Dolly Wilde’s Picture-Show

Artist statement by Rebecca Nesvet

And still they come and go: and this is all I know–
That from the gloom I watch an endless picture-show…

Siegfried Sassoon, “Picture-Show” (1920)

Playwrite Rebecca Nesvet about her Dolly Wilde’s Picture-Show

Dolly WildeWhen I read Sassoon’s ‘Picture-Show’, the poem doesn’t call up only the ghosts of the fallen ‘men’ eulogized in the second verse. It also recalls other veterans of the First World Wars, who afterwards felt as haunted as did Sassoon: the women who served as nurses, telegraph-operators, and ‘motor-drivers’, including drivers of Red Cross and privately-operated ambulances. Among those women was Dorothea Ierne (‘Dolly’) Wilde (1895-1941), niece of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) [see vintage photo]. Dolly’s story intrigued me. What brought her to the front? What had she experienced there? How might it have shaped her later life, and perhaps her youthful death?

While investigating these questions, I encountered SPIR Conceptual Photography (Jill Casid and María DeGuzmán)’s 1994 photo series Oscaria/Oscar (see photo below), which in a kind of modern, color spirit-photography imagines interactions between Dolly and her uncle, Oscar Wilde [see vintage photo] — or perhaps Dolly and herself, posing as her uncle — or even Oscar and his double on (pace Dorian Gray) the other side of a frame.
Oscar WildeIt’s a haunting tribute to a Lost Generation — Dolly’s, perhaps, but certainly the Lost Generation of the 1980s-90s: the earliest victims of the HIV-AIDS epidemic; the generation to which Dolly’s uncle might have belonged, had he been born a century later than he was. How, Casid and deGuzmán have asked, can we ‘love our dead back to life?’ In Oscaria/Oscar, they show Dolly trying to do this, and maybe Oscar loving (albeit perhaps in a self-regarding way) his niece to a fully-realized life as an early-twentieth-century lesbian. Like Sassoon’s cinema of post-combat nightmare, Oscaria/Oscar is a dynamically paranormal ‘Picture-Show’.

I decided that its pictures ought to move and change, like Dorian’s picture, and to interact with the three-dimensional, living Dolly. Which means that Oscar/Oscaria had to be adapted as theatre.
Oscaria / Oscar by SPIRMy first attempt at that adaptation, Dolly Wilde’s Picture-Show, will be presented as a workshop production, with projections from Oscaria/Oscar, as part of the Process Series at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in August 2014. [Further details about the performance below.]

Why must Dolly’s life be told as a living ‘Picture-Show’? Because Sassoon’s poem presents an unusually accurate approximation of her memory; of her imaginative life; and of the way that those acquaintances, friends, and lovers who survived her remembered her, because for many of them, Dolly wasn’t just a First World War private ambulance driver. She was also a prominent member of a lesbian (mainly), feminist (unanimously) literary-artistic circle based at the home of her American lover Natalie Clifford Barney, at 21 Rue Jacob, Paris. So when she died, frustratingly young, she was mourned by very expressive women.

Also, she was both apparitional and clairvoyant. She was often seen as her uncle’s double, ‘ghosting’ him: Barney called her ‘Oscaria’ (posthumously, at least) and H. G. Wells, perhaps seeing her as a time-traveller rather than an apparition, called her a ‘feminine [Oscar] Wilde’. That was a persona she not only owned, fiercely, but radically reinvented. No doubt to Barney’s delight, Dolly attended a 1930 costume ball posing ‘as Oscar’. But she was no mirror image. A surviving, undated photograph shows Dolly dressed appropriately, in the ‘aesthetic’ collar shirt, puffy, loose bow-tied silk cravat, and fur-lapelled coat in which Oscar posed for the New York society photographer in 1882, and which became his indelible public image to this day. It’s an image associated with independence and freedom and cultural authority, for it was his costume when he crossed North America by rail, lecturing on the Aesthetic movement, European artists, and interior decorating as part of an engagement by Robert d’Oyly-Carte’s opera company, which was satirizing Aestheticism in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. So, at the costume ball, Dolly poses as an authority on art and artists (such as the Renaissance Women of the Rue Jacob?) and an intrepid traveler, which she also was, though her mode of travel was the motor-car. But she also differentiates herself from her uncle. She wears makeup, highlighting not necessarily her femininity, but the theatricality of femininity itself. She self-consciously fashions herself both ‘feminine’ and ‘Wilde’.

Moreover, Dolly’s very act of ‘posing’ as her uncle but not emulating him to the point of self-disappearance (as did her Wilde-forger cousin Arthur Cravan) is a paradoxical kind of ghosting, and a gift to her ancestor. Oscar Wilde’s troubles with British law began in 1985 when John Sholto Douglas, Marquess of Queensberry, put into circulation a calling card addressed to Wilde ‘posing as a somdomite [sic]’. Queensberry did this to interfere with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas’s, three-year-long relationship with Wilde, of which parts of the public were aware. Apparently not wishing to ‘out’ his son in an era when sodomy was dangerously criminalized, Queensberry claimed that Wilde was only ‘posing’ as a man who has same-sex relations. By combining theatrical womanhood with a Wildean persona, Dolly gives her uncle’s ghost a chance to affirm his truth, by affirming hers, for she was not just ‘posing’ as a lesbian: she was owning this truth. In most ghost stories, when the living help the ghost to live up to their abandoned responsibilities, the ghost is allowed to rest in peace. Perhaps that was the gift she gave her uncle, in exchange for the gift of family precedent that he gave her, to equip her for her messy but revolutionary life.


Script by Rebecca Nesvet
Featuring Marie Garelick and Paula Nance
Directed by Joseph Megel
Design by Kevin Spellman
Incorporating images from Oscaria/Oscar (1994), © SPIR Conceptual Photography (María DeGuzmán and Jill Casid)

Thursday, August 21 at 8:00 pm
Friday, August 22 at 8:00 pm

Swain Hall, Studio 6
University of North Carolina (UNC-Chapel Hill), USA

FREE and open to the public

[Photo Above :  Dolly Wilde, vintage photo. Oscar Wilde, vintage photo. "Oscaria / Oscar" Photo: #3 in a sequence of 6 with the collaboration of Camille Norton and Jane Picard. Copyright © 1994 by Jill Casid & María DeGuzmán]

The Last Bastion: A Conversation on Feminist and Queer Museum Politics

The above video is Dr. Amelia Jones‘ talk about queer and feminist art since the early 1970′s at The Last Bastion: A Conversation on Feminist and Queer Museum Politics. An event featuring Dr. Amelia Jones and Dr. Jonathan D. Katz, two of the world’s leading queer art historians held on June 30, 2014 in West Hollywood, California, USA.

The Unstraight Museum Celebrates Pride in Sweden

Press Release by The Unstraight Museum


Come celebrate an unstraight Pride together with us at The Unstraight Museum. We invite you to a talk with gay police from Russia and a talk about queering the world of museums. We also want your best advice on how to break down the heteronormative storytelling. A warm welcome to you all!

Talk With Russian Gay Police

Thursday 31th July 12.00-12.45, Hörsalen, PrideHouse, [Stockholm]

During the Queer Festival in Saint Petersburg 2013 The Unstraight Museum arranged a talk with Swedish and Russian gay police. They discussed their experiences of being police and gay in their different countries. This year we take the discussion further, in Stockholm.
Participanats: Carin Götblad (National Coordinator against violence in close relations), Göran Stanton (Föreningen för Gaypoliser i Sverige, organization for gay police in Sweden), russian gay polices and representatives from Coming Out (Saint Petersburg LGBT organization). Moderator: Annelie Svensson (RFSL Brottsofferjour, LGBTQ standby for crime victim). The talk is presented in cooperation with Föreningen för Gaypoliser i Sverige and The Swedish Institut.

Queering The Museum

Thursday 31th July 17.00-17.45, Plattanscenen, Pride House, [Stockholm]

Which future do we want for our museums? How do we want the museums to tell the lgbtqi stories and what do we really want the museums to do? Zorian Clayton is Assistant Curator at Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Clayton talks about how the lgbtqi-network at Victoria & Albert Museum, which has tried to create diversity among their visitors as well as their collections through a broad selection of creative events. The talk is presented together with The Swedish Museum of History.


– How Do We Break Down The Heteronormative Storytelling?

Friday 1st August 17:00–17:45, Bandler, Pride House, [Stockholm]

There are different ways of looking at and telling the history. The Swedish Museum of History is a publicly owned museum with great collections of archeological objects and medieval art. The museums mission is to work for, and together with, all citizens with diversity and democracy, but many stories are missing. How can the museum question heteronormativity in stories from the past? How should the voices of lgbtqi persons be heard at the museum? We need your help!
Participants: Lena Heijl (The Swedish Museum of History), Ulf Petersson (The Unstraight Museum). Moderator: Anna Furumark (Att störa homogenitet/The Swedish Museum of History). The debate is presented in cooperation with The Swedish Museum of History.

Finland: Jeppis Pride 2014

HETERO by Fredrika Bistöm
Photo from the series HETERO by Fredrika Bistöm

Heidi Lunabba - Studio Vilgefortis
Heidi Lunabba – Studio Vilgefortis

Jeppis Pride 2014

at Galleri Gro, Campus Allegro, Runebergsgatan 8, 68600 Jakobstad, Finland
Opening: July 25 at 18.00 – 20.00 hrs.

Jeppis Pride 2014, a queer group exhibition. It runs from July 25 through August 16 2014 in Jakobstad, Finland. Title of the exhibition refers to people belonging to sexual and gender minorities: queer people, who have the right to exist and be visible just like the other ‘normal’ (heteronormative) people. The exhibition is approaching lgbtq topics in diverse ways, but the common denominator is that queer people are moving beyond the narrow confines of the heteronormative mainstream culture.

“‘The principal is GAY!’, I read this on the wall a morning in the bike tunnel on my way to the primary school. My school then organised a serious morning assembly with the message that we should not write smear words about others on the walls. It was my first contact with homosexuality: the banned foul language. I wish all children growing up in a small town to experience a Pride festival instead of a sermon about bad language, and this is the reason why I wanted to create Jeppis Pride 2014,” said curator and artist Heidi Lunabba.

Tvattlina. photo by Ilar Gunilla Persson
Tvattlina. Photo by Ilar Gunilla Persson

Besides physical artwork Jeppis Pride 2014 will also feature performances, the participatory art project Tvättlina (Clothesline in rainbow colors) and workshops. The participating artists are Nina Albrecht, Kenneth Bamberg, Fredrika Biström, Salla Penttilä, Ilar Gunilla Persson, Heidi Lunabba, Alex Råsa Basura and Aino Vuokola. The exhibition also includes a video by Camilla Roos.

Work by Nina Albrecht
Work by Nina Albrecht

Photo by Aino Vuokola
Photo by Aino Vuokola

Related Links

Nina Albrecht and Fredrika Bistöm’s blog

Nest by Coral Short

Artist statement by Coral Short

Nest by Coral Short
Nest by Coral Short. Photos courtesy of the artist.


Nest is an interactive sculpture that is about caring for our community’s cultural workers and activists. I encouraged the audience at The Hemispheric Institute Encuentros to unwind by finding my large, human-sized nest on wheels during the opening night of the festival. I pushed the portable sculpture around on the sidewalks and streets in between the different venues so people could relax. The nest was created out of woven willow as well as dried plants and dead branches from multiple foraging trips into urban nature. The velvety nest interior provided a great place to chirp with a friend or take a nap.

Collective Creation:

My background is in fibres and textiles. This project involved the use of both the warp and weft from my weaving days. Creating Nest was a very collaborative process involving many friends chatting and weaving at once. We soaked the willow first in a giant bathtub for days so it would be pliable. The structure became more and more massive, solid, strong, and realistic with each passing day. My creation team and I put about 200 hours of labour into this woven sculpture. We created it in my backyard in Montreal surrounded by snacks, birds, squirrels, and trees.

The Animal:

Over the years I have worked with both wolves and unicorns. But for many years, I have wanted to create a large nest with human birds. I was pleased it finally came to fruition. The ceramic egg was conceptualized and designed at the last minute, glazed and fired in the kiln, by my highly skilled friend Wai-Yant Li. This beautifully crafted object brought an even higher performativity to the work. People enjoyed the role they played as guardian of the egg. They seemed to deeply relish carefully holding the unhatched egg with an interesting sense of purposeful care and protection.

Social Practice:

Practicing intimacy through encounters within art has been the backbone of my work for years. I love to investigate themes of community, trust, and energy exchanges. This piece is no different in that I am caretaking in a fun, light hearted way for all my participants. Interactivity, I believe, is crucial within my art making practice as it breaks down the cold hard barriers between the artist and the audience. It also allows for people not only to touch the actual art but to be an integral part of it – something that has been disallowed by institutions for years. We all remember security guards at museums sternly telling us to step away from the art. Instead this art acts as an excuse for human interaction – the participant being at the center of this work rather than the art. The work was highly interactive with people chatting amongst themselves, with me, or with their friend. There was even some impromptu performances, music making, and dancing in and next to the work! Encuentro was a festival of over 700 performance artists, activists and academics from North and South America, so there was a definite joie de vivre in the audience.

My team consisted of:

Zuzu Knew, D.j. Fraser, Morgan Paige, Asher Faerstein, Troy La Biche Davis, Wai-Yant Li, Felix Foxglove, Lailye Weidman, Alexis O’Hara, Tif Flowers, Julie Matson and K Hanley. Photography by: Nikol Mikus Curators: Stephen Lawson and Shauna Janssen.

Nest by Coral Short
Nest by Coral Short. Above: the egg by Wai-Yant Li. Photo courtesy of Coral Short

Nest by Coral Short
Nest by Coral Short at The Hemispheric Institute Encuentros. Photos courtesy of the artist.

Nest by Coral Short
Nest by Coral Short at The Hemispheric Institute Encuentros. Photos courtesy of the artist.

About Coral Short

Coral Short is an international queer performance artist and curator. Coral has studied Performance Art at the Chelsea School of Art, London, U.K. Her recent performances include The Insiders, Flânerie, Nest and the collaborative performance Scream Choir. She curated Craftivism an art gathering with an exhibition, performances, installations, videos, workshops and a panel in New York in 2013. And the Craftivism short film programme, about queerness, feminism, and craft, for MIX NYC 2013. Coral is curently based in Montreal, Canada.