The Art of Pathography

The artists’ creation of a ‘true self-portrait’ is bound up in meanings of self-hood and individuation; by means of his/her practice becoming a method of developing the artists’ need for self-discovery. Through this self-exploration, the artefact becomes an attempt to reveal something of the artist, a therapeutic tool perhaps, by which the photograph is used as a form of depth psychology. A mixed methodology of autoethnography and thematic analysis is undertaken of the language of response – language generated from the viewing of purely visual data – to examine and record patterns or themes within this information that is relevant to the research question. Through this form of removed analysis - the interpretation of the photograph and not the artist - can a new internal world of the artist be revealed? Is there a particular reading that could be universalised or is this unique to me? Or is the analysis a series of projections, a more of an understanding of the readers? The concerns of this thesis are with the ways in which the production of these photographs and their reception can be incorporated into an art practice and a new self-portrait is revealed.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Look At Symbolic Representation

To translate a dream to reality, to face and find expression for the internal conflicts, to achieve lasting reparation in reality as well as in Phantasy is the joy of aesthetic expression.
Background of Image
This image was photographed, at dawn at Brancaster Beach. It was the closest beach to where we lived and although three hours away by Morris traveller, a beach regularly visited throughout my childhood. The image of contained boxes on the beach came to me one morning.
I searched in my therapy sessions for problems in these containers, opening some of them, closing some boxes that were partially open, revisiting. However, the contents of each individual box were unaware of each other’s objects, individual boxes continued to remain out of sight of the viewer’s so as to hamper their ability to create a picture.
There are reasons why patients chose not to integrate certain objects within the session, create boundaries between subjects, often approaching each challenge as a separate issue. These defences protect from integration.
I had chosen compartmentalism as an unconscious process to defend against these very anxieties. It was an attempt to simplify things, to inhibit attempts to mix those affects that cognitively would simply create too much pain to be reconciled. It is common to experience these uncomfortable affects that come about from trying to hold conflicting ideas within sight of each other.
This incompatibility has its roots in the non-integration of our polarised selves. That our ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’ are placed into separate containers, this contradiction of behaviour can only be made bearable through denial or through a state of indifference. This division into parts and there insolubility is a survival mechanism, the self will only become one once the parts have been introduced to each other, within psychological dialogue.
The Jungian-trained psychiatrist Antony Storr believes,
"Creative people, show a wider than usual division in the mind, an accentuation of opposites. It seems probable that when creative people produce a new work they are in fact attempting to reconcile opposites in exactly the way Jung describes. [Their work] symbolise the union of opposites and the formation of this new centre of personality...”
After completion of the image and the psychoanalytical theory that it may represent, I researched the symbols within it.
Psychologically the beach evokes for us the daily experience of the slim shore between consciousness and unconsciousness lapped and buffeted, shifted and changed, temporally submerged and once again delineated in the tidal rhythms of waking and sleeping. There are ‘deposits’ from dream and fantasy, the play of the imagination, the clarity of awareness. Sometimes what the psyche tosses on to the shore can, like the jellyfish, only be experienced, but not assimilated. As the perspective and rhythms of the beach and the movement between water and land can liberate ones feelings and expand ones sense of space, time and being, so does the exchange between the depths of the psyche and consciousness.
The Book Of Symbols. The Archive For Research In Archetypal Symbolism (2010:p122) Taschen
The box is interpreted as a female symbol of the unconscious and the maternal. It always holds a secret, enclosing and keeping from the world something precious, fragile or awesome. The box protects, but at the risk of stifling. The box, at the bottom of which Hope remains, is the unconscious for all its potentialities for the unexpected, the destructive, or the positive if it is left to its own devices. Paul Diel links this symbol with a highly charged imagination which invests the unknown object hidden in the box with the power to realise ones hearts desire, a power which is totally illusionary and the source of all our woes!
The Dictionary Of Symbols (1969:p116) Penguin

Spencer Rowell 2011

Paper On: Unconscious Phantasy and Symbolism in Photographs

Hannah Segal. Dream, Phantasy and Art
‘If it where possible that a person should give a faithful history of his being from the earliest epochs of his recollection, a picture would be presented such as the world has never contemplated before. A mirror would be held up to all men in which they might behold there own recollections and, in dim perspective, their shadowy hopes and fears – all that they dare not, or that daring or desiring, they could not expose to the open eyes of the day. But thought can with difficulty visit the intricate and winding chambers which it inhabits.’
(Shelly 1812)

Unconscious Phantasy is a key aspect of Kleinian theory and with it comes her mental picture of emotional activity. It is this psychological aspect of instinct, says Klein that produces ‘image potentials’, these enable the infant to construct meaningful memories, a way of testing phantasy against reality.
Klein’s ideas, of the movement between the Paranoid Schizoid to Depressive Position and its influence on aesthetic communication influenced the psychoanalyst and theorist Segal profoundly. She emphasises the importance of the discussion of Unconscious Phantasy to our understanding of dreams and argues that it is incomplete unless ideas of symbolism are introduced. She opens up discourse between the relations between art, dreaming and daydreaming.
Freud described dreaming in 1900 as;
… a piece of infantile mental life that has the power to suspend’ and that ‘Psychic dream work aims at fulfilling the unacceptable and conflicting wishes by disguising them, and this involves a particular mode of expression- the dream language’

An integral part of this language, are symbols (any indirect representation of various kinds) that may be used through the defences of condensation and displacement. Condensation, where the immediate recollection of a dream doesn’t immediately surface but may offer other valuable links that arise at a future date and displacement, which would be to emphasise or dwell upon some seemingly insignificant detail. We find surfacing, through these two defence mechanisms, the currency of symbol formation, the visual language of unconscious communication.
Phantasy and symbolism are seen as an important combination in the process of art production. It is this internal unconscious dialogue that is the ‘working through’ of art production, where latent images can immerge and dissolve back into the unconscious to be re-assimilated at a future date.
Segal states. ‘The richness, scope, and correctness of our mental activity is linked with our relation to Unconscious Phantasy. If our Unconscious Phantasies are split off or too severely repressed, our conscious life is impoverished and restricted. On the other hand, if our reality testing is impeded and uncorrected by reality testing, our mental life may appear to be rich but it is delusional’

The Symbolic Expression Of Unconscious Phantasy
Feud came to the conclusion that symbols where universal, that they may vary in different cultures, but they are given and not formed and derives from the archaic past. Jones (1916) takes Freud further by describing ‘conscious and unconscious symbolism’ and that only what is repressed is symbolised, that the repressed symbol often has an opposite meaning.
Symbolism underpins Unconscious Phantasy, it is its ‘language and currency’. These symbols could be described as either object, behaviours expressed in relationships, or a repressed thought. All psychotherapists working with patients would recognise the use of symbols used in communication, often to protect repressed feelings. As a therapist you are thinking as much about what the client is saying as much as what he may not be saying.
Segal suggests two types of symbol formation, one she calls symbol equation, this is concrete and rational, the other she called symbolic representational, a form representing the object, however is not wholly equated with it. Segal suggests that these two modes represent both the Paranoid-Schizoid and the Depressive position respectively.
Segal sates ‘I should like at this to point to summarise what I mean by the terms ‘symbolic equation’ and ‘symbol’ respectively, and the conditions under which they arise. In the symbolic equation, the symbol-substitute is felt to be the original object. The substitutes own properties are not recognised or admitted. The symbolic equation is used to deny the absence of the ideal object, or to control a persecuting one. It belongs to the earliest stages of development’.

This is what gives an image it’s initial punch, its primary reading. This is the concrete impact on the viewer’s own experience. But the real achievement of an image that evokes something else is the key achievement of artistic expression. It is these symbolic equations that Segal talks of that are the more primitive aspects of this experience and, I would argue, come from a more universal pre verbal time.

The Dream Function
Why do we, as viewer, enjoy these phantasy worlds? Why would we stand before the repressed wishes of an artist, airing their conflicts in public?
The dream as Freud describes is a way, through symbols, of expressing and elaborating unconscious fantasy. He imagined a compromise-taking place, in the form of wish fulfilment, satisfying both wishes and defences. The dream is performing the function of expression of this unconscious conflict and is the communication between these conscious and unconscious worlds.
The recounting of a dream in the therapeutic session, can be seen as a client offering the analyst unbearable feelings in the form of symbols, perhaps this is what a work of art can do, asking the viewer to create something of his own, to be understood from the position of the artists internal conflicts. When we view work, we are looking for Unconscious Phantasy imbedded in it and how, through this process, it enriches our understanding and empathy with the work.
The understanding of Unconscious Phantasy does not mean interpreting the dream, but rather interpreting ‘Such stuff dreams are made of’.

Klein however developed her theories around the representation of aggression resulting from anxiety and guilt. She saw anxiety and guilt as the prime movers in symbol formation, this is where the ideas of aesthetic production from Klein and Segal differs from the work of , for instance, Winnicott and Milner.
So in Kleinian thinking, the act of creation is the movement to and from the Depressive Position. This movement involves reparation. Through reparation the artist’s inner and outer worlds are brought together and given a new voice, whether reconciliation in the conflict within ones own artwork or insight gained in a therapy session, this is how these affects are reconciled.
The need for reparation is central to Klein’s view on creative expression. This need for salvation is what Segal in 1952 writes, ‘the artists need is to recreate what he feels in the depth of his internal world.’ that my internal world is shattered and that there is a need to recreate something that will become part of a new whole. The fragmented self, reassembled in my own way and during this process that, states Segal, ‘there can be no art without aggression and that true reparation includes the acknowledgment of this aggression’. Adrian Stokes, also talks of what he describes as art being the ‘first step in the containment of this aggression’.
Fry describes ‘This found echo of emotion’. It is this ‘aesthetic emotion’, if found and described by Bell as, ‘a central common quality peculiar to all aesthetic interaction [that] we will have discovered and that distinguishes art from other classes of objects’.
To translate a dream to reality, to face and find expression for the internal conflicts, to achieve lasting reparation in reality as well as in Phantasy is the joy of aesthetic expression.

Spencer Rowell 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Family Album

The family album is a document of importance, but what of its standing in the communication of the truth. As the character Sye Parish, played by Robin Williams in the film, ‘One Hour Photo’ says,

Family photos depict smiling faces... births, weddings, holidays, children's birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.’

This research, through the metaphor of the family album has been instigated by a need to investigate why ones ‘experience’ doesn’t quite match the ‘evidence’. An 'Alternative family Album' is a re-construction of events that may have been forgotten, through defences, or as means of survival; a new visual connection with our early informative years, confronting these fears and knowing, to quote Deepak Chopra; The things you're most afraid of have already happened.’