Artists' Takeover: Dragana Jurišić

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(Photo: Gordana Čavić, self portrait, date unknown)

I have promised myself that 2021 will be the year I finish the book I am writing, based on a fictionalized life of my aunt who was a spy in Paris during the Cold War. However, I keep getting distracted  with other women who arrived in the French capital with their luggage full of dreams, and the tragic destiny of many.


(Photo: l'Inconnue de la Seine, 2015)
My obsession with l’Inconnue de la Seine has taken hold early on, and I have included her likeness and what it represents to me in a number of works, including 100 Muses (in collection of Arts Council Ireland). L’Inconnue de la Seine is the name given to a young woman whose body was allegedly recovered from the River Seine and whose death mask was cast in a bid to identify her. Her serene and quiet beauty became a muse for artists such as Man Ray, Albert Camus, Anais Nin and many others, who projected imagined identities on this drowned Mona Lisa. Her image talks about a profound relationship between beauty and artistic endeavour, between ‘worshiping the image’ and the notion of truth.
(Photo: 100 Muses polaroids, 2015)
Another woman I've been occupied with is Léona Camile Ghislaine Delacourt, born 23 May 1902; same birthday as mine. Better known as Andre Breton’s Nadja, a young woman in the throes of a psychotic breakdown, her Self -disintegrating, like the sun exploding in slow motion. For a surrealist, Leona was a perfect guide into the unknown. She idolised him. “André? André? … You will write a novel about me. I’m sure you will.” -- Yeah. He will. He did.
(Photo: Léona Camile Ghislaine Delacourt)
Breton asked for Léona’s diary to help him along. She complied. In love. Once Léona gave him enough, including herself, in an out-of-town hotel, the writer abandoned her; soon after whining to his friend that having sex with her, was like “making love to Joan of Arc.” In a hopeless attempt to keep herself in Breton’s orbit, she wrote desperate letters to the writer, embellished with drawings, the same ones he later used in his book. Gradually, ‘Nadja’ stopped comparing him to God, but to a wildcat, and herself, his prey. Perhaps, the change occurred after he showed her the notes for his 'novel'. “How can I read this report… glimpse this distorted portrait of myself without rebelling, or even crying,” she implored, heartbroken. Léona asked Breton for her diary, which he returned once materials for the book were extracted. The last letter, which she quietly slipped under his door, read: “Thank you André, I’ve received everything… I don’t want to waste any of the time you’ll need for loftier things.”’ Léona Camile Ghislaine Delacourt ‘voluntarily’, if reluctantly, sacrificed herself at the Art’s altar.
It’s raining still
My room is dark
Heart in the abyss
My sanity is dying,
she wrote before she was committed into a psychiatric institution, no longer a woman but a symbol.
(Photo: Nadja by Andre Breton)
Working on the third part of NADJA, which Breton envisioned as a long meditation on beauty, there came a karmic twist in the shape of Suzanne Muzard. Occupation: prostitute and a photographer. After a brief fling, Suzanne asks Breton to leave his wife and marry her. He takes too long to decide. Suzanne Muzard, a practical young woman, born into poverty, boards the train out of Paris with her wealthy patron Emmanuel Bearl. Breton tries to stop them. He rushes to Gare de Lyon and pleads with Suzanne, begging her to stay, but it’s too late.
(Photo, Suzanne Muzard & Andre Breton)
When he writes: “Beauty is like a train that ceaselessly roars out of Gare de Lyon and which I know will never leave, which has not left,” he is attempting to rewrite the truth about a woman who broke his heart and derailed his book. The same month Breton’s Nadja came out into the world; the real one got sucked out of it. In May 1928, Léona Camile Ghislaine Delacourt, age twenty-six, was transferred from the hospital in Paris to a psychiatric institution near her native Lille. She never came out of it alive, dying institutionalised, fifteen years later.
(Photo: Gordana Čavić grave, 2014)
Reflecting on the destiny of these reluctant muses is helping me focus on the issues of representation in my new book. How do I do right for my subject, a dead woman, unable to speak for herself?
About the Artist
Born in the former Yugoslavia and now living and working in Dublin, Dragana Jurišić received her PhD from the European Centre for Photographic Research in 2013. She is a Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales and Assistant Professor at Dublin City University.
Working primarily with image, text and video, she has shown her work extensively and won many awards, including the Golden Fleece Special Recognition Award, IMMA 1000 Residency Award and numerous Bursaries and Project Awards. Her work is in a number of important collections including the National Gallery of Ireland, Arts Council Collection and Irish State Art Collection. Her first book, YU: The Lost Country received accolades worldwide. Her book Museum, collaboration with Paula Meehan, came out in July 2019.
YU: The Lost Country (2011-13) by Dragana Jurišić is currently documented in the Worlds Without End: Stories Around Borders exhibitions at the Hugh Lane Gallery. View a recent talk by the artist here