Trotter, P. (2014). Abstruse ideological compositions: Applying Claude Cahun's model of 'Indirect Action' to contemporary activist performance art. Art History Studies: Art and Society, HISTART'14 History of Art Conference Proceedings 28-38. Istanbul, Turkey: Dakam Publishing.
Since the Modernist period, radical artists who have engaged in site specific activist performance art activities that involve the modality of power that they are questioning have often displayed the need to become secretive, aggressive, abstruse or deceptiv e in order to get their messages across. This is because such artists are presenting a spectacle that displays opposing ideological standards to those who are in power at the time. Whilst engaging in such activities, Surrealist anti-resistance freedom fighter Claude Cahun (1934 cited in Doy, 2006, p.76) argued that ‘indirect, rather than direct suggestion of political meaning and action is preferable, both from the point of view of art and that of politics’. This paper will examine Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore’s model of indirect action that they used in World War II for their activist performance art piece named The Soldier with No Name as a way of affecting the consciences of the Nazi soldiers who were occupying their home of the Island of Jersey. I will discuss how such artists’ public performance interactions are considered to be heroic and poignant, yet the level of deception required for the success of their works leads to a questioning of the artists ethical standards that are used to construct the work, and also put the artists in danger. The idea that placing yourself empathetically into the shoes of the Other whilst performing such an action contributes to maintaining peaceful but effective signifiers for its recipients will become a key part of this discussion (Thynne, 2010).
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