Todays book club is going to be a little bit different, because instead of discussing one particular book/poem I am going to be celebrating the talents of one poet… ELSA VON FREYTAG LORINGHOVEN!
I only first found out about her a few weeks ago because like too many boss-ass bitches, she has been erased from so much of her legacy and historical input towards modernism/ dadaism in art/poetry. Elsa is so insipirng, not only is she absolutley crazy and therefore makes perfect sense to me, but she had a passion for truth and feeling as much as you can, that I think only a few people can equal. She was German, but moved to America in the early 20th century to live her life as an artist in the modernist community of Dadaists. She is highly suspected of creating one of the most famous pieces of modern art- that upside down urinal, supposedly by Marcel DuChamp under the alias ‘R. Mutt’. HOWEVER, many people think it’s Elsa, not Marcel (she tried to bed him unsuccessfully, but tbh I don’t think Elsa was lacking in the D- department- YASSS QUEEN!) for two reasons:
1.) There are letters from around the time of the Urinals exhibition (I can’t remember its name, and it never got accepted into the exhibition- but I think that was the whole point) where DuChamp writes that he recieved a found-art piece from a female friend in Philadelphia that he was thinking about entering into an art exhibition. Who was staying in Philly at that time, I hear you cry, and who also happens to be female?.. FUCKING THE BARONESS BITCHESSSSS.
2.) Due to Elsa’s Germaness, many people have commented on the phonetic similarity between the ‘R.Mutt’ psyudeom, and the German word ‘Armut’= poverty. People think Elsa could have been having some witty cynicism against the art world powers-that-were, by using the name to elude to the art world’s creative and visionary poverty when it came to understanding avant garde art in Dadism.
Aside from the urnial, another example of Elsa’s boundless views of overlapping realities is seen in ‘Cathderal’. A piece of driftwood, in which Elsa saw the shadows and spires of a grand cathedral; the unspeakable sadness of her longings for a lover who could not stay, of a God who couldn’t be worshipped. I love her bawdiness and unchastened view of the world and herself, but there is a tenderness and sensitivity to Elsa that I feel underpins so much of how she percieved so densley, and created where others would have seen nothing. Elsa isn’t only an artist of sculpture, though. She also perfomed sound poetry in her Greenwich Village appartment, paving the way for so many styles of poetry and music we listen to now. She talked about things no respectable people wanted to hear: eros, vice and sexual desire as transcending gender in its agency. I remember reading a part of her work when she said that Jesus had a large a penis, HAHA. When you think about it, that does make sense though. The son of God and saviour of mankind just wouldn’t have a mico-dick, surely? (No offence to any micro-dicks out there, God made you too.)
Another cool thing about the Baroness was her fashion sense, Lady Gaga aint got nothing on my girl. She used fashion as an extension of her artistic vision, and constructed modernist outfitts out of found everyday objects. She wore teabags as nipple tassles for fucks sakes- WHO EVEN HAS THE BALLS TO DO THAT I LOVE IT!!!!! (the breakfast food item theme contintues, as she also made a sculpture called ‘Orgasmic Toast’, and I can relate- toast IS orgasmic). One time she agreed to model for an artist friend, and when she turned up all she had on was a red mackintosh and a hat decorated with root vegetables, betroots and carrotts amongts others (as you do). He asked her to take her kit off so he could get painting, and she threw her coat down like a gauntlet, revealing her naked, save for a bra made of tomato-tin cans and green string to symbolise the commodifcation of the female body. HOW FUCKING ICONIC IS THAT, ALL SUPPOSED FASHION ICONS SHOULD BE QUAKING IN THEIR BOOTS! BASIC BITCHES COULD NEVERRRRRR!!!!!!!! To top it all off, Elsa even got arrested once for walking down central New York in a mans suit smoking cigarettes at a time when women were not allowed to shashay to their full potentials. She used her body and fashion to queer gender in unprecedented ways- allowing feminity to be sexually in command of the phallus, letting real bodies encapsulate both sides of the metaphysical gender spectrum- and if she were alive now I have no doubts she’d be a superstar.
ELSA IS GOALS!!!!!!!!!! I have no shame so I will share this nerdiness with the internet, but I actually made a shrine to Elsa in my room complete with decorated dragonflies and a minature rock garden with dried flowers and mini crystals. I repeat: NO SHAME.
Despite her lavish imagination, constantly producing a reflection of the modern world where nothing was cast in one singular image, but always moving and changing in different perspectives- the same fruitfulness cannot be said of her material life. She had the title of a Baroness, but in reality her Baron was merely a bus conductor, fallen far from any hints of aristocratic comforts. She lived much of her life in poverty, finding sustenance in her art and friendships. But, this wasn’t to last. She ended up dying of gas suffocation in her Paris flat, but its unknown whether she commited suicide, aged only 53. So much of her creativity and spirit is lost to the mainstream art world, where people rap off names like Van Gogh or Monet like muscle memory. Her sad and untimely ending haunts me, but the sparkle and colour of her imagination is enough to make even Death wince and rub their eyes in her gloriousness. I imagine her not battling insanity or capitalist suffocation, but vibrant and alive with her friends in Greenwich Village. With Claude McKay, her black and gay friend- another powerhouse queering bodies and gender- both dressed like club kings and queens and posing for the camera like they could be in any fashion show or red carpet now- just so long as Elsa can keep her root vegtable hat and tin can bra.
Her work is obscured, and so quite hard to get a hold of cheaply in print, but honestly to anyone who loves art/ poetry/ interesting people- I would highly recommend making Elsa your new fave person to google, because she deserves the regognition completley. From Grason Perry, to the sex pistols and beyond- so many punk rock anarchists today owe their lot in part to Elsa, and I hope one day she will get the biopic/museum/ commemoration she deserves. I will include a poem here to tantalize you, but I cannot say it enough: SERVE YOUR BARONESS! ELSA IS PARAMOUNT! MAY WE REMEMBER HER WITH LOVE FOR THE GLORY SHE DESERVES AND THE WONDER SHE INSPIRES!!!!! xoxoxo
Why is it – that for that distinctive man
We sigh- pray -cry- incessant jubilate –
That even lovely sun we shall despise –
Although he in his glory set and rise
Above exalted empire of own –
Unless that semigod bestride fair throne –
That this one pair of lips – applied –
To our own delight – spites death –
His step stark happiness –
Upon his shank we sit I state.
Why is it – that the tussle – teeming world’s
Figures appear to be dim marionettes –
Like corrupt corpses tidy put aside –
He kiss thy knee – Prince Carnival winks bright –
Merry kings house – we caper gay as god –
To humor his mad body’s ardent plea –
We spill our crimson fount exultingly –
Mount scaffold black –
Alike we would flounced bridalbeds
And yet again – and still that selfsame man –
After some spell – becomes he changeling
Loathsome to pet – we stare him down –
Where is his ermine – purple-studded crown –
Hey-well-a-way – times kindled blazing red –
And thus it stands: flesh is but fickle spark:
Flame burns eternal – tinder crumbles dark –
Idol for aye – blood sacrifice
His stipulated offering.