Having moved to America in the early 1910s, Elsa Plötz – better known as Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven – earned her title by marrying the heir to an impoverished German family of nobles. Lacking financial support, she posed for young artists and performed as a soubrette in Greenwich Village clubs in New York. The photos that capture these moments show a middle-aged woman striking strange poses, her body adorned with objects that were stolen or found in the garbage. In one picture, the Baroness is in a messy apartment, posed as if about to leap, wearing a feathered helmet and a striped leotard. She looks like an erotic cyborg, a paragon of what she called “Teutonic” femininity, who turns every canon of identity on its head and flaunts the same bewitchingly hybrid aesthetic as the art she made in that period. Starting in 1917, the Baroness created assemblages and sculptural objects similar to the readymades of her friend Marcel Duchamp, earning her the moniker “Mother of Dada.” Her Portrait of Marcel Duchamp (1920) portrays Duchamp as a wine glass blossoming with a marvellous bouquet of feathers. Like the tangle of pipes irreverently titled God (c. 1917), made with Dada artist Morton Schamberg, this assemblage has the same wryly sensual, solemn air as the Baroness’ decorations of her own body, and likewise becomes the simulacrum of a contradictory, shapeshifting modern identity.