Stigma, spoiled identity, Erving Goffman

Stigma & spoiled identity.

I am interested in the dual aspects of a private self and one that exists within a wider culture in terms of how one keeps aspects of themselves hidden to exist without the notion of stigma. My ultimate argument aligns itself with the work of German philosopher Thomas Metzinger and in particular his work 'Being no one' which to a degree finds itself crossing over with ideas of social forms of the self or rather the neurological processes that construct a self out of those that make an 'individual' identity a challenging concept.

I have been sculpturally exploring the crippled self. The idea of distorted outers reflecting hidden broken inner beings. Identities that cobble together external ideas of perfection and see only themselves as creatures of not belonging lurking in shadows. The reduction of self to bare items of physicality, the shoe, the breast, an item of clothing suggesting desire. All of these elements exist as cultural appendages things that we believe take the crippled figure into a more acceptable place. The unforgiven world of the perpetually not adequate, twisting the chaos of personal fragmentation into culturally acceptable forms.

Erving Goffman's sociological study of the intimate association between stigma and stereotype as the hidden arbiters of all our social encounters was a book that initially generated my interest in trying to represent these ideas sculpturally.

I take my personal stance from the perspective of gender dysphoria and the body of imagination lost to the reality of one's own given birth form. The forcing of the leg into the wrong gender shoe, the hard edges and painful points of contact with structures not designed to support a psychology where one perceives oneself as existing. Thus the gender dysphoric person takes on the role of the disfigured outer being and has to suppress their inner belief to avoid the dangers of being considered socially 'abnormal' less than human.

All of this of course has psychological impact for the individual self, and the just being in the world. These pieces are again looking at points of departure where one breaks from traditional self models and then subsequently risks all by perilously coming close to inner psychological disturbance which can alter 'reality' as perception drowns in ideas of disfigurement. Psychological syndromes emerge such as body dysmorphia, anorexia,and dissociative identity disorder where the mind can no longer hold together under the strain of the weight of these inner and outer differential.

The sculpture reflects the inner pain whilst also vaguely alluding to the idea of 'acceptance'. The nod to figurative cultural totems such as the perfectly round breasts, the alluring fetishisation of the gait making the posture one where the soul is being sold not only the physical giving of oneself to another's sexual gratification. When the inside is stripped out one is a purely bare sculptural frame a hollow disfigurement of a full self. There are aspects where one strives for acceptance such as through plastic surgery to correct the inner perception of defect so that an idea of fully normal status can be obtained. The extremes of physical transformation increasingly undertaken suggest a not uncommon battle with spoiled identities even within what one might perceive as the socially 'normal'.

Erving Goffman's sociological study of stigma first published in 1963 had a Marshall McLuhan prescience about it. It provided a stage that would subsequently be filled over the next 50 years with increasingly large and diverse numbers of people, many of whom would occupy it beyond the initial central references made by Erving Goffman. One might say what has evolved is an uber normal driven by celebrity culture where nearly all feel disenfranchised from the perfection of the movie scene.

I always try to begin by addressing my own personal issues with my art and hopefully this then finds a broader base so that the work doesn't occupy a solely subjective arena. I aim to contextualise my ideas within a broader arena so that others can also relate to aspects of the work. The interesting challenge as an artist is to explore how one creates unique visual language that incrementally move the idea of expression forward whilst also holding an aesthetic and intellectual honesty that others not directly connected with the work would wish to engage with through further discussion with themselves and others.

 

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