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, 10 April 2012

The Blank Screen in the Room

Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962

The email exchange below, between myself and the therapists analysing my work (referred to as DB and LB), highlights an interesting area in the process; that of the role of counter-transference. There is also an ethical angle to be acknowledged and considered. Being confronted by an image, that couldn’t/wouldn’t respond was evidently causing conflicts within the examiners; what was happening to the viewer seems to be very much an important part of the data collection. Was the therapist being probed by the work? Or perhaps I, in the guise of my own self-portrait, was analysing the therapist?

Message from LB
Dear Spencer
I agree that to start an email dialogue is out of line with what you're doing here BUT did have a thought I wanted to send. I wondered if there was any way of the pieces "replying" to the comments, to make it more of a conversation - although I imagine this would mean they were less finished pieces. Of course, this may be something you have considered and discarded for good reasons. Or perhaps it is already happening. Anyway, in the interests of not turning this into an email communication, don't feel the need to reply to this. I just wanted to put that thought across. LB

Message from DB
Dear Spencer
It must have taken its toll on me the last image, as seem to be struggling to send this to you. Forgetfulness, busyness, sure but also something else.
I hesitate because I worry about how this might affect you, and me. I’ve managed to be frightened by the power I have to guess your meaning. This tips psychotherapy on its head and only acts to vandalise your meaning, you attach to your photography. I hesitate I think because I’ve realised the project warps my understanding of psychotherapy / counselling / psychoanalysis. It’s interesting so I’d like to continue, but it is also deeply troubling for this relationship with a static, unreactive product of yours left at the Guild to be scrutinised, to be called psychotherapy. You produce it, leave it in the corner then, in because of its lack of words, it encourages a flurry of interpretation – no guesswork – from a trainee therapist. I realise this can’t be doing psychotherapy any more than discussing a paper on psychotherapy can be confused with actually doing therapy. I worry perhaps that aside from the impossible question of doing good, I can’t rule out doing harm. Maybe I think too much of myself… DB

Response to DB and LB
Dear DB and LB
I write to you both as I would like to acknowledge that both of you have indicated a need to not perhaps question the process, but perhaps not feel as engaged. There is a sense of lostness, a questioning of this process (performance?) and perhaps even a feeling of an unsettling nature. Perhaps this isn't analysis, assessing, or even photo critique; perhaps we do not have to put a name to it at all. I do know that if you can continue being frank, honest and thoughtful then whatever it is, it feels interesting and worthy of documentation. What has also emerged is the importance of also documenting your feelings about the project; if you feel something (or of course nothing) about the work, please say. It is invaluable additional material knowing your process as well. Can I leave it there, for a while

Response from LB
Dear Spencer,
‘Absolutely. It's your project. It was just a thought.’ LB

Response from DB
Dear Spencer,
‘Yeah, shall we let it develop and see what comes up? I agree it makes sense to hold off for the moment naming what we are doing.’ DB

The artwork were certainly unearthing something of interest within the viewers, but was this information about the artist, the representation of the artist, (the photograph), the process or the therapist. Was it questioning the unique creative consolidation of all these, that comes about from any engagement with art. It came to mind that the work was more than simply a ‘blank screen’, a term familiar with any therapist, that here was a disruption, something emotive and worrying emerging. These engagements have been called ‘Sessions’ although they are effectively inert objects that do not say anything. The email exchange affected me also, as the author, I have left a break before delivering the next piece of work, in fact, as I write this, I have two pieces ready for delivery and two more in production that will be ready for presentation to the ‘Guild’ very soon.
The blank screen concept, would indicate a unilateral process of engagement and although generally discredited in the field of psychoanalysis, the UKCP website, describes the process of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy as follows:
‘The client is encouraged to talk about childhood relationships with parents and other significant people, the primary focus being to reveal the unconscious content of a client's psyche in an effort to alleviate psychic tension. The therapist endeavours to keep his own personality out of the picture, in essence becoming a blank canvas onto which the client can transfer and project deep feelings about themselves, parents and other significant players in their life’.

In this description the concept ‘blank canvas’ is used to describe an aspect of the therapeutic encounter; what to expect for the unsuspecting new client, a way also of introducing psychodynamic work and differentiating it from more directive therapies. By using this metaphor, it also introduces the concept of a more creative process of the interaction between the client and therapist as they engage. Are the assessors of the work fearful of their own projections placed upon these inert pieces of artwork? Is the blank screen, the photograph, confronting them?

In 1977 I visited the Pompidou Centre in Paris and sat for many hours in front of Yves Klein’s IKB19I, essentially a canvas painted blue of approximately three by four feet in size (illustrated). I wondered what I was looking at; as the viewer I wanted to know what I was experiencing, what was the artist communicating to me? It was a frustrating experience, with so little to go on, I was at a loss feeling that there was something that this encounter could reveal or inform, perhaps show something of myself. I understood Yves Klein was making me question myself, a wise other within me, who would show the importance of this encounter, there is a possibility that perhaps this is what LB and DB partly experience being confronted by these photographs. In the case of my encounter, it evoked in me the internal voice of my critical father, a negative, authoritarian, dismissive tone, questioning the value, ‘what was its point’; I was left feeling angry and unfulfilled.

Yves Klein was also clearly also frustrated by the responses of some of his viewers.
‘From the reactions of the audience, [Klein] realized that...viewers thought his various, uniformly coloured canvases amounted to a new kind of bright, abstract interior decoration. Shocked at this misunderstanding, Klein knew a further and decisive step in the direction of monochrome art would have to be taken’. (Weitemeier, H. 1994)

It occurs to me that for DB and LB, the above analogy might describe quite well their feelings of what faces them in their encounters with my work. Yves Klein, for me, and perhaps my project with DB and LB, brings us all face to face with expectations of our project together and the reality of the fears and frustrations ahead, this may leave them as I was left, confused, frightened and perhaps unfulfilled.
The classical approach to psychoanalytical treatment would have been a unilateral process; the patient working towards awareness in the presence of the all-knowing therapist and in this process could be offered respite from psychic pain. Now, the analyst’s experience is seen as an important part of this process and is no longer simply, in the words of Glovacchini (1994), ‘the direction of treatment flowing from the patient to a blankscreen analyst’. The notion of scrupulous neutrality and non-responsiveness of the therapists’ past or present being involved with the workings of the patient’s internal mind is now seen as a hindrance to understanding. As Langs (1978) writes, ‘the patient is constantly monitoring the analysts countertransference attitudes and their associations (my associations with the assessors feedback) can often be understood as “commentaries on them”’, (p509)

Fenichel believes that the suppression of countertransference in the therapeutic engagement is equivalent to the suppression of human feeling and the concept of countertransference is seen as a vital tool in which to describe the very early interaction of mother child attunement. ‘This recognition of the importance of a reciprocal relationship and its integration into contemporary psychoanalysis has spelt the death knell of the blank screen method’. If these responses are suppressed, or not conveyed, through interpretations of the work, will this affect the data collection in this research project?
I had transferred my desire, as a viewer of the artwork IKB 191 to gain insight and knowledge from the encounter, when I didn’t get anything back I had the experience of frustration and a sense of loss. However the reality in a therapeutic engagement with a client, a meeting with a thinking and feeling other, is of course a very different situation. This is not a unilateral engagement as in the photographic assessments, but a far more complex intersubjective, creative dyadic experience. As artists, the question is, how do we reveal parts of ourselves through exhibition, and how does the viewer experience this engagement? Do they see on this blank screen, an opportunity of creativeness (use), a shared experience, or do they see their own projections and defences, perhaps distorted reflections of their own?

Winnicott (1982) ponders the difference between simply ‘object relating’ and ‘object usage’ and that the capacity to use an object is very different from that of object relations. The continual projection on to a screen and introjection of those reflections, is a crucial part of the client work, however this could be seen, as simply setting the therapeutic framework for the more important role of object use. It is the survival of the therapist through these exchanges that develops object ‘use’. The object becomes more meaningful; its survival (continued project) becomes this new-shared reality of client /therapist, viewer/artist. This ‘use’ becomes a shared experience and not simply a screen on to which has been bombarded projections. In Winnicott’s term, ‘part of a shared reality, not a bundle of projections’ (p118).

When one talks to a patient, they are aware I am listening, however if we create an image or symbol that resonates with us, through interpretation, they will sense I am in touch with them (this is also the nature of art and its affect on the viewer). Responsive dialogue involves a match, or ‘fit.’ However, when this isn’t achieved, what then? Wright (2009) says the artist, in this space, is poised on the edge of ‘no mother’ (the un-attuned mother), so hence the artists compulsion to go on creating or the viewers urge to go on searching for meaning.

Through this project, I try to put my inner psychic experience into images for assessment. I describe my own work and compare this with the interpretations from the examiners through the lens of psychoanalytic theory; in offering these artworks to be viewed, an attempt to imagine what is this inner state being experienced, is. Can this empathy and identification be achieved through the viewing of photographic artwork? Are counter transference and the interpretative responses an important part of the process, as the assessors feel their way into the meaning of the work, just as the therapist would feel themselves into the intra-psychic world of the client. Is this is what I am actually asking of LB and DB.
‘When the medium gives the artist what he needs then he experiences joy and self-realisation. The panic of facing the blank canvas is a re-enactment of the primitive anxiety of the non-adaptive mother, the distracted mother’. (Wright 2009)

The viewer that gets too frightened is re-enacting this concept of an un-adaptive mother also. He/she may be frightened of the blankness that confront them, trying to get a response, the non-smiling, silent face, that makes the client feel he is not recognised. The client doesn’t know what you are thinking, in part they want you to be this blank screen; in this state it may be familiar, from this place, they can think the worst (of themselves or the artist).

This communication of aspects of self is a rapid oscillation of projection and introjections, says Money-Kyrle, unconsciously acquiring affective experience. As the ‘normal’ form of interaction, this builds the therapeutic alliance and leads to an understanding through interpretation. Loosing the thread however, can produce certain anxieties within both client and therapist; this is where periods of interaction overlap with experience that have not been resolved in the therapist; I sense of losing touch or grip, a break in the empathic bond. The email exchange indicates that perhaps LB fears losing grip and DB may have already lost it. In a therapeutic situation, if we cannot tolerate the client that cannot be understood, the patient can be shut out, feeling abandonment; this creates a ‘further bar to understanding’.

So, I offer a screen onto which the viewer can project, collude and be frustrated, the artwork is at times the ‘no-mother’ to my examiners. In my encounter with Yves Klein, I transferred my desire for knowledge and insight of myself, but when I didn’t get anything back I felt frustrated and at a loss. (Yves Klein, in producing IKB 191, was perhaps compensating for his own deficiencies in attunement, making reflective forms of his own, and through this process, gaining an ability to exist and feel real).
A part of me is in the room with the assessor and the viewer’s countertransference is therefore a very valuable access point to this world of the artist. However, even without facts, the viewers reveal much of themselves, in their interpretations. Being passive, as the artwork is and to some extent persecutory, will leave the observer feeling as I did in the encounter with Y. Klein, angry and unfulfilled. However there is a form of dialogue building in the form of the continuation of the project, a shared creativity. Future images, although as yet unproduced, will reveal yet more from the producer and viewer, the artist will adapt, this becomes over time, the dialogue between artist and examiner.

Spencer Rowell 2012