Powerful, virulent and loaded with argument, Miriam Cahn’s pieces are proof of how provocation though art can be a powerful means of impacting an audience. For over 35 years, the Swiss artist has expressed her feminism, antimilitarism and anger in many ways: through drawings, notebooks, photographs, graffiti, paintings and more.
Using only black at first, Cahn added colour to her works in the mid ’90s. A severe internal conflict emerges from her life work, the style wavering from the methodical and geometric to the uncontrollable and threatening. From serene, soft, pastel colours she dramatically switches to blood reds – a dark inconsistency that instils uneasiness in her viewers.
Exhibited at the Centre Culturel Suisse, Cahn’s pictures of figures lying down, experiencing something between rest and agony, crystallise her ambivalence. In one room, huge canvases featuring figures with phosphorescent skin resemble spectres throbbing with life: pure and luminous bodies with faces barely drawn on, screaming in muted pain.
The exhibition is fittingly laid out, in a way that echoes Cahn’s versatility. Pictures drawn in black chalk on the ground are set out on the floor, forcing us to look down into her dark and violent world. Her huge, colourful paintings, on the other hand, have us gazing up at works that evoke the passing of time and family. This back-and-forth between heaven and earth, darkness and light, frustration and hope, fully encapsulates the tensions that make her art so gripping.