This is assisted by inserting Elsa as a character into a short crime story written by Walter Serner and including key facts from her life that my research has brought to light.
Elsa is defiantly leaving the frame of the art field, stomping on ‘authoritative’ books that are being destroyed by the gushing water from her work Fountain as she goes, a former pet drinking bowl that she kept in her flat with a range of other plumbing objects. Fountain sits on the ‘institutional plinth’ and is sullied by Marcel Duchamp’s pipe placed on top of it. Baroness Elsa declared her found objects as art as early as 1913, including her work Fountain from 1917, and her efforts are only now beginning to be debated and acknowledged within the canon.
To emphasise that the leg is her own and to show the way in which feminist critique was incorporated into every aspect of her life, Elsa’s poem ‘Matter Level Perspective’ is tattooed onto her leg. Written between 1923 and 1927, the poem shares scientific and mathematical themes with her other work, as well as describing a representation of barriers women face with the glass ceiling.
The story is an example of Serner’s development of the detective story form to crime, where he collapses the hierarchy singularly dominated by the point of view of the detective into the multiple perspectives of all involved, showing how several if not all players can be involved in contributing to muddy activities. The amplification of this idea across social, political and economic arenas was seen in these times, just like in the distorted terrain we live in now with the brazen methods of speculation, swindling and outright theft. Serner himself was deceived when his DADA manifesto was stolen by Tristan Tszara. The story also contextualises the types of pressures experienced by all Germans living abroad in this volatile period of history.
(works on paper of pagan imagery in the work are by Paul Venables)