Miriam Cahn

° 1949

Works in Bergell (CH), lives in Basel (CH), born in Basel (CH).

Miriam Cahn was born in 1949 in Basel, Switzerland. Her Jewish parents had left Germany between the two World Wars and had settled there. The artist spent a large part of her life in Switzerland and started her career as a graphic designer there. In the 1980s, Cahn also produced works, in black and white, before devoting herself from the 90s onwards to painting and colour, which she mastered perfectly. Her artistic abilities don’t stop there: she also makes performances inspired by her interest in the body, along with videos and practices a form of experimental writing, where language is a material to be processed like any other. She attributes a similar significance and importance to each of her modes of expression: her writings have the same status as her paintings or drawings.

In Miriam Cahn’s works, the body passes from ‘object of contemplation’ to ‘medium’, thus creating a new bodily expression. At the beginning of her career, the artist painted in the street, squatting or kneeling on her large format drawings, allowing her to play with the dust of charcoal and chalk and thus being in physical contact with her matter. She then left urban space, her ‘open-air studio’ to use her own words, and worked in a large warehouse, a ‘warehouse workshop’. She then raised the canvases off the ground, began working with smaller paintings, before gradually moving to large formats. The creation of her works is also characterised by performance: she involves her body completely and imposes a time of measured activity.

Space is of great importance to the artist who considers the hanging of her pictures as a performance in itself. The eyes of the characters must be located at eye level. It takes a few minutes of reflection before instinctively hanging her paintings, multiplying perspectives within a global set.

As for the figures that she features, Cahn opts for blurred silhouettes rather than marked outlines that generally distinguish the shape of the environment in which it is located. Cahn favours transitions between characters instead of constraining them within their outlines. This last point is probably explained by her interest in topics related to the Gulf War, the Balkans or immigration. Painting allows the artist to show solidarity without reverting to what she calls ‘political kitsch’. She prefers to tackle this kind of issues while remaining poetic and abstract.

Miriam Cahn is an artist associated with the feminist cause. War, sex and death are her main themes of predilection. Influenced by the egalitarian and utopian spirit of May 1968, her feminist approach is reflected in her paintings and in her reflective journey: "An artist needs a good dose of feminist consciousness," she writes. I do not want to generalise but since I create bodies, I am nevertheless forced to give it is place." She questions the role of the body in social and cultural life. By painting asexual figures, Cahn is emerging as a feminist activist. She reinterprets the classical themes of painting by seeking to reach a world before culture where man, woman and animals were not yet distinguished and separated.

Miriam Cahn's reputation is international: many museums around the world have paintings by the artist. Her large formats make the news. In 1982, when she was 33 years old, she took part in Documenta 7 in Kassel and, in 1984, at the Biennale in Venice. In 1983, Jean-Christophe Ammann dedicated a personal exhibition to her at the Kunsthalle in Basel. Exhibitions followed in France, Germany, Bosnia, Spain, England, etc.

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