The event will begin with a screening of Sarah Pucill’s experimental film Magic Mirror (16mm, b/w, 75 min, 2013), which collages together re-stagings of the French Surrealist artist Claude Cahun’s black and white photographs with selected extracts from Cahun’s 1930 book Aveux non avenus (Confessions Denied, or Disavowals). In Surrealist kaleidoscopic fashion, the film creates a weave between image and word, exploring the links between Cahun’s photographs and writing, as well as the thematic and iconographic concerns that connect Cahun’s work and Pucill’s films.

Cahun’s multi-subjectivity sets the scene for the film, in which the artist swaps identities between gender, age and the inanimate. Three women masquerade as Cahun’s characters: often it is hard to tell them apart. The splitting of identity appears as a double which persists throughout; as a literal double (super-imposition), as shadow, imprints in sand, reflections in water, mirror, or distorting glass. The voice is similarly split between differently dressed voices, which sometimes speak simultaneously and sometimes in dialogue. Part essay, part film poem, Magic Mirror translates the startling force of Cahun’s poetic language into a choreographed series of tableaux vivants.

Magic Mirror premiered at Tate Modern in 2013 and has since been screened internationally at various galleries, museums, cinemas, and festivals. In 2015, the film was staged in a show, Magic Mirror, alongside photographs by Claude Cahun at the Nunnery Gallery in London. The film is half of a two-part project on the work of Cahun; its sister film, Confessions to the Mirror, (16mm, colour, 68min, 2016) employs a similar strategy of re-making photographs as tableaux vivants interwoven with voices reading extracts from a major text by Cahun.

The screening will be followed by a conversation with the film’s creator, Sarah Pucill, and radical cultural historian and author Diarmuid Hester, who writes on Cahun in his recent book Nothing Ever Just Disappears (2023), chaired by History of Art PhD student Ciaran Hervás. The conversation will delve into the film’s exploration of queer historical memory through the cross-temporal collaboration between Pucill and Cahun. We will discuss the role of the intermediate/intermedial in Pucill and Cahun’s work, examining what it means to move and exist between mediums, times, and identities. We will conclude by opening the conversation to the audience for questions, comments, and reflections on the screening and discussion. The event will be followed by a drinks reception.

Sarah Pucill is a London-based artist and academic who holds a doctorate and works as a Reader at the University of Westminster. Her body of work is archived and distributed by LUX, London, and LightCone, Paris, including three DVDs accompanied by commissioned essays. Pucill’s unique visual language emerged in the 1990s in the field of experimental film and visual arts, and her films have been exhibited internationally in galleries and cinemas. The majority of her films are set in the interior space of the home, where the physical reality of the house serves as a gateway to a complex and layered psychological realm. Her two long films on the Surrealist artist Claude Cahun re-construct her photographs to create tableaux vivants interwoven with selected extracts from her writing. Each film draws on one of Cahun’s major texts, namely ‘Confessions Denied’ (1930) and ‘Confessions to the Mirror’ (1945-54). Both films draw parallels between word and image, connecting Cahun’s thematic concerns to the present through the lens of a contemporary film artist.

Alongside her films, Pucill has produced a body of photographs. Her photograph ‘Narcissus’ from ‘Magic Mirror’ was recently published in ‘Mirror Mirror: The Reflective Surface in Contemporary Art’ (2024) edited by Michael Petry, Thames and Hudson. Pucill’s most recent film, ‘Double Exposure’, re-stages earlier photographs co-created with her late partner, the filmmaker Sandra Lahire, alongside Lahire’s writing from the same period. The photograph ‘Untitled 2’ from ‘Double Exposure’ is included in ‘Photography: a Queer History’ (2024) by Flora Dunster and Theo Gordon.

Dr Diarmuid Hester is a radical cultural historian, activist, and author of Wrong: A Critical Biography of Dennis Cooper and Nothing Ever Just Disappears: Seven Hidden Histories. He has held research fellowships at the Library of Congress, the British Library, and the University of Oxford, and he was a Leverhulme Fellow in English at the University of Cambridge from 2017-2021. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Irish Times, n+1, the New Inquiry, the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other venues, and his scholarship is published in academic journals such as American Literature, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Textual Practice, and Critical Quarterly. Diarmuid is a BBC New Generation Thinker and a regular contributor to BBC Radio 3. He teaches at the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, and is a research associate of Emmanuel College.

Ciaran Hervás(they/them) is a second year PhD student in History of Art at the University of Cambridge and a Harvard-UK Fellow on the Harvard Herchel Smith Scholarship. They received their A.B. in History & Literature from Harvard University in 2021, and their MPhil in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies from the University of Cambridge in 2022. Their research examines the intersections between sexology and the artistic avant-garde in interwar Paris and Berlin, with a focus on photography as a common visual language between scientific and artistic spheres in the exploration of the sexed, gendered, and desiring body.

Organiser: Ciaran Hervás,

Supported by lgbtQ+@cam and the Cambridge MaCA Seminar Series, convened by Dr. Lorna Dillon and Prof. Alyce Mahon.