The Baroness Elsa Project

Dana Claxton, Headdress-Dee, 2019, LED firebox with transmounted lightjet duratrans, commissioned in part by the Toronto Biennial of Art, courtesy of the artist

The Baroness Elsa Project
Lene Berg, Dana Claxton, ray ferreira, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Wit López, Taqralik Partridge, Sheilah ReStack, Carol Sawyer, Cindy Stelmackowich

18 February to 10 April 2022

Curated by Heather Anderson and Irene Gammel
Circulated by Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG)

The Baroness Elsa Project reaches back a century to bring elemental traces of the radical art, poetry, and personage of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927) into conversation with the work of eight contemporary artists. Active in New York’s Dada scene in the 1910s and 1920s, “the Baroness” was an extraordinary artist, poet, and agent provocateur. She punctured gender and societal conventions through her sexual self-expression, subversive self-fashioned dress, performative presence in the city, and revolutionary use of language and found materials. Living in poverty, she sustained herself as an artist model, considering her body an artistic medium and posing as essential to her “sheer life power.”

Unknown photographer, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, c. 1921-1922, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, LC 5677-2

This project illuminates Freytag-Loringhoven’s life and oeuvre by situating it in relation to the work of contemporary artists. These artists likewise explore identity and self-expression, intervene in dominant social and art historical narratives, work against systems of exclusion, challenge social and disciplinary boundaries, and claim agency and power.

Sheilah ReStack’s sculptural photographic works probe relationships with those around her, indexing her body, daily activities, and queer identity as an artist, mother, and partner. Amautiit (women’s parkas) created by Taqralik Partridge explore material culture and its role in identity, resilience, and “homefullness,” while signalling the precarity and homelessness many Inuit face. In her Headdress series, Dana Claxton explores identity, beauty, pleasure, gender, and the body through photographs of Indigenous womxn, their heads, faces, and torsos abundantly adorned with beaded cultural belongings. Wit López deploys textiles in all their tactility in digital quilt portraits of the artist and their peers that joyously celebrate their identities as disabled artists.

Language and fluid poetics unfurl in the work of ray ferreira, rhythmically sounding aqueous depths, the body, and resistant identities. Continuing her research of historic women artists, Carol Sawyer channels one of Freytag-Loringhoven’s radical poems in a video performance. Lene Berg also pays homage to the Baroness, reimagining a famed (since destroyed) film that Freytag-Loringhoven, Man Ray, and Duchamp made in 1921. Cindy Stelmackowich reflects on the devastation of trench warfare during World War I, which many European artists fled by immigrating to New York. She reworks medical splints used to treat injured soldiers into an installation exploring the era’s reckoning with the body, mortality, and notions of impervious masculinity. The works of these artists constellate around language, poetry, performance, materiality, and embodiment. Like the Baroness, they signal both the present and the future.

We would like to acknowledge, honour, and pay respect to the traditional owners and custodians—from all four directions—of the land on which we live. It is upon the unceded, ancestral lands of the L’nuk (Mi’kmaq) that the Owens Art Gallery is located. While this area is known as Sackville, New Brunswick, it is part of Siknikt, a district of the greater territory of Mi’kma’ki. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship,” which the Mi’kmaq Wolastoqiyik, and Peskotomuhkati first signed with the British Crown in 1725.

This exhibition was organized by Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) with the support of the Joe Friday and Grant Jameson Contemporary Art Fund. The Owens Art Gallery acknowledges the generous support of all its funders, including Mount Allison University, the Canada Council for the Arts, the New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, the Town of Sackville, and the Friends of the Owens.

Owens Art Gallery
Mount Allison University
61 York Street Sackville, NB, E4L 1E1 • 506-364-2574
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Monday to Friday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Saturday and Sunday 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Admission is Free
Masks are mandatory and proof of vaccination is required.

The Owens is partially accessible. The stairs from the entrance nearest the University Chapel have a handrail. There is also ramp access at this entrance, however, the ramp is steep. The stairs to the entrance off York Street have a handrail, but no ramp. The main floor of the Owens is wheelchair accessible. Our second-floor gallery and cisgender bathrooms are located in the basement and are not accessible. Two flights of stairs lead to each of these floors. The Owens welcomes guide dogs and other service animals. There are two, reserved, accessible parking spaces on the York Street side of the Gallery and one in the circular driveway adjacent to the Gallery.

If you have any questions about your visit, please email or call (506) 364-2574.