soldiers (men)

cars and carts


water canisters



women crying






for years i have been seeing soldiers soldiers look out at me from the television first in the gulf war much earlier before i had a television i saw fewer soldiers i saw soldiers above all in the newspaper but above all since i have had a television set soldiers have been looking at me out of the television and the most striking were the soldiers in the falklands war warriors whom one hardly ever saw even more striking were the soldiers in the gulf war warriors whom one hardly ever saw as in a promotional film because there was a ban a ban on showing soldiers at work or only at work when they did this work on machines on electronic machines that did not show them doing the killing work but pressing a button steering huge machines but one did not see the result although the camera was mounted on the projectile one saw the result actually only from the perspective of the projectile that is actually only from the perspective of the machine not from the perspective of the person of the soldier who naturally blew up not only buildings with this projectile but also people.


actually I first consciously saw soldiers or soldiers looked at me out of the television when that yugoslavian war broke out when young rambos soldiers who look like silvester stallone from the film proudly declared that they received a reward when they shoot at people in sarajevo from the surrounding area from the hills around sarajevo the mountains around sarajevo and that the reward is higher the higher the higher the smaller the target to be hit a child a dog a cat even brings a bigger reward than an adult person.


these rambos looked out at me from my television set exactly like a rambo or a schwarzenegger or a terminator in a film not only the expression on these young faces was interesting but they were after all men they were after all men they were after all men but the insignias that is the clothing that distinguishes this rambo type the sweatband the jauntily knotted kerchief around the head this head with a bandeau which for me distinguishes the head of a soldier today a white soldier a western soldier or central european soldier a soldier a man who is becoming completely brutalized.


For me these soldiers are at present now today one of the images of a man one of the images that look at me and look at me and which i as a female artist look at me as a female artist which i as a female artist which i try to depict which i try which i try to depict.



these soldiers looked at me when i was looking at gazing at guernica which had been transferred transposed transported to madrid protected behind armoured glass framed by soldiers two to the right and two to the left of guernica probably they were policemen guardia civil but they had on i think the same gear as the fascist militia picasso hated so much i gazed at guernica the horse the electric light the light bulb and the screaming women the grey of the picture the black-and-white of the picture and these two soldiers stared back into the room space in their guardian function stared at the male public and the female public who in turn stared at the picture that essentially had a political purpose inasmuch as picasso had painted it because the town of guernica had been bombed to rubble by fascists with the help of the national socialists but the two soldiers who were guarding this picture for which picasso had made it a condition that it should come back only when fascism in spain was over and the picture came back to spain after his death i think at least after francos death and so these two young soldiers were staring at me the two men still in the old uniform of the guardia civil and that amounted to an absurd situation.


i had seen guernica when it was still in the museum of modern art there it simply hung there it hung there just as it was a picture that i actually it was a picture in which i the light bulb and the horse the horse reminded me of the fact that as a young teenager i had always liked most of all to draw only horses it was a picture that showed something that i think cannot be shown that is women crying it was a picture that reminded me that the horse was my favourite animal as a young teenager as for very many girls the horse which i really rode as very many teenage girls the horse which i preferred to stroke touch brush down more than ride and above all looked at actually i loved above all looking at the horse the horse was a mystery to me the horse was eerie and when i see this light bulb with this horse in the picture guernica it is even eerier.


as a child i planned an entire motorcar i planned it entirely in my head and the next day made it in cardboard it was more a little car or cart made of cardboard and sellotape it was actually completed which was rare since even as a child i was very quick and impatient this little car was my invention it was my own invention because the previous night before going to sleep i thought through in detail how one would have to build a little car like that so that it really looks like a car on television during this yugoslavian war looking out at me from the television from the television set i see on television little cars and carts vehicles of all kinds carrying water canisters wood suitcases bags and necessities of life in general that the people of sarajevo or other occupied towns and villages have to lug along because there are no means of transport usable there any more because there is almost nothing there any more i look at it often every evening every evening i see these carts and have to think of that little car i invented and which actually is not invented at all but is a little car a thing with wheels a vehicle is an object of survival just as the water canister is an object of survival is a modern object of survival made of plastic which when i see it in a shop i think rather ugly and at the same time i have developed a love for it it is an object of survival just as strangely wood is an object of survival although i know of course that wood is used for heating i have never connected with this the idea that an entire town saws down its trees because there is no other means of heating available because the means of heating the wood is just wood now not a tree in the garden tree in the avenue i lived on an avenue every time i left the house there were these trees at the back the gardens sounds more idyllic than it was when i came back from berlin in january february in this over-early spring these trees these trees made basel more southerly than berlin in this early spring these trees led me to to draw plants with my eyes closed always plants in spring spring plants in summer summer plants in autumn autumn plants in winter winter plants kneeling squatting on the floor blind putting it better with my eyes closed i felt related to these plants and drew these plants in chalk with my eyes closed.


during this time the »picasso – braque« exhibition took place in basel the period of collaboration between these two painters braque painted drew very many trees plants picasso almost none it seems perhaps that is true perhaps not he seems to know few plants he knows few plants no connection with plants or little and yet and yet the few plants the few trees in this exhibition overwhelmed me the few plants the few trees were the essence of the plant were plant-essential were tree-essential were thanks to his way of painting far more plantal than in braques more intellectual way of painting soon bored picasso stopped painting plants for me picasso was always someone who drew painted or whatever above all animals and people the animals and the persons animals and the women animals and the women and the men the animals the children the women the men and perhaps the animals the women the men the children in surroundings from bed via the studio arena to the sea and since as a child i naturally tended logically like many children to like animals best i liked picassos animals best too although to me they were eerie but they matched my observations in the zoo alongside which we lived and where if one looked closely at them the animals looked back the animals actually were very eerie above all the hyena whose smell sometimes got through right to our house the hyena had this lopsided gait when it walked the owl the white owl the snowy owl that lived in a little old house the owl in front of which i used to stand for a long time waiting until it at last turned its head opened its big eyes and looked at me as if it knew more than i myself the owl frightened me likewise.


When i think of sarajevo i think of the luggage of the suitcases not only of the little cart but i think of these streams of refugees of these streams of people whom i saw especially at the beginning on television or photographed strangely enough lugging old suitcases with them bundles as if they were from the second world war or i saw the second world war people who actually although they are people like us here in basel or in zurich or vienna remarkably rarely carried these new rucksacks that after all we all have who live close to mountains and sarajevo too in the mountains but they had again as if there was no other possibility when one is fleeing bundles old suitcases if they were lucky pull-carts sledges bicycles onto which they could pack everything if not then they carry the strangest sacks then they carry sacks things tied up into a bundle and what they have on their heads too the clothing they are wearing is strange insofar as its wool so-called old materials as if there had never been any companies there like »patagonia« or »jack wolfskin« or »the north face« as if there had never been these companies who produce these nasa materials which we all use in the mountains or when doing sport and which were certainly used by the people in sarajevo tuzla and so on when they were doing sport but perhaps these refugees were above all small farmers and poorer people who dont have these clothes that keep you warm in a practical way and are above all light light for flight strange also the old rucksacks and in general it seemed as if the term refugee people who suddenly have to flee look the same all over the world be it in africa be it in india be it in china in tibet be it in vietnam be it in south america and now i suppose again in europe refugees all over the world look the same bent over they drag themselves along the camera looks into their eyes their faces and the faces look back in an empty exhausted way and look into my room at me.


sarajevo is for me the same sarajevo is for me a different quality has a different quality from the wars before i have always concerned myself with wars naturally jewish perhaps also female and although born completely in switzerland i have grown up in the awareness that there is this possibility that people trigger off wars that people human beings persons men above all suddenly out of nothing trigger off wars start shooting at others laying into others and the others perhaps in that case us must flee the yugoslav war and the token sarajevo has this quality has a new a new quality for me something new because it has to do with people who are like us it is not so far away it is very close it is nevertheless very close although i have never been there it is very close it is too close although it seems cynical if things farther away wars farther away are less important but it is dishonest to believe untruthful that there are no differences inexact it is a major difference whether a war takes place in europe or somewhere else despite the so-called global village it is just not the case that all images that look out at me from the television become equal it is just not the case i am aware that images from somalia of these thin completely starved people dark-skinned people that these images despite everything despite their horror depite those dying are farther away from me although they are electronically just as close as the images from sarajevo.


i can imagine the similar effect when the so-called civil war in spain broke out although there was no television there yet no electronic things although there was still no so-called global village there yet it must have had a similar effect on intellectuals as on us intellectuals and politically thinking people it must have a similar effect must have had as for us today this yugoslavian war must have especially sarajevo as a token exactly like guernica as a token of absolute horror of guilt of failure hence the will to want to do something about it as every man and every woman has it in his or her power to do personally picasso was not a political a politically agitating artist in the sense that he took over illustrated pilloried things in an ideological way but he is a political artist in my sense because he is a completely simple artist because he sees the things that are happening around him and paints so simply it is precisely so simple and at the same time of course what one sees around oneself is so utterly overwhelming down to the last detail so utterly much that one also gets that rapidness that picasso had he went every day into his studio and painted like mad in a rapid tempo and drew that is the nature of drawing he painted madly rapidly at a mad tempo made sculptures at a mad tempo this has to do with the fact that he simply wanted to depict what he saw around himself and that was so utterly overwhelming every day part of it was the information from his spain about atrocities in the so-called civil war not a civil war but a trial run for fascist thinking for fascist thinking and military action of fascists a trial run in which the non-fascist the part of europe that was not fascist miserably failed because it dismissed this trial run as a civil war i can imagine that for many people this war was a shock hence many people saw themselves compelled to act to act inasmuch as they went there and joined the brigades and fought against the fascists others who remained at home because they saw themselves as uncapable of fighting as i would be for example but stayed at home but sought forms of commenting on or portraying this horror this war for me guernica belongs to this sphere as a commentary on this war no more no less.


a remarkable thing about guernica and not only about guernica is picassos attempt to paint women weeping women wailing screaming weeping more likely weeping women these are the women who look at me today out of the television set the women who are weeping today however are differently dressed they have scarves over their heads when they weep when they are carrying their son their husband their brother their relatives to the grave wearing scarves over their heads but the gesture of these women is precisely the same as with picassos weeping women only picassos weepers have elegant little hats that kind of mantilla those spanish head-scarves interwoven with lace light scarves lace cloths lace handkerchiefs that they crumple with their fingers in terms of outfit therefore they are very elegant which you cannot say of the women looking at me today out of the television set they are wrapped in humble cloths wrapped in a peasant muslim way or simply impoverished whereas these spanish women are very elegant the little hat is of equal value as the weeping and that baffled me it is weeping in itself that picasso wanted to portray i think and nevertheless the little hats are equally important it was important to picasso that the little hat was equally important as the hand and the little cloth and the eyes and the tears a passionate picture for weeping women of women weeping.


i saw these weeping women in the exhibition »picasso after guernica« in berlin during one of the worst phases of the war in yugoslavia every day images were shown me were commented on looked at me out of the television torture concentration camps raping of women and girls women who were carrying their relatives to the grave whose faces had this expression of picassos weeping women actually on the one hand these images looked at out of the television set on the other hand i saw photographs in the newspapers that haunted me and from which i then tried to make series by copying these photographs directly partly also from memory and part of these works was that i copied a postcard of those weeping women of picasso because i was sure that it matched this situation spot on this european situation this shameful disgrace again.


as a child i was always looking at books my parents had this book »the face of fame« with photographs of famous men and women there were a few women but predominantly men of course especially artists and picasso there was a picture of picasso in which he is wearing a hat and has his coat collar turned up one can see only his eyes of course i wanted to become like all these people it is absolutely clear i wanted to become an artist from a very early age naturally i didnt in my wildest dreams think that there was a difference between female artists and male artists i wanted to be an artist i wanted to be like picasso i thought that was the most wonderful thing the greatest thing this life forever going into the studio every day to do something to paint to build just as i had planned the little car the night before and afterwards i built the little car and was very satisfied with my little car my mother was very satisfied with my little car everybody was always very satisfied when i did something in this direction and so very early on i wanted to become an artist like picasso also because he looked so good with his striped t-shirts moreover he lived in the south by the beach by the sea.


i got this information from photographs not from pictures from photographs which i greedily devoured i thought that as an artist one had to live like that picasso the primordial figure these photographs which emanate a very joyous aura because there are always women children animals involved a southern a wonderful life that i wanted to live as an adult even if at that time my models changed daily these three remained over a longish period picasso giacometti munch munch my model in puberty this bleak sombreness these youthful women this inexpressibly flowing dramatic mood and the shadows above all behind the figures sick people dead people people lying in bed people screaming looking at me dissolving on the LSD trip giacometti the region bregaglia the mayor of the village in which we were every winter who had gone to school with giacometti i knew all the details and here too the appearance of this handsome man almost more handsome than picasso i wanted to become like giacometti because he lived beside his studio in the mountains in the big city and every day always went across into his studio and all this information was again confirmed via photographs these photographs looked at me through this looking i wanted to become like these men for a very long time i did not see any difference between woman and man i wished for every child that it would not have to make this distinction only around 23 did i really and truly see that i cannot become like picasso like giacometti like munch at all i will lead a different life i will live a different life just as up to now i have already lived differently because i am a woman and because women live different lives from men.


this recognition was a shock which however did not handicap me on the contrary this anger became my driving force my machine a new world opened up i was lucky in the seventies many women of my age thought that way somewhat older women artists thought that way and acted worked in young media video performance thought worked similarly to me with their bodies out of rage anger female body unknown as an implement never used before as an implement active seismograph as an absolute novelty working directly with the body as implement new insights my new territory that mixes with my old childs knowledge combines commingles into my own brew that was what i wanted to do i wanted to work with my entire body with space with time move in space in time and at the same time not forget all that i had already done all that i had already wanted all that i had already wanted to become who i had already wanted to be i wanted to become picasso and me myself i wanted to be as good as picasso i wanted like picasso to go every day into my studio to paint draw build and yet knew that this old image of the artist is over bound by its time classically with house wife children café discussions going to the brothel life circumstances that i would never have nor wanted any wife any whore any house any children but something new where the woman the artist the woman working and acting is the focal point i myself i myself working acting a woman artist then i had to put this artist myth that i had loved so much behind me assign it to my past and to history yet what i have seen i have seen what looked at me i have seen.



miriam cahn

jan./feb. 1994


this text was part of the perfomance for the exhibition »picasso« in the haus der kunst des 20. jahrhunderts in vienna in 1994: the text which i read in a rush and as fast as possible was interrupted after every paragraph by the »short pieces«.



translated by Richard Humphrey