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.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Self-Portraiture Seen As An Emergence From An Artists’ Retreat

Self-Portraiture Seen As An Emergence From An Artists’ Retreat

Seeing And Being Seen. Emerging From A Psychic Retreat
John Steiner (2011)

I see this project, through the use of photography and the production of self-portraits, as an artists’ way to reveal an inner self, to move from a position of being psychically hidden, to a place of being observed. The process of production of artefacts and their presentation may be viewed as an artist’s emergence from this place of psychic retreat to what may function as a position of awareness. Can this use of the camera combined with the mediation of the viewer, be seen as a therapeutic process?
The presentation of images attempts to peer over the parapet of these defences, to be in a place of the gaze of ‘other’; having felt contained and protected behind the lens, an attempt is made to reveal oneself in a conspicuous, exposed way, in front of the lens. Along with vulnerability and potential humiliation, it can reveal, among others, the defence of narcissism, a defence that comes into being because of self-consciousness, brought about by the original gaze, of recognition by the other.
Often, artists will express themselves through self-portraiture, as a way of gaining awareness of inner states – a way of facing these depressive anxieties. Through this process defences, until now sheltered from view in isolation, can emerge. The objects of shame are in shadow, so to speak, shielded from view from both internal reflection and external observation.
The project also involves a process of bringing together parts, the complete person perhaps until now cannot be seen in one light. Viewing these distorted parts in isolation can maintain a sense of incompleteness, in a part sheltered position, hiding an internal world made up of many lost objects. Each individual image offers a snapshot into these worlds, when these lost object representations are viewed as a whole, the internal world may become as real to the artist as his external world, these internal objects come to life, vividly brought into reality through interpretation and exhibition. Will this process of being seen and exposed, bring the artist out to face a new reality?

The Observing Figure
Vision, offers an important role, as with projection and introjection of these part objects. Consciously and unconsciously, it is essential for exchange and building of object relations.
Steiner (2011) writes;
‘Later in development the eye takes over some of the functions that had previously relied on proximity senses. In particular, projection and introjection becomes mediated by the eyes, as for example when gaze becomes capable of penetrating and can be used to enter the object and identify with it’ p10

The power of the gaze is also used to mediate hierarchy in family dynamics, for example, the father who looks down on the son, using this as weapon of humiliation. When this is exercised in a cruel way, the child may resort to narcissistic traits to attempt to reverse this humiliation. Status is all-important in family dynamics and if the Oedipal conflict is not or only part negotiated, then this can lead to the harbouring of resentments and a need to eventually seek revenge against this internalised persecutory object. Under the gaze of these persecutory others, defences emerge and the psychic retreat of the artist begins. There begins a process, which is the nature of this enquiry, an attempt to reverse humiliation through resentment and to seek revenge; as away to resolve the original conflict. To produce the very images that will be projected onto the viewer is a way of dealing with such feelings.
‘Projection and introjection now come to be mediated by the eyes, and the gaze becomes capable of penetrating and can be used not only to observe the object as a whole, but also to enter the object and identify with it. The excitement associated with entry transforms the child’s position from that of an observer into that of a voyeur’ p38

If the observing figure is seen to be hostile, so the introject becomes hostile and one feels inferior in the presence of these persecutory objects. Individuals do shame others as a form of feeling superior; power dynamics often involve elements of and the role of the gaze in humiliation and shame.
Art plays a crucial role in the expression of these internal affects, the artists sensitivity to and the viewing of and presentation of these images support the idea of shame surfacing in self-portraiture, for example, the distorted images of Bacon and the feelings of shame and humiliations that emanate and is richly illustrated in his work.
The gaze confirms the development of sense of self, the mother’s approving gaze is at the core of the building of self-esteem and the essential role of mirroring in the therapeutic engagement is a technique to replicate this experience, often highlighting its lack. Affirmative views of self are seen in the eyes of the observing object, this builds on this core, however often they come to characterise or embody the persecuting eyes of the father, the dominant super ego that becomes destructive.

The infant, confronted by this Oedipal triangle is central to this notion of being seen in the view of this third person. Finding it difficult to readapt to a dynamic that essentially excludes, the realisation that the parents have a relationship with each other and that now is not made of even two separate dyadic experiences. As the infant recognises this relationship from which he is excluded, of the mother, once his primary object of desire onto which he projects his feelings of hate and love, being separate from the secondary object who makes his presence known and felt, would typically become the child’s critical superego; as the observer and judge of the relationship and ultimately all his future relationships. If this is not resolved sufficiently, it can often involve the child engaging with each parent separately, always excluding one or the other.
The gaze from outside the mother-child unit, if non-nurturing and not relating through persuasion but power and authority, becomes, in classical thought, the threat of castration and along with intimidation of the child, creates conflict. And so begins the retreat from what is psychic pain. A compromise is ultimately reached where the struggle of power is lost and the boy searches outside of the family, he relinquishes his need for the mother, however, the resentment is mealy temporarily displaced.

The original narcissistic relationship is the ‘I’, the omnipotent child that sees only himself in the mothers face. Winnicott asks (1967), ‘What does the infant see when he looks into the face of the mother?’ ‘Ordinarily, what the baby sees is him or herself’.
This is the version of Narcissus, the approving glance from mother (his own reflection) that continues to confirm a valued internal view of self, a picture of self-nurturing, mediated mainly through vision. The view from the other disrupts this.
‘In my view it is this introduction of the third observing and often authoritarian object that gives the superego such persecuting qualities associated with humiliation’ Steiner (2011) p30
The prospect of being seen through, of being looked at but not seen, terrifies the narcissist, however offers a function of narcissism; as a way of preventing the experience of separateness of object and subject. Exposure to gaze of the other validates or contradicts the child’s original image of oneself.

These images are the artists starting point on a journey consisting of a variety of manoeuvres to attempt to reverse the original humiliation and resolve the Oedipal dilemma. The observer along with the therapist or the engaged viewer in the gallery, attempts to understand what is being said - this is different from the aggressive, dismissive, superego of the internalised object, a manifestation of the original internalised other. The photograph becomes a projection where gaze becomes the central role. This experience of exposure to the gaze leads to discomfort, embarrassment, shame and humiliation, however, the self-portrait becomes a need to emerge from a psychic retreat and face internalised objects more realistically.
Perhaps the journey towards an exhibition is the notion of bringing the parts all together to be known. Where good and bad qualities can be recognised, from a distance perhaps. The anxieties are at their worst in the phantasy of being seen as a whole, as complete, where inconsistencies and negative aspects of self are brought together. This struggle for power in the Oedipal situation relates to the family structure and these conflicts are visualised within the traditional family album and how it is represented in the external world. Through the creation of an alternative family album, this series of images may represent the resentment that has become revenge, or the start of reparation and resolution of the Oedipal dilemma.

Spencer Rowell 2012

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