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.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Knowledge from Uncertainty?

John Cage and W.R. Bion: An Exercise in Interdisciplinary Dialogue
Adela Abdella (2011)

 ‘I was destroying something for them, and they where destroying something for me’ (Kostelanetz, 1988, p.131) said the musician John Cage, while working in collaboration with his orchestra.

The purpose of this paper is to gain some understanding of the nature of the concept of negative capability (coined by the poet John Keats in1817), and its relation to my project. Negative capability is the concept of the fostering of uncertainty, or having openness to the unknown and to embrace the value of an uncertainty of outcome while engaged in this collaborationist research project. The author converges psychoanalytical theory and practise with the production of self-portraits and their interpretation, this mimics the process in the consulting room and it is here where it is common for the analyst to tolerate this unknowing, holding both his own and clients anxieties while in search of new knowledge. During this process of thinking, new ways of experiencing are offered, a journey to more authentic experiences and of personal growth.

‘Creative people who possess the capacity for negative capability in high degree seem to conceive of themselves as part of the macrocosm and to lack that sense of opposition between their ego and both the outside world and their own unconscious which renders the majority resistive to their own imaginative potentialities. This enables them to allow themselves to make imaginative statements which have both private and universal meaning’ (Rycroft p,167)

The therapeutic exchange is a form of interdisciplinary dialogue, but describing it in terms of both comprehension and understanding is but a dangerous illusion. This is a thesis of both an artist and psychotherapist who seeks to enter into a dialogue between these two fields of knowledge, the holding of an auto-reflective attitude towards photography, which demands the freedom to use and recreate inherited knowledge in a personal and innovative way. It proposes also to use this creativeness in analytical thinking with that of the interpreted photographic self-portraits and their display.
In discussing two seemingly different practices, that of analytical practice and music composition, in her paper, John Cage and W.R. Bion: An Exercise in Interdisciplinary Dialogue (2011), Adela Abdella discusses some creative similarities,
 ‘…looking for meeting points, listening to other disciplines and to our own echo during this dialogue, putting our theories and models to work in such a way as to let them grow through contact with other fields of knowledge’ p475

In this paper, Abella draws comparisons with the work of the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion and John Cage, a composer of avant garde music. Abella argues that in both cases, they propose that spontaneity is an illusion while searching for a new and the unknown (p. 480), a disruptive state where physic pain is synonymous with creative and psychic growth. The contrary reluctance to face the unknown ’taking refuge in certainty’ (Bion 1967a p. 158) has a defensive, disruptive character without potential.
Cage states that the ‘changes that had taken place in this century… are such that art is not an escape from life but rather an introduction to it’ (Kostelanetz, 1988, p. 226).  

‘I want to give up the traditional view that art is a means of self expression for the view that art is a means of self-alteration, and what it alters is mind… We will change beautifully if we accept the uncertainties of change’ (p. 230)

In comparison, Bion’s view of psychoanalysis is 
In psychoanalytic methodology, the criterion cannot be whether a particular usage is right or wrong, meaningful or verifiable, but whether it does, or does not, promote development’ (Bion1962b p. ix)

Bion and Cage are advocating the suppression of the creativity of the artist to allow in that which is the creative in the reader; as also happens in the therapeutic exchange. Then the project becomes a collaborative project as the joint narrative unfolds.  Cage would acknowledge that the performer allows for the self expression of the audience, Bion would restrict the intervention of the analyst’s activity, a non-expression or silent attitude of the analyst, in order to leave as much space as possible for the patients personal worlds.

The function of the images produced and the documentation of their reception is not to seek awareness per se, but to change the mind so that they can be open to experience, to allow other possibilities; those that haven’t otherwise been considered. This is the nature of the search for new knowledge, to open our eyes to the complexity of personal imagery, to work in an environment that cannot be simply or quickly satisfied. Openness to the new and unknown, free of memory, although taking advantage of it. Images that are too emotional or too intentional try to dominate people, they try to engage the readers to such an extent that they cut off this unconscious interdisciplinary dialogue. Of course,  one of the problems with interdisciplinary comparisons is that there will be different results when realised among other fields; the same idea can have different destinies, depending on the creative personality of the one applying it and the one who reads, the medium of the field allowing different realisations of the same artwork.

In Cage’s thought provoking statement ‘The function of art is to hide beauty; that has to do with opening our minds, because the notion of beauty is just what we accept’ (p 85), highlights the importance of drawing conclusions too soon of a collaborative process. Bion would say the trying to search for the patient’s truth, instead of resting on the dangers of known truths. ‘We are incapable of learning if we are satisfied’, indicates Bion.

The verbal expression can be so formalised, so rigid, so filled with so many existing ideas, that the idea I want to express can have the life squeezed out of it’ Bion 1967a, p. 141) Although art production and awareness fosters curiosity, the problem for Bion is that the use of language impedes. ‘The over stifling nature of words can create there own illusions’. Cage says ‘when you succeed in defining and cutting things off from something, you thereby take the life out of them. It isn’t any longer as true as it was when it was incapable of being defined” p119

A disciplined attitude to the work, allowing discovery, uncertainty and being in unfamiliar territory will open up new opportunities, the need to avoid too quick, too superficial and thus too partial understandings is unhelpful, the paradox of mental discomfort keen to contribute, struggle to read, to frustrate the process of the revealing of knowledge or not. ‘The shaking up of certainties to reveal ready made truths enliven a blunt and stifled mind’.

The work of this thesis is to provide or underpin a piece of interdisciplinary dialogue, both enriching and also in this process limiting it. Questions raised will be, are there substantial convergence between the production of self-portraits and there interpretation and are these on a superficial level or do they, viewed through the lens of psychoanalytical theory, convey some fundamental aspects of thinking of both producer and reader?

Keats’s theory of negative capability, where the ability to allow oneself to be ‘in uncertainties of emotions in universal terms, distinguishing between the universal and the individual’, is the nature of this project and having negative capability as the intuitive process of being in an uncertain state, in that the hope that new meaning as outcome will emerge, is of value. where art meets life.

Spencer Rowell 2012

Creative Imaginings. The Objectivity of Dreams

Charles Rycroft. The Innocence of Dreams (1979)

As a society, we set such high value on verbal and written expression of language. Outside the artists environment of art and poetry, little attention is made to the interpretations of dreams or other forms of unconscious communication, seeing them perhaps on the one hand irrational, imagined symbols, against the other, the rational language, the world of the grounded and realistic. Of course we are all communicating in both these ways, creative interplay is rife, and as an artist and psychotherapist, it is I who wants to document this process of where image becomes language.

Our dreams, which I shall call creative imaginings that we present to the world, are free from conscious manipulation; they are where we wish to be, what we wish for or hope to be or not to be. They are places we once knew, or states we would want for are imagined, a place to share with people we love and warn against places we might find ourselves with those we wouldn’t want to be with. Imagination can be interpreted as an awake version of dreams experienced in sleep. We lose the ability too recognise the importance of these affective messages as images or symbols; these messages free from the veils of our defence.

Rather than sleeping dreams, this project consists of gaining insight from the visual representations of hypnagogia and hynopompic experience. It is the realisation of images that emerge from a dream-state, those images that might appear while falling asleep or images immediately accessed upon awakening. This ‘threshold consciousness’ as it is known, can be described as a point at which ego boundaries are loosened; it could be described as when one might have more openness to sensitivity or to be in a state of a more heightened suggestibility. It has long been thought that the hypnagogic state can provide insight into a problem. The best-known example being August KekulĂ©’s realisation that the structure of benzene was a closed ring while half-asleep in front of a fire and seeing molecules forming into snakes, one of which grabbed its tail in its mouth. Many other artists, writers, scientists and inventors—including Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Salvador DalĂ­, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton, have credited hypnagogia and related states with enhancing their creativity.
These creative imaginings can be used to allude to ideas, narratives, recollections and feelings. During these transitional states, this semblance of undefended imagination, as they travel from unconscious to a pre-conscious state, loose the capacity for reality testing - they are initially seen as hallucinations, however there is within them an act of knowingness, a display with indifference that is uncontaminated by self conscious will.

The self-portrait is a way of observing these phenomena that we make for ourselves. These images, freely associate and to an extent are free from defence, (which may come into play to disown responsibility), they create an opportunity to get more of an objective look on our innermost feelings. To be, in the words of Rycroft,  ‘a momentary glimpses of the dreamers total imaginative fabric, glimpses into the fabric, where are woven all memories, expectations, wishes and fears’. (p. xi)

There is an aspect to these images that are alien to me, that they are my dream-self as someone other than myself. Initially there is no connection; they could not possibly reveal anything of myself. They are as aspects of myself that hasn’t yet been assimilated into myself. Jung, Calvin Hall and others have recommended that dreams should be studied not singly, but in a series.

These unassimilated parts of self are sent for assessment, a form of fractured objectivity about oneself. If these individual images have any meaning or message, then the way these messages are communicated must apply to the process as well.  A self-conception process begins; enhanced by making others witness these un-assimilated parts, (as we do in therapy), a way of discovering different aspects, or symbols, that are not initially understood.

Freud would describe dreaming more in terms of hallucinations, a mechanism to repress wishes. The symbols produced would be described as a neurotic symptom, created from this repressive agency. The two distinct types of mental functioning where Freud described as primary and secondary processes - the primary process being characterised by condensation, displacement and symbolisation, the secondary process being governed by logic, speech and language. These primary processes described by Freud are a mode of thinking very different from conscious thinking, they are the mechanisms of the unconscious mind; they are both primitive and archaic. The internal agency would distort, repress dream imagery into unrecognisable and generally unrecognisable parts, this agency he called the censor and later the super ego.

Condensation and displacement are the prime mechanisms of the primary process, these are no more than wish-fulfilment hallucinations and are, according to Freud, characteristic of unconscious thinking. Condensation is where two or more images are fused together to create effectively a composite, who’s meaning is from both. It is common for people to be fused, often with aspects of self and others. When an object or feeling is displaced on to something it symbolises or refers obliquely to something else, becoming a symbolic substitute. Displacement is the process of symbol formation; it can also represent creations of figures of speech such as a metaphor in language.

If in `Freud’s terms dreams are the product of a neurosis, then all daydreamers are neurotic. The question arises, what is it within the artist accesses these symbols is able to use artistic expression to act as such a representation of the human condition, without implying that it is simply the pathology of the creator. It is this lack of image integration of these un-integrated parts that in our imagination resembles our dreams.

So a dream to Freud was a repressed wish that was veiled, to produce manifest content from latent content, an interpretation was needed; to unscramble these bit-parts and distortions imposed on by the censor. Free association is the technique Freud used to access this latent content. By following the first line of communication or idea in the analytical situation the journey to manifest content begins. The translated content from this primarily visual content expressed in discourse Freud called secondary revision.

The Jungian term for secondary revision would be amplification. Jung placed more importance on dreams and considered them as much a product of the dreamer as of the collective unconscious. The fractured images re-combined, fragments from external images, along with universally occurring experience. He also considered us dreaming continually while awake, the chatter of consciousness simply drowning them out. More to do with psycho-physical rearrangements and integration, than with hallucinatory gratification and of repressed wishes that Freud believed. But what of the creative imagination of the viewer? These images create  transference between the image and the viewer and as a series, the part objects can be formed into a more rounded picture, they become part of the combined experience projected on to the photograph. This combined knowledge is a mental picture created of the intersubjective space between the object and viewer. By observing the narrative, over time, discerning meaning from previous work; this becomes the knowledge that underpins future interpretations.

Connection between creative imagination and dreaming long recognised by writers and artists themselves however legitimate to discuss the nature of this relationship. This project can seen as a fusion of concepts of images ideas, (condensation) replaced by language (displacement) and symbolising other representing another symbolisation in the presence of the viewer, observing the relationship between these two selves in dialogue, the unconscious revealing, the transition to consciousness, the narrative of primary processes becoming of communication to secondary processes.
The self-portraits I produce are not dreams, however they come from this place of half-light, as an intra-personal communication, a communication between two aspects of the same person. These could be seen as messages from one part - self to the other, symbolic messages. Interpretation could bring an intuitive understanding of these metaphors and symbols, a reflexive mental activity, one part observing, one of reflecting upon; an internal discussion with objectivity. To amplify or create a secondary revision, analysis of these images becomes text and this is used to make a set of statements about a combined narrative, a constructed metaphor, the project becomes an interpersonal communication when assessed. 
Biography imagined, becomes a shared biographical experience.

Spencer Rowell 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Self-Portrait as Phantastic Object

Much of psychoanalytic thinking has, as its starting point, the infantile sense of wishful thinking; omnipotence visualised through the medium of play as a way to reveal the relative awareness of the truths of experience. Freud speaks of this process in terms of a compromise, where ones capacities to express our place in the world are mediated, via language, to a sense of reality. This could also be said of art production, as generally the artist knows what is real and conscious, however during this state of production, there outcome can be seen initially as perhaps having a sense of unrealistic wishful thinking.

‘As people grow up, then, they cease to play, and seem to give up the yield of pleasure which they gained from playing. But whoever understands the human mind knows that hardly anything is harder for a man than to give up pleasure, which he has once experienced. Actually, we can never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another. What appears to be a renunciation is really the formation of a substitute or surrogate. In the same way, the growing child, when he stops playing, gives up nothing but the link with real objects; instead of playing, he now phantasies. He builds castles in the air and create what are called daydreams. I believe that most people construct phantasies at times in their lives. This is a fact which has been long been overlooked and whose importance has therefore not been sufficiently appreciated.’ (Freud 1908, p.144)

This thesis sets out to explore whether psychoanalytic thinking, based on interpretations of photography, expressed via language, can illuminate pre-verbal expression through the production of self-portraits.
Since standard psychoanalytic thinking significantly differs from other ways of the understanding of human psychology, (Tukett and Taffler 2007 p.389), it is suggested that this methodology may have a unique contribution to make to this area of research. The author suggests that with this psychoanalytic approach, language from interpretations can act as an interface between the image representation and affective knowledge; that it can also explain aspects unconscious functioning around art production, its realisation and appreciation.
I will introduce new ways of seeking to understand images psychoanalytically; and specifically within the realm of the self-portrait. A strength of this argument put forward is that it relies on widely accepted clinical thinking about the workings of the unconscious mind in clinical work; in both that of the artist and the viewer in this new dynamic.  It will examine the nature of unconscious phantasy and psychic reality, the relationship between these states of mind - the expression of the internal world of the artist and of the reader, the understanding of those internal worlds and how they interrelate. It has become an increasing area of interest, as the project has progressed, of the role of the viewers and interpretors in this process - the importance of an increasing understanding of this new intersubjective dynamic. The thesis will examine their role in detail, paralleling the relationship of the therapist/client in a therapeutic engagement, to enquire about the notion of what might be called a ‘blank screen’.
I will describe the artefacts in the context of them being ‘Phantastic Objects’, (coined by Tukkett and Taffler, 2003) and as such are the objects used in this process in an attempt to achieve a sense of perceived reality, derived from two psychoanalytical concepts. Object, which is used in the sense as in philosophy; as a mental representation, or a symbol of something that is not the thing in itself. This could also represent a part object or combination of internalised relationships. And the word Phantasy, as Freud speaks of in his quote above, as an imaginary scene in which the inventor represents the protagonist in the process of having latent (unconscious) content or wishes, fulfilled. (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973, p.314)
This project, as indeed therapy can be described as, is a documentation of the developmental struggle between the ‘reality principle’ and the ‘pleasure principle’. In the therapeutic engagement much is given to this interplay, the conflict between these two basic principles. The production of the photographs represent a negotiation of the resolution of (or partial resolution of) the conflicts of these two states of mind into which, in Freud’s words, ‘a new principle of mental functioning was thus introduced’ so that ‘what was presented in the mind was no longer what was agreeable, but what was real, even if it happened to be disagreeable’ Freud 1911, p219.

‘At the heart of the psychoanalytic understanding of reality is the assumption that individuals are always in some degree of unconscious conflict: in fact, we develop a sense of mature reality by finding an individual way to accommodate the ongoing and potentially creative conflict between our wishes and our real opportunities,’
Freud 1911, p.399

This series of self-portraits as Phantastic Objects, analysed, allows the artists deepest desires to be fulfilled. The artist in a state of infantile omnipotence, where the visualisation of conflicts and the inevitable display of antagonism between these two states that are reflected upon in the interpretations, offers insight and affective knowledge of internal worlds.

Spencer Rowell 2012