One cannot be without being affected (Malabou, 2012)


Exploratory self portrait installation, structured with reference to philosophy, neuroscience & psychology.

That the artist esteems appearance higher than reality is no objection to this proposition. For “appearance” in this case means reality once more, only by way of selection, reinforcement, and correction. The tragic artist is no pessimist: he is precisely the one who says yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible—he is Dionysian. 'The Twilight of the Idols' Friedrich Nietzsche (1888).

My essay relates to my installation piece and forms part of a wider perspective for me on the concept of self portraiture. It is my deliberate attempt to place the visual idea of the self firmly into the framework of science, philosophy and psychology. I seek to make art reflecting the self that doesn't need to rely upon external agency but I recognise that structuring a written argument which presents the possibility of such imagery, contextualises the fact that no person comes wholly unarmed to any experience.

How are we to find the body other than in the process of irradiation if being oneself has become a transient performance with no sequel, a disabused mannerism in a world without manners (Baudrillard, 2001). The metamorphic being whose hope lay in transformation, finds now it is the very thing that leads to its collapse. Thus the revolutionary body only finds an eventual place, as Zarathustra did, in the eternal return (Nietzsche, 1896).

The body living its own life becomes autonomous, dissolving the whole without entirely annihilating it (Malabou, 2012) and the performance of living extends the remaining self traces out into the external world. An autonomous breast lives its own life of; size, curvature, firmness, seduction, desire, attraction and masturbatory self gratification. Transformation as a form of entire transmographic redemption, a rally against; age, stigma, cultural prisons and the injustice of imperfect genetics only occurs as appendage, tighter skin, bigger breast, rounder buttock; it is only ever an ad hoc process of desperate fleeing from the immutable real inner self.

Our plastic possibilities are never ending (Malabou, 2012) but within change unfortunately being remains.The false outer self does not express this interior absence but instead parades the trophy of hidden desire motive as solution, whilst the inner coldness, neutrality and absence gradually become homogenised in the vision of the immovable face. This is the frozen stasis covering the vital living reality of the fluids beneath. Vice in the last analysis is indifference to one's own self and self mutilation (Fromm, 2003) but contracted by the need for approval, culture cripples the power of individual reason and the self becomes enslaved to the distorted authoritarian ethic. This lowers the coefficient of realness (R.D.Laing, 1960) and the self becomes attached to an external system offering the circular myth of transmutation, which is a harbinger also of an inner destructive plasticity (Malabou, 2012) that proliferates as a chaotic holding together of the real and unreal.

This is a dangerous sub text for a self model which is at best just a virtual model depicting a possibility, a reality position such that the self is predominantly a system of best hypothesis about its own current state (Metzinger, 2004). This is the space within which the representational self model is built. Selfhood is a single coherent temporarily stable self representation (Metzinger, 2004). If this representational model is damaged and multiple structures begin to develop and alternate then this can be evidenced in different neuropsychological syndromes. The self model is the only representational model that is anchored in the brain by a persistent functional link (Metzinger 2004) thus integrating cognitive input with a stable self model are keys to one experiencing oneself as they actually are.

The purpose of my self portrait is to address the above and the possibility of this destabilisation of the self model. It sets out to explore the hidden experience of dissociative identity disorder and the idea of a world where consciously experienced thoughts run the risk of not appearing as one's own and thus the schizoid personality is born, with all the weight of its consequences.

The self portrait in art has always been at best a recognisable amalgamation of the surface familiar. Surrealism may have attended to Freud but rather more as the phantasmagoric as opposed to a grounding sought in a broad array of reference. The self as something traversed as the rhizome and not as a reduction to the the single Freudian trace does not appear coherently in art. A space that doesn't have start and end points like existing hierarchical verticals is the best way to traverse ideas of the self. It must be travelled horizontally across bodies creating links for assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari, 1980). Things are always in the act of becoming and forming, moving across other surfaces and connecting. This is the essence of the self and attempts at its portrayal. I seek to make many disparate connections across the surface of mind. To pertinently represent the idea things must be an assemblage constructed out of unconnected narratives. This is not surrealism because the self is too serious an endeavour to connect purely to the imagining of dreams and its discontents.

The portrait seeks to represent the divided self, one that operates between several identities both false and real. The preceding discussion illustrates through reference the various thoughts of philosophers, neuroscientists, cultural thinkers and writers about what they present as their detailed argument regarding the formulation of a coherent selfhood.

We are all assemblages of fragments not carved linear jigsaws that can be put back together using the picture upon an outer box. Many fragments are gone, replaced, altered if indeed in some they were ever there and thus the assemblage is a fusing together of parts that do not necessarily join. It is impossible to represent the disruptive disconnected leakages that drain into the dark cracks and fissures of mind as pure simple journeys from point A to B. One needs to traverse a mesh and join unconnected strands of thought that will constantly battle against the top down hierarchy of representation.

The self portrait is best uncovered through forensic self awareness. It must recognise the modern lie hidden at the heart of contemporary metamorphic fantasies. The physical withdrawal into oneself and out of the body seeks to transcend the world by being unembodied (R.D Laing, 1960). This becomes an urge to maintain the self through appendage but it is instead mere transcendence in a void. The installation and its photograph can now be examined as interpretative explanation such that its visible parts may explain an interior landscape of mind within a structure that contextualises art.

To begin, one feels frozen by the cold stillness of refrigeration, a once; flowing, living, various entity now entirely still. This is the frozen field of galloping horses, stopped dead in the chill of winter's wind. A beautiful beast forever paused in motion, white with frost its mane and tail suspended, only the internal organs beat and grind the same path as they did before. Approach and one may break off the tail or snap away the mane so solid is the ice that possesses, so complete is the inertia. The beast aware of the bodies demise, its one eye forever open, the other eye forever shut to the horror of self awareness.

This is such a scene of beauty perhaps, to the disabled viewer, who projects an anaesthetised spirit with the gravity of a body bag seared over concrete. Thus sight is like a creeping ice plague ready to infect the subject. This etherising gaze consumes any flow; numbing it, paralysing it, and then picking it clean, an autopsy of everything. The eyes full of formaldehyde aiding the mortician in his duty. Looking into one's own soul one finds a moth weary of the sun. This blue antiseptic light no longer draws the insect's flickering wings, no longer makes him dance. He can no longer participate in the blind moments of aliveness.

Is this a poetic homage to the body stolen? This body that still contains the moving thinking collection of living fluids is disappearing, the architecture no longer necessary to one whose external world, created within the inner, is always the eternal fabrication. There is only the internal milieu, the chemistry of the fluids (Damasio, 2003) which is the transfiguration of all things. It is the place where worlds are created and preserved; acknowledging the body beyond this is only to witness a landscape of ruin. This is as against external nature as Huysmans decadence was but when all of one's bones are broken (Bachmann, 1961) who can bare the bodies burden.

The tones in the image reveal the unhealthy; pallid, passionless, introspective removal of its creator from the world. Its structure a missing cadaver on the metallic slab, disenfranchised from pleasure, a body already dissected alive, feeling every moment of its own dismemberment. The room disinfected of any trace of blood, the fluids collected. Only the ageing brick and concrete floors now speak their image as an antiseptic translation of events. The self can no longer speak of the body it is only the immaterial witness of stone and metal that resonate now with a debauched memory of the body removed.

The bed a place of rest and passion, but here it is an amalgamation of harsh horizontals and verticals as perfunctory and particular as a fetish. The frame, bare, removed of its symbols of comfort, castrated from passion and serenity, its still uniformity encapsulates the mutilation of movement expressed in the regularity of the severed feet. Metamorphosis here again offers deceit, this time the escape after consuming the host. The feet disengaged from the fluids exhibit the sadomasochistic pleasure of the promise denied. This is a morbid dandification of dead flesh, exhibited for the screen as mirror. Here is the interface that completes the circle, a masturbation of eternal self examination.

The space from which a self is conceived in the throes of a passionate frenzy of movement becomes the pornographic still frame, a decapitation in the edit room before the point of climax. The bed is now a museum that embalms creation as the etherising of copulation, stripping the possibility of love via the corrosive acid of its presentation. This is an apotheosis of serenity; stillness here suggests a burdened memory of the violent disfiguring act. Stillness has become the autism of collection, classification and symbolic language disfiguring nature.

The creation of a perfectly static art evolved a world of form in which stillness is locked with violent movement (Sylvester, 1961). There is thus no change in tempo, the piece resides, reduced, denying the comfort of time passing. The only constituents in the space are cerements. The detail is all a mere covering for a disengaged engine of time that no longer throbs with life but is instead stalled. This is an environment with all of its perspectives limited mirroring the depleted horizon of the body. Removing the objects from time denies the viewer a chance to mourn. The body as a living obituary is not a sympathetic proposal. It delivers itself embalmed but alive, writhing against the chemicals of preservation that seek to replace the inner life blood once full of passion and vitality. This is the room of the schizophrenic proclaiming the futility of suicide for one already dead.

The self portrait thus becomes the artist's whiteboard for the accumulation of the detritus of their own psychosis. It is a place of delusional exhibitionism where the suicide of the body is glorified in operatic mute aria. The artist wants to live the unconscious but always meets the premeditated act of doing. The closer one comes to the confusion of the soul the nearer one comes to the appendage of explanation and the subsequent evisceration of the very object one is trying to make live. The essence of the self lives outside of dimension but the artist has no other device but the artifice of art's confessional fabrication to somehow make it material. This is only however an act of cyclical fleeing, each piece brings the artist only ever nearer to the point of his own beginning.

To close, minds communicate to each other only the conventional, only the conventional is explicit (Deleuze, 1972) Thus when we communicate by convention we are not yet thinking, they are the operations we perform on text in the blink of an eye, without realising we have done anything at all. (Hughes, 2012).

Reference List

I Bachmann, 1961. The Thirtieth Year: Stories (Modern German Voices Series) Holmes & Meier Publishers Inc; Reprint edition (1 Jan 1995)

J.Baudrillard., 2001. The Impossible Exchange. Verso publishers, Second edition (2011) translation Chris Turner.

A. Damasio, 2003. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Human Brain. Harcourt Brace International; First edition (Jan 2003)

G.Deleuze. 1972 Proust and Signs Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (2004)

G.Deleuze , F.Guattari, 1980. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.; New Ed edition (14 Oct 2004)

E.Fromm, 1947. Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. Routledge; New Ed edition (24 April 2003)

J. Hughes, 2012 Philosophy after Deleuze Continuum; 1 edition (November 29 2012)

R.D.Lang, 1960. The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness. Penguin Classics new edition (28 Jan 2010)

C. Malabou, 2012. The Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Plasticity. Polity Press (1 Jun 2012)

T. Metzinger, 2004. Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. MIT Press; New Ed edition (7 Sep 2004)

F.Nietzche, 1896. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Penguin Classics (28 Feb 1974)

D.Slyvester, 1961. ‘Rothko' in The New Statesman (October 1961)



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