The focus of this paper is six self portraits created as part of the studio portion of my first year project, Self Portrait of a Female with Epilepsy, viewed in relationship to the conceptual process of specific works from three artists. This exploration will be conducted within framework of the research questions: how the experiences of women with Epilepsy can be visually depicted today via the artist’s self portrait in a way that references both historical as well as contemporary understanding of the disorder in various cultures throughout the world; widens the viewer’s understanding of this disorder; engages the viewer in consideration of any disorders he or she personally experienced, hides or reveals; and how this emotional engagement affects the viewer’s image of self; as this relates to the studio work, the self portrait. Through the examination of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), Marcel Duchamp, 1915-1923; Untitled, Agnes Martin, 1956-57; and ghost...a border act, Ann Hamilton, 2000, I will inquire to formal and conceptual elements of the three example artworks both individually and in relation to each other, and relevant to the goals expressed for the series of self portraits I am creating. Through the contextualization of the self portraits I will address the role of the research question as a framework for my exploration of broader issues and concepts in my studio work. To conclude, I will confront various questions arising from this exploration and the contextualization, and address the possibilities offered by the questions raised here for further progression in both my research and studio work.
II. Statement of Research Question
What are the experiences of women with Epilepsy? Epilepsy, a disorder of the brain, is a highly individualized experience. There are common causes and triggers, yet as a disorder of the organ which is the seat of our individuality, no two cases of Epilepsy are exactly alike. Common causes and triggers such as brain injury, genetics, or infections of known and unknown origin exist, but no two people, female or male, share the same experience. The emotions raised by the disorder can be examined by the following: control and lack of control of the self and all that exists beyond the self, personal and societal misunderstanding and confusion surrounding knowledge of the disorder, and the costs the disorder places on the individual and the group from a personal, professional and financial perspective. Each of these can be applied to both males and females in different societies and economic groups throughout the world. It is the specifics and the degree of emotional impact they have on males and females dependent upon socio-economic factors which may differ radically. These differences are not too great as to lessen the ability to understand the general emotional impact Epilepsy has on the individual through their expression in an artistic practice. Just as art is experienced both as an individual/personal and as a group/general experience, so too is Epilepsy. The impact this disorder has on the emotional lives of women has been found to be amplified via the place and role a woman might occupy and fulfill in a particular society. In societies where a woman’s value to the group is based upon her ability to provide financial support, reproduce, or act as a caregiver to multiple generations, the impact of the disorder in a woman’s ability to fulfill these roles often compromises her self image, and how she values her own life. This distorted self image can be compounded by both a lack of education and understanding by the individual as well as the group. The financial ability to address both causes and treatment options of Epilepsy varies, and may lessen or intensify the impact of the disorder. Historically Epilepsy has been a disorder that people have tried to hide. The exception to this was in the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century when it was exploited at times as a tool in the struggle between a society seeking to repress the female, and the female’s attempt to gain control of herself from her repressors via the hysterical-epileptic episode. By wielding the hysterical-epileptic posture she attempted to supercede the control imposed upon her by forces outside of herself. This tradition of hiding away the individual with Epilepsy, was and is still practiced in some groups either by locking up the person with the disorder deep within the group or banishment of the individual from the group. Today in more economically advantaged groups, the “hiding” of Epilepsy is partially the result of the ability to successfully control the seizures through medical treatment in the form of anti-epileptic drugs or surgery. Successful treatment from a medical perspective has only been achieved across a broad scale in the last quarter century. The control of Epilepsy through medical intervention is not without debate among those living with the disorder. It might seem illogical to not want to control something which in an uncontrolled state can be life threatening. To individuals who view Epilepsy as a key part of their understanding of their own self image the choice not to treat the disorder is a choice between personal control of that self image and the chance of its destruction through forces beyond their control.
The development of my research question evolved from my own diagnosis and treatment for Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, my explorations of my personal emotional response to the diagnosis and treatment, the information I acquired through research into the disorder, and the expression of these elements in my studio work. Understanding and exploring the nature of Epilepsy as a highly individualized disorder led to consideration of the most effective means to visually depict the experiences of women with Epilepsy today in a non-didactic, artistic practice. I concluded the place to begin should be my own experiences and understanding, and that place would be the exploration of the image I make of myself via the self portrait.
III. Addressing the work of others: Duchamp, Martin and Hamilton
Beginning chronologically with Marcel Duchamp there is much that could be written about the relevance of Duchamp’s entire oeuvre as it relates to the development my work and specifically to this project, but I will limit myself to The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (hereafter referred to as The Large Glass), 1915-1923.
The Large Glass, considered until the revelation of Etant Donnes as his last major work, was created during a period of transformation in Duchamp’s approach to art. Through consideration of his origins as a painter, the changes happening in both the world and in the art world at that time, one can sense the need for a change of language that Duchamp was seeking in his work. He began producing the Readymades during this same period as The Large Glass; it is a painting that seeks to transform the language of painting in the way the Readymades sought to transform the language of art. Duchamp spent as much, or probably more time playing the game of chess than the game of art, therefore it seems fitting to describe the position that Duchamp found himself in artistically in this period as comparable to that of the knight.
In the first preface to the collection of his essays titled “Knight’s Move” Viktor Shklovsky draws the analogy between the art world in the first decades of the twentieth century and the form of movement constraining the knight in the chess game as follows:
“There are many reasons for the strangeness of the knight’s move, the main one being the conventionality of art, about which I am writing. The second reason lies in the fact that the knight is not free--it moves in an L-shaped manner because it is forbidden to take the straight road” (3).
Constrained by conventionality after the rejection of Nude Descending a Staircase, Nr. 2 by the Cubists as being too Futurists in for the 1912 Salon des Independants in Paris, Duchamp was not free to travel the straight road of neither tradition nor avant garde. His option was only that left to the knight; move ahead by zig-zagging around the corners. Despite loose affiliation with other avant garde groups and movements throughout his life he remained, like the White Knight in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass a figure who assumed the role of rescuer and guide to the future artists, to the Queen Alices. The Large Glass is one of the zig-zagging, around the corner steps that Duchamp foraged in his path as an artist and by which he set the course for others to follow.
I want to address The Large Glass for three reasons. First, the non-traditional approach Duchamp took to painting through the use of glass, lead and other materials molded how the painting is experienced as a transparent object, existing in a three dimensional space as opposed to being bound to the two dimensional wall-space. Second, Duchamp’s careful planning and documentation of the process behind The Large Glass and the evolution of his “notes” into the Green Box needs to be viewed as a forum by which the ideas of The Large Glass remain under his control. Finally, the manner by which The Large Glass became a completed work, its uncontrolled, chance shattering and the relationship of the work to the viewer and surrounding space are important to the transformation initiated by Duchamp which affects how we view and make art today.
Duchamp’s technical approach to painting was ground breaking not by his choice of materials, which were steeped in traditional applications in the creation of architectural elements and craft. It is Duchamp’s conceptual application of the chosen materials, how they influence and control the viewer’s experience of The Large Glass which becomes the transformative element in this piece. The transparency of the glass, the ability to view it from both sides, the reflections and shadows cast upon it by the persons and objects with which it shares the space it occupies; these are the means by which Duchamp transformed painting. With The Large Glass Duchamp cut the strings by which painting was bound to the academic traditions in a way that neither the Cubists nor Futurists had been able to do. They were only able to crack the picture plane before which we, the viewers stood; Duchamp broke through it, took us by the hand and led us to the world on the other side.
The careful consideration, planning and documentation of The Large Glass speaks not only of Duchamp’s underlying interest in the intellectual development of the work, it also serves as a map of that zig-zagging path; his controlled approach to finding his way through what was essentially intellectual and artistically unknown territories. The step he took a decade after “giving up” on the piece’s creation, to not just gather this documentation in a velvet box, or simply frame and sell off the drawings, but to publish it over the following decades as a hand-copied volume, an artist’s edition, is what makes the Green Box as transformative of an artwork as the work it documents. The dissemination of the information behind The Large Glass’s formation in this way speaks of a highly developed regard for the control of the image; both the image of The Large Glass and the image Duchamp desired to project of himself.
The paradox formed by the delicate balance between chance and control within Duchamp’s oeuvre arises frequently. As controlled of a process the creation of The Large Glass seems to be as told to us through the documentation in the Green Box, it is a paradox how the completion of The Large Glass was dependant upon a particularly chance occurrance. The Large Glass is dated 1915-1923, although the origins can be found in Duchamp’s work from 1912-1913. Begun in France, Duchamp transported studies, notes and trials of The Large Glass to New York City in 1915. There he began working on the final piece; with most of the work occurring in the following two years and in parallel to the development of the Readymades. Duchamp left New York for Argentina in 1918, by then The Large Glass had been completed according to the documentation in the Green Box, and was owned by Walter Arensberg. In Argentina Duchamp did develop an additional element which he added to The Large Glass upon his return to New York City; this element, the three circles from a standard oculist’s chart etched in the upper right side of the bottom panel ties The Large Glass to the Readymades. In 1921 Arensberg transferred ownership of The Large Glass to another friend and patron of Duchamp’s, Katherine Dreier. At this point Duchamp had not declared The Large Glass a finished artwork. In fact, 1923 is never cited by Duchamp as a completion date, it is simply when he decided no further work would be done. Does this mean the work was finished? Or did Duchamp give up without resolving it?
The Large Glass was exhibited in the International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 1926; the first time it was exhibited outside the private space of Duchamp’s studio or the homes of Arensberg and Dreier. During the artwork’s return transport to Katherine Dreier’s home in Connecticut the movement from the bouncing truck caused the shattering of the two pieces of glass. However the the damaged remained undiscovered for almost a decade when the crate was finally opened.
Richard Hamilton wrote in his essay "The Large Glass":
“Duchamp, undismayed by the unplanned intervention of chance, reassembled the fragments in 1936, aided by the lead wire and varnish which had helped hold the pieces together” (D'Harnoncourt, McShine, Schwarz, Paz, Sanouillet, Hamilton, Steefel, Jr., Antin, Lebel, and John Tancock 67).
The description of Duchamp’s reaction, “undismayed” could be viewed as a marker pointing to how we might consider the assigned date of completion and what is meant by Duchamp would work no further on the piece. Duchamp did not classify the work as destroyed. He did not re-create it and eliminate the broken glass. Although he did later grant others permission to copy the work, the copies do not replicate the shatters of the glass. Does this make them true copies, or merely officially sanctioned interpretations? Instead in 1936 he went to Katherine Dreier’s house in Connecticut and before The Large Glass was installed in the place selected for it in Dreier’s library, Duchamp carefully stabilized the glass shatters, preserving not only the artwork, but the shattered glass. This action on part of Duchamp could be viewed as his acceptance of the chance shattering as an integral part of the work’s development; why was the shattering not attempted to be repeated in the official copies?
Duchamp did not orchestrate the shattering of the glass. This occurred through happenstance, chance. How could a piece whose inception was documented in such detail, a piece so conceptually controlled, be released to such chance occurrance? An occurrence that not only changed the works physical appearance quite drastically, but added another layer conceptually to it and leave the artist “undismayed”? Was it simply a matter of intellectual and artistic distance he had put between himself and the piece in the years between stopping work and the discovery of the shattering? Duchamp did return to work on it, twice if you consider in addition to stabilizing the piece in 1936, he was actively involved in the siting and installation of The Large Glass when it was given to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it remains today.
To be fully understood The Large Glass should be experienced in person. Time needs to be spent walking around it, viewing it from all sides, closely examining the piece, shatters and all. Unlike other traditional paintings and sculptures, The Large Glass is in a constant state of transformation. The light, the shadows, the movement of the people both in the gallery it occupies as well as those seen through the courtyard window it is positioned in front of, all of these elements become part of The Large Glass and give rise to the question: could Duchamp’s lack of dismay over the shattering of the glass mean that he never intended to complete it through his own active engagement? Is Duchamp stating the chance occurrences which happen through the engagement of the viewer, the light, the space it occupies are what complete The Large Glass? The role of the viewer in relationship to The Large Glass is taken by Duchamp beyond the role traditionally assigned the viewer of a painting, a sculpture, or another object d’art. The viewer not only takes in what the piece has to offer, the viewer puts his or herself back into the piece. Therefore each viewer that engages with The Large Glass changes and transforms it.
One could argue because The Large Glass is in a state of constant flux, it is always unresolved. However if the work is conceived with this expanded state of transformation at its base, it is almost assured that with each encounter the viewer has with The Large Glass the way in which it becomes ‘resolved’ for the viewer will be different from the previous resolution. The resolution as a unique experience each and every time, regardless of how often a viewer experiences the work, becomes a paradox within the Duchampian realm when one considers the Readymades. Or could the work quite possibly for the viewer remain unresolved on one encounter, and resolved on another? This openness in the possibility of its state of resolution, the play between control and chance, the engagement of the viewer in ways that take the painting beyond the straight paths, zig-zagging to explore the corners are relevant to The Large Glass as not as just another piece of ‘retinal art’ in Duchamp’s parlance, but as an expression of a deeper experience of art, one that occurs not in the eye but in the mind.
The second artwork which I would like to address is Untitled, Agnes Martin, 1956-57. Unlike The Large Glass this painting stays within the formal boundaries of a traditional oil on canvas painting. However elements and conceptual issues similar to those brought forth by Duchamp are present in Martin’s approach to painting. Untitled, like The Large Glass, comes from a transformative period for the artist. Martin had been making art longer than Duchamp when this painting was made; yet it clearly occupies the point separating her early and her mature work.
Uncertainty surrounds Untitled. Was it painted in 1956 or 1957? Was it begun and completed in New Mexico, or was begun in New Mexico and completed at her studio at Coenties Slip in New York City? Or was it painted entirely in New York City? The completion date given for the painting on signage in its current home at Dia:Beacon is 1957, yet on the Dia website it is shown as 1956-1957. Why is something which should be so clear so unclear?
Untitled has the square format, though smaller, for which Martin’s paintings are known. Despite the similarity of neutral tones and black, the feel of how the paint was worked compared to the surrounding paintings, which are a mix beginning from the same period and extending to the end of Martin’s career forty years later; this painting feels out of place. Martin was one of those artist, like Duchamp, with an awareness of her image and how she could control its projection. She is known to have destroyed earlier works once they did not fit the story she wanted to share with the world, including many of the paintings she produced prior to 1957. Is the uncertainty surrounding Untitled and its origins an expression of this control she was known to exert? Based on the images which remain from her earlier work and the subsequent development of what is considered her mature painting, Untitled would most likely feel as equally out of place hung in a gallery with those previous works as it does in its current home.
Beyond these confusions of cataloging what is it that makes Untitled have such an uncomfortable feel about it? At first glance it appears to be a very calm, well balanced composition. A deep, flat black square is turned on its corner to fill the space of the washy grey square of the canvas forming its base. The third and final element of this formalistically simple painting is a white line, which is neither a Newmanesque stripe nor a proper rectangle, bisecting the center of the canvas from the top to the bottom point of the black square.
Another similarity between Duchamp and Martin, beyond the awareness of control both practiced in their art and lives, is that neither fit into the artistic categories to which the world wished to assign artists of their time. For Agnes Martin this has meant that despite creating paintings that formally appear to be a part of what is considered Minimalism, other factors, such as her age, her gender, the locations she chose to live and work, the galleries and other artists she was associated with, and most importantly the emotional impact of her mature paintings kept and keep her well outside categories of easy classification. The emotions expressed by her paintings point to the possibility of a synergy between Martin and the Abstract Expressionist painters of her generation, and she very much considered her work and spoke of it in closer relationship to this group of artists than any others. But what makes her painting so valuable is that it remains outside of given categories. Martin and her artwork are outliers.
This status is what makes Unititled a seminal work; it is an outlier in the oeuvre of an outlier artist, a work representing the point of transformation to a place she and her work alone will occupy. Upon closer examination the composition of Untitled is less calm, less balanced as at first glance. The space created by the washy grey background drops away behind the flat black square which is trying to break free. The corners at each side press against the edge of the canvas. The black square cannot recede into the grey space behind it, and it also cannot push forward out of the picture plane because the white band is holding it back. It is trapped in the space between. The top and bottom points of the black square, hidden by the white band, might be pushing at the edges of the grey canvas like the horizontal points, but then again, the viewer cannot tell. Hidden behind the white bands the relationship of the grey and the black bands resides beyond what we can know. There is a struggle for control in this painting, between the forms, between the artist and the painting. The viewer is brought into this struggle by the unease, the tension created, the information that is hidden, misunderstood, or simply unknown.
The final work to be addressed is ghost...a border act, Ann Hamilton, 2000. Unlike The Large Glass from Marcel Duchamp and Untitled from Agnes Martin this is a work which, aside from a few reviews, a few photos documenting its existence and a short video in which the artist speaks about her work in general during the time she was developing this piece, it is no longer possible to personally engage with it as a physical entity. A site-specific installation created as part of the exhibition "Highsight / Fore-site: Site-specific installations responding to our Jeffersonian Heritage" it existed for a short period of time, June to October 2000, at the Bayly Art Museum, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Unlike other works from Hamilton, much less has been published about this piece. The nature of ghost...a border act is defined by its temporality and the limited access to the piece which results from this.
On the project page of ghost...a border act of her studio website Ann Hamilton has posted the following text describing the piece:
To d e l i n e a t e
The inscription of a line, wound, round, an enclosure
It announces, fixes, establishes, marks, a visible trace.
It is a word, a name, a signature
Roving the border between
A hiss sounding the silence of
A dividing from
A dividing by
Between a reader and a writer
-- Ann Hamilton (Hamilton, ghost..a border act)
This poetic text and little else are what remain of ghost...a border act. Although it can still be experienced through these descriptions, can it be felt, emotionally understood? What remains of a temporal work once its time has passed? In an interview conducted by Robert Enright in February 2000 as Hamilton was in the process of developing this work, she said regards to description “...the act of description becomes the thing described. It is not like telling you about it, it is it”(25).
IV. Description of studio work completed during MCP501
Throughout Fall 2014 and continuing into 2015 the explorations of research were applied practically in the studio work through a series of self portraits; nine total, which I will discuss in four groupings. The first group contains a single self portrait, the web site- blog developed as documentation of the process behind my studies with Transart Institute. The second group consists of the loose leaf journal pages as well as the cards I created for Index. The third group is made up of five pieces, Pages, Wanderland, Look In Glass, Just Between Me and You, and Index. Finally, the fourth group includes the December 6, 2014 presentation-installation-event of Wanderland and Look In Glass and the January 12, 2015 presentation of Fall Semester work at the Transart Institute Winter 2015 NYC Residency.
Initially meant solely to document the process of my research and studies with Transart Institute I soon realized that the website-blog I was creating could become a self portrait; I began to consciously develop it as such. The primary emotion I seek to address in the website-blog is control; control specifically related to understanding, deciphering and disseminating information of my self. It is the place I am digitally archiving the information about who I am, what I am thinking, and how I am applying what I have gathered through my explorations in the work I create. The decisions I make, the controlled access to the site, are the means by which I am in control of my self image. It is a website of image and of text; both in large and highly detailed quantities. I am continually tweaking it to achieve the image I wish to convey: information overload, controlled chaos, full disclosure with limited access to what could be considered the truth. Without guidance or reason most visitors to the website might become overwhelmed by the excessiveness of it. However for those wishing to fully engage their visit to the blog will yield an emotional understanding of the self portrait I am presenting.
The most specifically defined practical element in my project proposal was the loose leaf journal pages. My intention with the pages was as a forum for exploring various materials and techniques I might not have otherwise been using in the studio. With these I took a ‘stream of conscious’ approach to the information, ideas, symbolism and meanings within the project questions. This included playing with alternative approaches to mark making, such as using a machine stitched line, the layering of various papers, working with the translucency of vellum and the ability to reverse images and text by means of reversing the marked on vellum, working both sides of the page, and shuffling images and text. The pages were a venue in which I could explore the use of text and language as it related to feelings of confusion and the inability to vocalize the experience of the seizure. In the journal pages I began to work with new imagery sourced from the stories Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Carroll experienced seizures due to Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and the stories serve in part as a record of his own experience as well as a addressing ideas concerning periods of transformation and discovery of the self depicted through Alice. The cards produced for the piece Index were meant in part as an abridged version of the journal pages. Taking much of what I explored in the pages, scaling it down and offering the cards as gifts or mementoes to those present at the Winter Residency 2015. For Index I employed the additional material element of a small mirror affixed to one side of the card. The mirror served the dual purpose of relating the cards to the use of the mirror in Look In Glass, and offered the viewer/recipient of the card the possibility of seeing his or herself in the mirror thusly becoming a part of the card. However the size of the mirror in relation to the size of the card created a frustrating tension between the ability to look at the card while being distracted by the partial view of oneself. Neither could be viewed as a whole, there was always a feeling of disturbance, unwanted intervention, inability to control the experience of looking.
The third group contains the largest number of pieces, five total, and includes the journal pages in four of the works, and the cards in Index. Keeping the journal pages loose leaf enabled the exploration of alternative presentation formats which could convey the emotional experiences associated with Epilepsy; and in a broader sense explore the emotional impact presentation forms have on how a viewer engages with and develops a personal understanding for the artwork. The first piece conceived with this intention was Wanderland. As its title suggests, the imagery was culled from Carroll’s depiction of Alice’s adventures, specifically her fall through the rabbit hole. Wanderland took the form of an installation through which a solitary viewer could travel, at the pace of his or her choosing, through a narrow hallway. Painted a flat black, much like a theater box, architectural details of the space were visible, but the space itself receded into an indecipherable emptiness. Yet in the emptiness the space was packed full, from ceiling to floor with the journal pages, suspended from a black tulle and red thread structure and attached with silver binder clips. The contradiction between the eternal, unending blackness and the claustrophobic feelings created by the nearly 100 pages floating through the space evoked an overwhelming, tactile, sensory experience. Once the viewers were through the hallway they found a door opening to another room in which they encountered Look In Glass.
Look In Glass and Wanderland developed simultaneously. Whereas Wanderland references the direct, physical experience of the seizure, Look In Glass explores the psychological experience of the seizure, the diagnosis and the aftermath as it plays out in the image of self and personal identity. The journal pages seen in Look In Glass are no longer a physical, tactile presence. They occupy the digital realm of an iPad generated slide show of each page viewed in full and in various detail photographs. The photos were randomly shuffled using the “Origami” slideshow effect, a standard part of the iPhoto program; control was ceded to technology.
In the December 6, 2014 presentation Look In Glass existed as an intact mirror box. The interior and exterior sides were covered with one way mirror, the face of the box with two way mirror. Inside the box the iPad played Pages. The room, a dim and sparsely furnished bedroom, was peaceful, calm, and provided the viewer with a clearer sense of space after the experience of traveling through Wanderland. The mirror box sat alone on a shelf approximately 5 feet above the floor. Looking into the box the viewer’s reflection appeared to float inside and alternately meld with and float amongst Pages. Space was distorted psychologically as opposed to physically. For some viewers it was a much more comfortable way to engage with the pages, less threatening than the reality of Wanderland. For others it was too distant, almost boring in its lack of tactility.
Just Between Me and You was developed prior to December 6 as an alternative version of Wanderland in order to present the journal pages physically at the Winter Residency. Wanderland was such a site-specific installation it would have been impossible to present it in New York City without watering it down to an extent where much of its meaning and symbolism would be lost. To retain the idea of the physical engagement of a solitary viewer, address issues of who is in control of the interaction, and the idea of the pages as journal entries, notes or documentation of the exploration I chose the form of an archive box. The box was lined with the materials found in both Wanderland and Look In Glass. The viewer’s interaction with the box and the pages was to be just as participatory and performative as the interaction with the pages in Wanderland. However the emotional response generated by the encounter was to be much less overwhelming; allowing for a time of quiet introspection in a situation where the viewer is in full control. The viewer was given simple instructions on how to engage with the box: open me, look at me, put me back together, close me. The space between these instructions remains completely under the viewer’s control. He or she can sort through the pages, spend as much time as desired with each page, flip them around, order them in whatever way makes personal sense. As the artist I gave the pages their initial order, but after closing the box and passing it to the first viewer, the order imposed on the pages by the previous viewer is what each subsequent viewer will see.
Index first appears very similar to Just Between Me and You, only smaller in scale. It does use the similar form of the archive storage box and journal-like pages, but in many ways it is the opposite of Just Between Me and You, rather than its diminutive twin. The key formal elements which point to this opposite nature is the color of the box, white and not black, and the lack of the materials common to the other artworks. An important difference between Index and the other three works is the relationship of the work to the individual. In the three previous works the value of the individual’s interaction with the work is emphasized and the individual parts of the pieces are meant as the binding element creating a single work. Index was conceived as a piece for the group, not the individual. It was presented to the group as a group experience to compensate for the inability of each viewer to individually interact physically with the works being presented. Unlike the wholeness established by the preservation of the individual parts in the other works, Index achieved this wholeness through the distribution of each card amongst the group. The piece gained wholeness by being broken apart and scattered. Look in Glass too gained wholeness through the breaking of its glass in the January 12 presentation; but its shards were then gathered together, wrapped in the blanket, stored in the box as an object existing as a memory of an event.
The final group of self portraits I would like to address is the December 6, 2014 presentation-event of the installation Wanderland and the Look In Glass and my presentation of the work done on this project at the Winter Residency 2015 in New York City on January 12, 2015. These two pieces tie together the other work as a series. Both examine not only the relationships developed between the individual components of the works, but also the relationship of the works to the viewers, and my relationship as the artist to the viewers and to myself through the presentation forms of performance and event. The intention of the December 6 presentation of Wanderland and Look In Glass was staging an intimate event and how this experienced by a select group of individuals played out in their response to the work. Aside from creating the pieces and “hosting” the event, my role was as an observer, researching where the emotional impact and response lay within the work as it was presented in this particular context. From the information gathered on that evening I solidified the form of Just Between Me and You, how I would present and complete Look In Glass at the Winter Residency, and the inception of Index. I had come to the realize at the Winter Residency the presentation of the work, the project and the research would be best served by breaking the form of a traditional presentation in some not too overt manner. Keeping with the ideas of hidden or revealed; individual versus group experience; control and chance; and the moment of the break, transition or transformation I developed this presentation, situating it as a performance, an installation, and a progress report. Every detail would matter, and still control be ceded to chance; information simultaneously hidden and revealed; individual and group engaged in a way that they felt the engagement at the same time they felt the lack of engagement, or rather, inaccessibility to the experience; the break becoming embodied by the presentation.
V. Addressing my work within the context of others
The purpose of this paper is to present my work within the context created by the work of others. In order to understand this contextualization it is first important to touch on the points of intersection and divergence of these three artists and their works.
Starting with Marcel Duchamp and Ann Hamilton, one could argue that without the groundwork that Duchamp laid with his work, the work of Hamilton would not exist in the form it does. In the interview with Robert Enright Hamilton does differentiate what she is doing with her work from what she sees as “the legacy of Duchamp” in the work of other artists; her understanding is that artists follow Duchamp by emphasis on the experience of shock and not that of wonder. She feels she is exploring the aesthetics of wonder, which opens one to being more receptive and is an experience we do not have enough of (33). This assessment raises the question if this is only a partial understanding or even a mis-understanding of Duchamp’s legacy? Does not the relinquishment of control to chance, a part of much art being created and not necessarily aligned with shock lead to the development of wonder?
Another response Hamilton gave in the interview with Enright revealed a very “Duchampian” approach to her work:
“As I’m making projects, I’m caught within the details, I start there and as the work grows I slowly step back. Part of that stepping back is to understand what the impulses are and the images and materials to which I’m drawn” (28).
Duchamp’s approach to creating The Large Glass, the documentation in the Green Box, his approach to completing by incompletion, and his subsequent reaction to and re-engagement with it after it’s shattering, all point to a similar stepping back from the detailed approach that began the work. Agnes Martin approached her paintings with a similar detailed start. She has written and spoken of how the painting began for her as a vision, a completed, miniature work inside her mind. From this tiny image she began to work out the details of scale, the relationships of the bands within the painting, diagramming measurements in a slightly mathematical fashion on paper, although she was not mathematical and her paintings are by no means precise in that manner. Duchamp has said he often took a logical, slightly mathematical approach to the development of his work although he was not by nature mathematical and that this came more from his interest in the logic of the game, from chess, than in numbers. As a painting crossed from the interior space of Martin’s mind to the exterior space of the canvas a ‘stepping back’ occurred, allowing for a clearer understanding of the vision that originated from within. I have found this to be a similar approach in the development of my own work. The idea, the details come first, the stepping back, the understanding of what the work truly is comes later.
An element all three artist have dealt with in their work, both overtly and inadvertently, is the relationship between the role of the artist, the role of the viewer and the role of the work as they pertain to issues of control and chance. Both Duchamp and Martin were very aware of how the image they created and conveyed of themselves as the artist, the creator behind the work, influenced how the viewer engaged with the work and how the work was perceived; thus both artists took great pains in controlling the details surrounding their process and the work which sprung from it; often through the presentation of half-truths in order to keep hidden the whole truth. However, this knowledge of both these artists could in part be the result of posthumous analysis of both their lives and oeuvres. Whereas the idea of chance in the paintings of Agnes Martin is addressed much differently than Duchamp’s use of chance, which was via John Cage’s interpretation, passed down to subsequent generations of artists; the works of both artists are very much grounded in the paradoxical relationship of the two. The control of personal image in relation to the work she creates is not obvious or discussed in regards to Ann Hamilton, however the balance between control and release of that control, what might be called chance, in the relationship between artist-work in the course of a works development is.
In the introduction to his interview with Hamilton Enright states:
“There is never anything in an Ann Hamilton installation that isn’t precisely chosen. What makes her work so remarkable is that from this exactitude she is able to generate such an explosive poetics of experience” (20).
All three artist emphasize the role of the viewer in completing the work. For Duchamp this plays out in the realm of the mind. For Martin it is in the realm of emotion. For Hamilton it in the realm of the physical, which is occupied by both the mental and emotional and clearly stated through the aesthetic experience. In order to address the questions raised in my first year project through my studio work I, like Hamilton, believe a conjunction of all three elements need be present in order to form a meaningful engagement between the art and the viewer.
In the pieces by Duchamp and Martin the origins of the story they both were telling was personal and symbolic in nature, yet both works impart a highly emotional coolness which speaks of control. In Hamilton’s installation the origins of the story she is telling comes from outside her own personal narrative, yet the work also relay an intense emotion, driven by heated chance, and informed but not dominated by her personal narrative. The series of self portraits I am creating fits between these two emotional realms; a story that is both personal and generic in orign, emotionally cool and heated, full of hidden truths and revealed half-truths.
How can the experiences of a female with Epilepsy be applied as the framework surrounding a series of self portraits? Through an open approach both in terms of materials, technique and conceptual understanding of what constitutes a self portrait; the continued study of the relationships formed between the artist, the work and the viewer as these pertain to the emotional impact and response generated within these relationships; and by further research and exploration into various means by which the concepts of hidden and revealed, individual and group experience, control and chance, and of moments of transformation and change can be and have been expressed in a wide range of art of which continued exploration is called for. To achieve the desired result of expanded knowledge and understanding of the female’s experience with Epilepsy it will be necessary to keep the framework as simple and un-Baroque as possible so as not to distract the viewer from a direct engagement with the emotional content generated by the subject being expressed within that frame. This is best achieved by moving away from a controlled didactic telling of the experience, towards a viewer-infused completion of the portrait via the emotional response to the subject much in the manner of Duchamp, Martin and Hamilton have done.
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