The installation audio is an extract of a prison interview with Susan Atkins. She was part of the infamous Manson family and was present the night of the murder of Sharon Tate and others in Los Angeles 1969. It was a crime that still speaks to America today and Charles Manson is known around the world as the worst outcrop of the 60's counter culture. He became a symbolic end to a decade that flourished with the hippy movement, recreational drug use and the idea of dropping out and finding yourself. The 60's collapsed into Vietnam and a decade of peace and love mutated into riots, demonstrations and the dreadful crimes of individual figures like Charles Manson.
I chose to develop an installation piece around this subject as I felt it supported a number of the points I had made in previous posts about the fragility of the self. In particular this seemed to raise points about the effects of substance abuse upon the brain and how that disturbes an integration of cognitive processes to an existing self model. The chronic use of LSD as in the case of Susan Atkins and the Manson family resulted in their inability to experience thoughts that belonged to their original selves. The drug use created new selves that became capable of these horrific acts. I utilised Susan Atkins as she had no former history of criminality or mental health disturbance prior to her involvement with Charles Manson.
The Susan Atkins in the interview extract is one recounting another Susan Atkins on the night of the murders. She speaks as if that night she had been transformed into a mechanical puppet where her voluntary acts seemed not her own. She does mention a moment of control but still expresses a hollowness that left her capable of involvement in such awful crimes. It is interesting that despite a clear breakdown in nearly all aspects of her former self through the use of LSD, at a crucial moment she could not transgress a previous boundary of her former self. There still remained something, enough of it not to take a life but not enough to avoid complicity in the crimes.
I think throughout I have emphasised the self portrait at best as the most briefest of snapshots. It nearly always fails to take account of the fact that all of the perspectives in the environment compose the entire being of the object and hence (I am not saying the body can be objectified) a self portrait in a traditional sense can only reflect the object as the mirror of its environment via one dimension. Certain types of art take regard of the 360 degree totality and in doing so try to capture a deeper connection between the subject and the object but rarely is there a self portrait that deals with a self whilst also acknowledging no self or its utter frailty. Which Susan Atkins might one make a portrait of? How would she make a portrait of herself that could encapsulate such a break with her former self? If she ignored one aspect and not another would it be a purposeful attempt to engage with the self or a representational pictorial snapshot alluding only to the time of its creating.
For me I am anxious to create a self portrait piece that is multiplictious and that flows with a dialogue of associations, tangents, disconnections, uncertainty and all of the aspects of myself that comprise my own best assumption of a self model. I want a narrative to play across its spaces and to run down and over the cracks and fissures that glue together a coherent idea whilst also will spiral off into other dimensions as that piece merges with other past pieces and a new set of connections evolve and I progress, equipped with more knowledge to the next module.
To speak of the technicalities of this piece about Susan Atkins I am using a very thin surface (clingfilm) to represent the thin veil between seperate realms. I am also using it like magnetic tape so that the air during the audio can move it and the vibrations of the speakers can channel energy onto its thin lightweight surface and at certain points make it move. It records fluctuations in surrounding air pressure although it returns to its previous state. There is no permanent change to the material. The positioning of it in front of an object with which we usually associate a presence I felt added to the idea of loss through the event in question but also loss in terms of identity of the perpetrator of the deed. An empty chair is heavy with meaning and the lightweight cling film seemed to mix the idea of memory and the transient sense of time having passed (now 40 plus years) into one sculptural idea. I was intrigued in making this by the idea of audio (sound waves) belonging to an individual voice from the past moving objects that exist in the present. The fluctuations in movement of the cling film relate directly to the speaker vibrations from Atkins voice. The chair might also be seen as conscience, judgement or inquiry into the events of that night.