In March last year, I visited Jersey, in the Channel Islands off the coast of France, to undertake an artist’s residency. I wanted to continue my research on French avant-garde queer artist and writer Claude Cahun, and Jersey provided an opportunity to engage with the largest collection of her photographs and ephemera. Originally from Nantes, Cahun settled in Jersey in 1937 with her life-long female partner Marcel Moore. Together they created a complex and fascinating body of work transcending photography, writing, drawing and collage. Known for her postmodern concepts of gender, Cahun used self-portraiture as a means of complicating identity and gender fluidity. I was fascinated by her subversive self-portraits, enamoured with her approach: performative, experimental and seemingly unbounded by the expectations of women during the early twentieth century.
I knew little about Jersey before arriving on the island. In my mind I pictured Moore’s photographs of Cahun, set against a coastal backdrop in St. Brelade’s Bay. During my visits to these sites, I became increasingly drawn to more remote parts of the island.
“In Jersey, the layers of history are seemingly etched into the cliff faces, rock formations and granite slabs of the landscape.”
Jersey contains a number of Neolithic remains, many of which take the form of passage graves, around six thousand years old. These sites are dotted around the island and have been excavated throughout history. Archaeologists have found pottery and beads, arrowheads, urns and querns (mill stones), and skeletons, often in small numbers—adults and children huddled in crouching positions in side chambers. Since their inception these sites have been used for ritualistic purposes; their position in the landscape often overlooks the sea or points towards significant landmarks. La Hougue Bie is home to a nine-metre-long passage and chamber, illuminated by a shaft of light that comes just twice a year on the days of the autumn and spring equinox.
In Jersey, the layers of history are seemingly etched into the cliff faces, rock formations and granite slabs of the landscape. These photographs are a record of the sites I visited and the places I was moved by during the early spring and summer of the year passed.
These images were created to sit alongside Clare Rae’s Never Standing on Two Feet, a series of performative photographs that record the artist’s response to the Cahun archive, and the landscape of Jersey.
Entre Nous: Clare Rae and Claude Cahun is showing at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, Australia from 23 March — 6 May, 2018.