Aveux non avenus, 1930

« Ici le bourreau prend des airs de victime. Mais tu sais à quoi t'en tenir Claude »
« Here the executioner looks like a victim. But you know what to expect Claude »
Full-page photomontage, reproduced in photogravure and composed by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (**)
« Ici le bourreau prend des airs de victime. Mais tu sais à quoi t’en tenir Claude »
« Here the executioner looks like a victim. But you know what to expect Claude »
Full-page photomontage, reproduced in photogravure and composed by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) (**)

Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions) (1930) is a collection of essays and recorded dreams, justly celebrated for the remarkable collaborative photo-montages of Cahun and Moore. (**)

Full-page photomontage, reproduced in photogravure and composed by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe). From: Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions), 1930. Illustrated with 10 heliographs executed by Moore after designs by Cahun. | src Ursus Books Ltd via 1st Dibs
Full-page photomontage, reproduced in photogravure and composed by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe). From: Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions), 1930. Illustrated with 10 heliographs executed by Moore after designs by Cahun. | src Ursus Books Ltd via 1st Dibs

Where, for heaven’s sake, did you find the audacity to go against society’s expectations in such spectacular fashion – to look like an androgynous 1980s New Romantic, to cut off your hair, to dye that little buzz cut gold? You said you tried every way to fly under the radar, to be studious and good. Hardly surprising considering the difficult childhood you had – your mother in and out of institutions before disappearing, then you tied to a tree by those beastly school kids for being Jewish at the time of the Dreyfus affair. Children can be horrendously cruel to each other – Lord of the Flies scenarios in a blink of the eye. (*)

Maybe meeting Suzanne when you were young was your ‘rencontre foudroyante’ moment – your lightning encounter. You knew Suzanne/Marcel always had your back, and you found the courage to grow into your authentic self. Something so many of us are unable to do. How lucky you were to have found each other – a relationship that would last until the end of your life. From heady exciting days in Paris through the 1920s and 30s, and all those great friendships with actors, writers and artists. I suspect Marcel might have been a quiet force, the one who grounded you. And of course, you did work in collaboration, probably more than is acknowledged. It is after all Marcel’s name that appears on the bottom of our collage. We are still, despite everything, too much in love with the idea of individual genius to want to acknowledge collaboration. (*)

Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore :: Photomontage for frontispiece for Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions), 1929-1930. Inscribed, recto, l.r., gouache (white), "Moore". Materials: gelatin silver photographs, offset lithography, gouache, pencil. | src National Gallery of Australia
Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore :: Photomontage for frontispiece for Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions), 1929-1930. Inscribed, recto, l.r., gouache (white), “Moore”. Materials: gelatin silver photographs, offset lithography, gouache, pencil. | src National Gallery of Australia

Alongside a copy of the book, the original artwork for the frontispiece that you and Marcel made for Aveux non Avenus is in a Gallery in Canberra. It’s what? I know. It’s bonkers. Canberra was only a few buildings, paddocks and some grand plans when you were writing the book. It is sadly the only original artwork for the illustrations to that crazy, strange, wonderful book that weren’t destroyed I’m afraid – left behind in Paris perhaps when you fled to Jersey? (If there are other collages in an attic somewhere maybe you could just tell me in a dream or something. Just me. Secret.) They are in a display at the Gallery at the moment – at a strange time when the Gallery is closed to visitors. All the works of art wait patiently to be seen again. It’s a shame because the collage in particular is looking grand – Andrea Wise, one of the paper conservators at the Gallery, has toiled away bringing it back close to how you and Marcel must have seen it when you made it all those years ago. It just shines off the wall – looking so fine, as enigmatic, sophisticated and magical as ever. It might be strange that it has ended up in a gallery all the way across the world. But then if anyone is proof that life is strange, unpredictable, extraordinary and full of surprises, it’s you. (*)

Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore :: Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions). Préface de Pierre Mac Orlan. With 10 heliogravures by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) after projects by Cahun. Paris: Éditions du Carrefour, 1930. | src Sotheby's
Claude Cahun & Marcel Moore :: Aveux non avenus (Unavowed Confessions). Préface de Pierre Mac Orlan. With 10 heliogravures by Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe) after projects by Cahun. Paris: Éditions du Carrefour, 1930. | src Sotheby’s

Much has been written in recent years about the gender-fluid writer, sculptor, and photographer Claude Cahun (1894–1954) and her companion Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe). This statement from Cahun’s autobiography sheds light on her entire oeuvre: “Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.” Her art and her spirit have been kept alive by a number of well-known devotees. Notable among them was David Bowie, who created a multi-media exhibition of Cahun’s art in the gardens of Manhattan’s General Theological Seminary in 2007. (***)

(*) Open letter to Claude Cahun by Annie O’Hehir, curator of photography at the National Gallery of Australia

(**) source: Kunstmuseum Moritzburg

(***) source: Sotheby’s

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