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.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Externalise Me, Internalise You.

Projection, Identification, Projective Identification. Edited by J. Sandler (1988)

As much as psychoanalysis is concerned with the interaction between the outer world and its relationship with an inner world (how we take in and make sense of external events and how we put our inner thoughts and understandings back out into the outer world), I am intrigued how this parallels photographic self-portraiture along with its assessment as a form of internal self-expression. This project and the production of self-portraits and their assessment offers an opportunity to build aspects of the self and observe how they relate to external objects from a more objective viewpoint.

Is this work simply a form of self-imposed fragmentation followed by reparation, or through the temporary loss of inner self, diffusion and re-identity? Do I display my images, because of my incapacity to differentiate subject (the photograph) and object (me), from reality (the print) and phantasy of the image, (what it is about?). Through what process do I, as the artist, discard unwanted parts of myself, in the form of photographs, and value taking in, in the form of language, interpretations. Also, what of the interpreter in this mêlée? In losing my state of independence, through dependence on the analysts’ responding to my work, how do I, in phantasy, transmit my thoughts into their minds; do they contain those thoughts and return them to me? As I ponder these reflections of theirs’ and I offer more images that in turn, have potential of more discoveries and awareness to my inner world, does an alternative picture emerge, a narrative of sorts, in me and also perhaps, a narrative of them?

The Guild becomes the container and the frame, where the image is scrutinised by the examiners. In an attempt to understand the complexities of the interactions between these internalisations and externalisations and the subsequent modification of the sequence of images produced, will the documentation and the final exhibition show by means of visual representation and use of text, a more accurate image of internal representation?

A sequence of these images over time offer perhaps, more of an opportunity for reflection, but how is this image really me, you may ask? Self-portrait photography as a method of communication can of course be the act of making more concrete that experience of our internal world, a way of putting undigested bit-parts of experience and other inner experiences into an object, the print to be viewed. Self-portrait photography can display that interchange of self and non-self, the act of creation, in picking up bits that are in existence and re-forming them into something original, a form of photographic communication, used as a way of getting these experiences understood and along with there interpretations, to have them returned in a more manageable and different form, that of language. Does this project give me the opportunity to discard affect into an ‘other’? Externalise it perhaps temporarily, and once outside of self, give me the capacity to think and reflect, does it becoming a de-toxifying process? The process of documenting this Projective-Introjective dance, the former as an image sent to The Guild, then re-introjected in the form of language as it returned from The Guild, along with the assessors projections could be one way.

Projection and Introjection are seen as representing opposite sides of the same coin, an unconscious form of communication and the basis of art appreciation and interpretation.  In this context I will suggest that Projection and Introjection, used in this mature way, is more than simply an opportunity to appreciate and gain another level of understanding, between the artist and the photograph, the photograph and the assessor, an opportunity to understand something of the viewer.
Projection and Introjection is the process by which we can describe interactions between the inner (including intra-relativeness) and outer worlds of artist and viewer, a place where they merge and interrelate. This communication of aspects of self is ‘a rapid oscillation of projection and introjections’, says Money-Kyrle (1988), ‘unconsciously acquiring affective experience’. This process has its roots in early infant/mother relations, the infant cannot say how he feels, he simply makes his mother experience the same feeling. This communication is seen as them connecting in a deep and unconscious way, the mother will react that will facilitate the infant's psychic growth; the same happens in the therapeutic setting between analyst and analysand. This project seeks to engage with the viewer in a similar way, to engage on this unconscious level through Projection and Introjection.

Projection takes aspects of one's internal world and puts them onto external subjects; an unconscious process of excretion and expulsion. In this project, we include the reverse enactment; where the internal world of the viewer is incorporated into the image being viewed, it is projected also. It is this 'output' from the viewers’ internal world into the report, the viewers’ own projections, which can be seen as 'input' into the final assessment. Projection and Introjection is an intercommunicative process of shared understanding, it is a creative interplay of shared experience.

The process as it occurs in child development can be dissected into three phases (Ogden, 1982):
1) The projector rids himself of unwanted bits;
2) Deposits them into (not just onto) the receiver;
3) Recovers a modified version of his projected bits.
Without this third phase, the process is not therapeutic or helpful to the projector.

The above therapeutic process parallels that which is undertaken by this project:
1) Where the photographer disposes into an image un-resolved, un-differentiated parts of his pre-verbal past;
2) These messages are placed via a print ‘into’ The Guild;
3) The artist recovers a modified version in the form of language.
From this third phase the photographer seeks more awareness from subsequent portraits.

So projection and introjection are a related process, the communication of relationships between internal objects and with that of the outside world and vice versa. It regulates the individual’s interaction with the outside world and the observations of which in the therapeutic situation, will build a picture of that internal space. In both analysis and in the viewers’ interpretation of my work, this is done by the process of formulating internal boundaries, it involves creating an image of self, of that self’s relationships and the interaction between the two. When confronted by this image, the viewer often is in an initial state of confusion; an unconscious personal representation is called for. A boundary is set; ‘this is I’ and ‘that is he’. This is a disidentification process, where the ego says, ‘I distinguish between self and object, I will create a boundary’. (Sandler, J. 1988) pxx. By instigating the notion of play alongside often intense concentration, the viewers’ boundaries become merged and temporally suspended with the image. Here the viewer brings life experience to the engagement, there is a sense of the artist analysing the viewer. This process is what Sandler calls ‘sorting out’, where ‘aspects of the object–representation are incorporated into the self-representation and vice-versa.’ (1988) p26. This process is the basis for empathy in the consulting room.

To look at Projection in its broadest terms we see it, along with Introjection, as an organizing structure, in constant interplay across shared boundaries. A bringing together of un-differentiated differences, it is the way the artist sees the world and that of how the viewer perceives the same world, that together they have the capacity to bring them together and ask questions. Through this process we describe the world in subjective terms, by testing, inherently organising an continually unconsciously reflecting on the individuals internal world. Projection without Introjection would be a pointless affair, no comparison, no feedback, even in phantasy. Creativity is inhabitating these cross borders, it is the art of playing in a combined experience, The creative development comes from the constant interplay of Projective and Introjective structures in this shared environment.

But in context of the analysts’ interpretation of these photographic images, it is the reaching beneath the surface into what is the subterranean world of the artist in combination with the viewer, that is this unconscious process. The ‘sorting out’ from which we want to gain knowledge of the internal space, this is the shared world of artist and viewer, it is this externalisation of the work and expectations of a response that could be described as creative interaction. As viewers, don’t we go to art galleries to give and to receive? The viewers experiences coupled with the ideas of the artist (often misunderstood, confused expressions) are locked in an unconscious conversation, in phantasy, enabling union and a level of understanding, this is a re-enactment of a pre-verbal, or early infant experience.

The artwork also acts as a temporary container, where this lack of initial understanding is held, my need to return to the artwork for further understanding, or to relate to it as being part of a sequence and through the reverie of the engagement with the assessments, gain access to a direct descendant of inner worlds, a pre-verbal state that I am attempting to disentangle. One role of the analyst is to simply hold on to the therapeutic content while the patient process it, a temporary container, enabling the client to maintain an ability to think.

The viewing of the work is a difficult process for the analysts’, it involves them getting caught up in the affectual nature of object relations. Many of the images will not ‘pierce’, to use Barthes term, they will dissolve, counter, overlap and often create ambivalence of the viewers’ experience of communication. Though this play and interaction, I am asking them to see something; a representation of my internal world and in it, how theirs intertwines with it.

The viewer therefore creates and crosses these boundaries set up by the artist and through internalisation and externalisation responds to the work. Projection and Introjection must be seen as a developmental and in a differentiating perspective on image engagement; it is this concept that is behind creative engagement.

‘The interplay of introjective and projective mechanisms weaves a pattern of relatedness’s to the world of objects and provides the fabric out of which the individual fashions his own self image’ … ‘Out of this interplay also develops his capacity to relate to and identify with the objects in his environment.’’ (Sandler, J. 1988) p35

Through interpretation, and over time however, as in therapy, from a combined narrative, awareness emerges. It is essential to acknowledge the importance of the observers’ projections in the formulation of conclusions for this project as it being of a shared experience. Art appreciation requires projection.

Spencer Rowell 2012

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