'...we are in perception by means of the reality that authenticates it'.
(Lacan, 1981, p.68)
If one takes reality to be subjective to the individual, and changeable, then the present project will concern the constructing of a reality that suits the conveyance of an idea of perception, just as the latter result will convey the reality.
'But for Lacan, the viewpoint of the gaze, as objet a, is my blind spot, since I cannot see from the point from which I am looked at by the other or from where I desire to be looked at. Thus, when the gaze appears, the subject situates itself in the picture only as a stain'.
(Ettinger, 2020, p.256)
This idea of stain, here presented by the psychoanalyst and painter Bracha Ettinger as a psychic phenomenon initially theorised by Lacan, but is also relevant to the present project in sheer visual-material terms as obfuscation of that which might otherwise have been clear, rather like a dirty window.
The research project, 'The Observation of Perception, considered through Drawing', combines an artistic and theoretical approach to perception, in this instance as primarily a visual-sensory phenomenon, though variously supported by other sensory domains, through the medium of drawing. The hypothesis is that perception can, through objective circumstances established in and as drawing, be observed in action – what the philosopher of mind, Alva Noë (2004) terms the ‘enactive’ approach in the context of embodied cognition. The investigator’s individual hypothesis concerning both the mechanics of vision and metaphorically for what vision can otherwise convey, is that perception oscillates somewhat between the observer and whatever is observed. This is given that what is sometimes termed observation more complexly involves perception, and that the observer and the observed, whether the latter is another person or an object, involves the question of the gaze, the latter of which is a concern of philosopher and psychoanalytical theory.
The term action can be found in a work of the philosopher Henri Bergson (2004, p.303) in reference to the principle role of the human body. Bergson (ibid: 37) also states in the context of sensorimotor perceptual process that there are ‘zones of indetermination’ that conventional scientific method cannot define. An aim of the research is to reveal perception as communicable and sharable through and after the event of use in drawing, together with more subjective characteristics that suggest less conscious, or even psychodynamic unconscious, factors of cognition.
The suggestion that perception can in certain contexts be considered separately from its function as enabling observation, may pose a challenge to image-based representation, when the latter is one obvious consideration of drawing. Imagery in the sense in which it is affected by less conscious levels of perception may in various ways concern apparent abstraction that conveys a cursory and under-formed sense, which may or may not involve factors of transition and movement. The appearance of the latter can accommodate both transitory sensations as the 'present' image’ (Bergson, 2004), and as other not necessarily visual characteristics within the gaze as ‘phantom’ (the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1968). Phenomenology, as a philosophy developed by both Bergson and Merleau-Ponty is implicit in any research methodology that involves reflecting on experience after its reflexive occurrence, not least in the present research. The aforementioned individual hypothesis, that perception oscillates somewhat between the observer and whatever is observed, suggests in effect the pulling of the image towards one, from its resulting basis as a supplement of the drawing as artefact. In this respect, the investigator foregrounds the psychoanalytical theory of Lacan, specifically a section in Lacan’s The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1981), which proposes and discusses the experiential or subjective middle of perception through reference to a ‘screen’ that metaphorically in effect blurs or obfuscates the image as determined by Euclidean optics. In the Lacanian sense, the disruptive workings of the unconscious create a '...split between gaze and vision’, which Lacan refers to as the ‘scopic drive’ (Lacan, 1981, p.78). The nature of the blur (or 'stain', as stated by Ettinger, above) arguably concerns the other subjective component of perception that causes it to oscillate, forever unresolved, unless artificially directed in more objective terms.
The philosopher Roger Scruton (1996, p.332) states that one’s perception of objects is ‘...via the perception of something else – the mental content that is before our consciousness in the moment of perceiving’. What is or can be the nature of the via? If the 'via' is considered from the viewpoint of drawing and outcomes that have been subject to processes of drawing, arguably the interest tends to be placed on the drawing as artefact, as outcome. Whatever takes place between the observation of the object and its transposition as ‘mental content’ at the moment of perceiving, the art object becomes a material mirror, as it were, and whatever immaterial and other content it reflects back. While artistic practice is often visual-materially productive, the contention of the research is to pitch the interest in the experiential and developmental middle of the process.
The research considers the question of experiential engagement in ‘the possibility of error’, which is another of Scruton’s (ibid, p.333) terms for what is likely to happen in the process of ‘finding things out’ through perception. The value of the reflexive position of the human subject suggests the reorientation of the observer in between him/herself and whatever is observed, tending to concern the nature of what’s going on in the developmental middle of the drawing process rather than on its outcomes. The research challenges the theoretical and artistic background that is based on dualistic notions such as observer/observed, subject/object, and mind/body. A key question is how the oscillating middle can be considered through artistic work as a counter motive to traditionally expressive image-based subjectivity through aspects of perception that are utilised involuntarily, and therefore of which one consciously is little aware, such as binocularity, peripheral vision, saccadic eye movements, vision’s interrelation with touch, and the interaction of vision with other perceptual modes. The research involves drawing projects, both paper-based and multimedia, that are receptacles for the observation of perception and how perception can either be seen to have, or be further invested with, a subjective dimension.
The exposition concerns the question of diagramming perception as contributory work to a larger research project titled ‘The Observation of Perception, considered through drawing’, hosted by i2ADS. The exposition's hypothesis is that perception can be diagrammed, in this case through and as a form of drawing that indicates how perception is for me, as one of investigators, conceived and works in action. In order to provide such indication, the drawing process is recorded audio-visually, the diagramming shown to be combined visualisation and annotation not unlike how one might quickly draw a map, either on paper or through hand gestures, while answering a passer-by’s request for directions. In the present context, the passer-by is in a sense the research’s reader. The larger objective will be to encourage the reader’s curiosity towards future updates of the larger project.
The gift referred to is of the indexical, in this instance the ‘this’ that tends to be accentuated, which, even without its enunciation, points to the place of something, and by so doing indicates its worth. This suggests the value of the mark that is apparently itself, an indexical-inclined signifier before the assigning of it a role in representation. Need it even have such a role? The mark, pure and simple is at its least a this, or a here, or, slightly less productively, a there. The there may be considered a mark broken away from its cluster, or separate enough to eventually, if needs be, contribute to the representation of some other thing. Before and unless the marks do start to serve the purpose of representation they are simply means of indexing either one’s presence as the mark maker, or the presence of something else on the basis that there is an addressee apart from oneself who also has knowledge or awareness of a thing that is there potentially but not yet visible.
Addressed to an interlocutor
(Crediting an interlocutive role to a friend, the artist and academic Derek Pigrum, who has shared deep conversation by email during the project.)
I've been looking back through the Ettinger (2020) paper, ‘Woman as Objet a: Between Phantasy and Art', which I read fully a few days ago and is fascinating, if very complex... It's just a question of finding a balance between substantially learning the theory and running with piecemeal knowledge, given that one has the trick of displacement of so many things onto and into artwork. You ask if I have any idea of what Ettinger means by uncanny, and it's this reference that I've been looking for. In another paper by Ettinger that I'm reading, ‘Matrix and Metramorphosis’ (2020, p.107), she states: 'The pre-Oedipal territory, which many women analysts recognize in their writings as a level that does contribute to subjectivity, appears for Freud under the sign of mystery, anxiety, female inferiority, devalorized and damaged objects'. The word I would want from this is 'mystery', which may in Freud also link to uncanny. There's also the reference to pre-Oedipal, which in Ettinger's theory relates to early life much further back than Lacan either in his Imaginary register or in his Symbolic orientation of the unconscious, but may be in line with his Real unconscious and 'lalangue'. What does jump out from the Ettinger (ibid, p.215) paper you sent me is where she says: 'In Bollas' terms the objet a is an unthought known element. It eludes imagery and symbols but is still a psychic entity and, as such, it no longer belongs to the body. It is an existential “known” and participates in the repetition within transference/counter-transference relations, “acting out” and repetition-compulsion'. Then I see further on in the paper that Ettinger (ibid, p.234) states that 'the phallic lost objet a as well as of the matrixial almost-lost objet a produces the anxiety of the uncanny in its multiple variations'. I can't much respond to your question, but it does key into a question of my own as to how much and in what terms the object a can be visualised. If the object a is merely a surrogate, a stand in, then the a of the object is the 'blind spot', the something other that cannot be seen or apprehended in any way, 'an unthought known element', or something that's 'lost'. But then Ettinger suggests that at the level of the matrixial there's a sense of its presence, because in that domain it's only 'almost-lost'. I find this really exciting because it does suggest that we're not just playing charades in artistic practice; that the uncanny, or the object a, if this is what the uncanny infers, can actually be visualised to an extent. I wonder if one can say this?
In my drawing... the motif of the camera gives me recurring uprights, which is nonetheless an image, and on the central one in the new drawing a small hole has emerged in the centre, due to the wetness of ink and fragility of the tablecloth paper. I'm toying with the idea of correlating my own eye, as viewed in a hand-held circular mirror, the camera's eye also viewable in the mirror, and this eyelet that's occurred in the image – given that Lacan refers to the object a of the gaze as an eyelet. What needs to either be broken down though, or accompanied by something that eclipses it, is more in character of the matrixial.
- Ettinger's theory reaches back to the third stage of the pre-natal
- The object a is an 'unthought known element'... eludes imagery and symbols but it still a psychic entity
- At the level of the 'matrixial', the object a is only 'almost-lost'
- Because of which, one might suppose that the object a can be visualised, to an extent
The crucial point here concerns the camera, the imploded rectangle that I see, as the artist, while drawing, that the viewer of the video sees only in my representation of it:
1. The camera is in the same region as the object and is in fact an indexing of the object.
2. The camera (left picture) is seen from in front.
3. The camera (right picture) is in the form of a 3D cardboard mock-up seen from the side, with a red straw projecting through that should be read from left to right, representing the trajectory of the gaze, in Lacanian terms, from its origin in the object, through the image, to its destination in the human subject.
In this case, the typical distance between the object and its representation as the image is conflated, due to the object – the camera – being in front of the surface of its representation – the paper – and rendered indexical through literally being traced around. Usually the observed object is either beyond the artist's surface plane or tangential to it, the image therefore elicited from the object and placed on the surface, whereby the surface becomes the pictorial plane. In this extraordinary case the surface accepts onto it an image that is located between it and the artist.
4. The object in this case is the imploded rectangle of the action camera – as seen by the artist – that is recording the drawing as it develops. This object is not seen by the video viewer either during the recording or after the recording in playback, only the image that the artist elicits from it in the form of its traced around the indexical on the surface.
5. The image is a front-view, or front elevation, of the object, the imploded rectangle of the action camera. The image has gone onto the drawing on top of the side-elevation diagram of the layers wall, surface plane of drawing, indexical image.
6. The side-elevation diagram shows the typical Lacanian schema; from left-to-right, the object projecting the gaze towards the human subject to form an image that has invested in it the object a.
7. The object a, whatever it is in its psychical, non-visual dimension, obfuscates the image with and as what Lacan terms a screen. Additionally, the object a has a kernel or point of focus, a 'punctum', which is the mysterious a implicit in the object, that which mystifies the choice of object in the first place.
Could it be that the imploded rectangle of the action camera is an object that acts as a stand-in or surrogate object of desire, therefore of individual psychic importance? I can think of others, more likely. It is appropriate, however, that a camera, and in particular this miniature and wide-angled example, may be considered a voyeuristic medium, and fitting too that only I am in a position to see it as an object, otherwise seen by the video's viewer during playback and in the drawing itself as a drawn-around image. In any case, if the imploded rectangle were drawn in realistic detail, it would reveal little more of itself than a black rectangle. Mystery is therefore both carried and conveyed by the object that is here meant to substitute for a mystery, the object a that may be implicit in any psychically chosen object.
This is interesting, this is perfect, because, the new object a blind spot, the duct-tape . . . the wart under the duct-tape, the wart under the duct-tape . . . is also, referring to––. It’s the location of reference––. Okay, the location, of reference, to, the, self-portrait . . . seen through the mirror . . . which is projected from . . . the gaze . . . through . . . through the point . . . of the image, of the imploded rectangle but . . . starting to turn, starting to turn . . . . So it’s going down, the, picture-plane, but it’s, projecting forwards. Perspec-tively, it’s project–– projecting forwards.
A metaphor – it can always only be a metaphor – of the object a, especially as a point of focus, was to be found in the patch that, as already mentioned, I'd been wearing during the recordings to cover a wart. At first, literally in the manner of a 'blind spot' (see the Žižek quote, Indicative Interpretation 2, and Comment 2) Once I'd noticed, it began to suggest its own point of focus in the videos that may beg the question to the viewer: What's with the plaster? This question put to me by an interlocutor, or posed to myself, would direct me towards its staring me in the face as a metaphor for the object with something more in it, a 'blind spot', in this case behind it, than the object itself.
The pen, in some cases either tracked by a pencil, or confronting a pencil, primarily chases it's drawing hand as autonomously as possible, like a dog chasing its own tail as if it were prey. The physical point of the medium trails around, and in the course of time cannot help but develop an image of both image and process. What it cannot access, except by the self-same process of trailing around, is the hidden point that you the viewer-reader knows, but others would not, is a wart under the plaster, now a circular piece of silver grey duct tape. In a couple of cases I've applied actual tape to drawn demarcations that are otherwise there more implicitly in each of the images. While in some respects it's a sketching exercise – keeping one's hand in, to pun on the point, as the point – it keys in nicely to the idea most easily identified in the sketch diagram below the text, of the spiralling and turning 3D model of the imploded action camera.
Hand chasing Hand sketches. Variously ink and dermatograph pencil on paper, Dermatograph pencil on clear plastic overlay, with attached duct tape, 27.5 x 36cm
The object a is termed by the philosopher Slavoj Žižek (2006, p.17) the ‘blind spot’, something ‘… in the object more than the object itself’. According to Lacan (1981, p.76): ‘the gaze may contain in itself the objet a of the Lacanian algebra where the subject falls, and what specifies the scopic field…’. Lacan refers to ‘…a privileged object’, and states: ‘…the object on which depends the phantasy from which the subject is suspended in an essential vacillation is the gaze’..... In Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, Lacan (ibid, p.83) states: ‘There is a centrifugal dynamic of the gaze, that is to say, one that starts from the seeing eye but also from the blind spot’ (Lacan: 2016, p.70). This suggests that the object a is in the region of the gaze as a ‘blind spot’, as part of a reciprocal interplay between the projection towards the subject of the external gaze and the subject from their seeing eye.
The object a is a major concept in Lacanian theory, as it is the surrogate bearing object of the originary desire from which one is forever separated, yet caught in an insatiable quest. What looks at one, therefore, as the gaze is not just anything, but something that’s imbued with a point of focus that is all the more redolent in that it cannot be seen, or is at least veiled in subterfuge to the extent of not being noticeable but whose import is registered in the unconscious. Lacan (1981, p.83) also terms the gaze a ‘punctiform object' (a point of focus) and that ‘…of all the objects in which the subject may recognize his dependence in the register of desire, the gaze is specified as unapprehensible’. Again, this suggests that what may be termed desire’s insatiability is inevitable rather than a choice.
PDF (Click for transcript then click for full screen)
Diagramming Perception, state 1, Pencil and ink on tablecloth paper, pencil, ink and acrylic on regular drawing paper, with tracing paper overlays,
100 x 146cm
The interlocuter as addressee:
A while ago this-afternoon I was leafing through the Ettinger book, 'Matrixial Subjectivity, Aesthetics, Ethics', Volume 1, to check the extent to which it's correct to suggest that the originary desire may be traced back to the prenatal. Of course, there's no easy answer, but what I do notice, that's probably very important to hold in mind, is that Ettinger argues a distinction between the Phallic object a of Lacan's theory, which is the object-cause of desire as forever lost at the time of one's inauguration into language, and the matrixial object a of Ettinger's theory, which relates back to the prenatal and, due to the interweaving and therefore sharable nature of the Matrixial, is only partly lost, therefore partly recoverable. Ettinger (2020) states: 'I have tried to deflect, in my writing, the objet a from the only phallic to the also matrixial field, discussing the scope of the matrixial gaze and the difference between phallic object, loss and field of meaning.... The phallic objet a is a phenomenon in the psyche, beyond communication, which we cannot share. The feminine matrixial objet a is an object which resides in the same non-conscious area opened by the drive but is shareable' (ibid, p.224).
Then in the back of the book, Ettinger states: 'But painting does not surrender to theory, and theory does not collapse into painting' (ibid, p.397). (I feel I should memorise this as a warning!) Yet there's this sense of inclusivity of Ettinger's theory; that it attempts to get into and develop the gaps in the classic theories, and that she has developed it in dialogue with her painting practice. You see where she says, above: 'to deflect... the objet a from the only phallic', and 'the matrixial gazeand the difference'. Thinking back to Verhaeghe's mention of the 'markings' signifiers of maternal care, and Kristeva's semiotic of language, if, as signifiers, they're in themselves without or before signification and potentially where the object a may be unconsciously sensed, then Ettinger's matrixial object a, with its starting basis in the prenatal and its shareability, seems much more useful theory on which to muse as possible theoretical rationale for one's visual work.
....I suppose whatever we do that can be seen or read can only ever be in the manner of artifice or substitution, yet maybe what we're trying to get at is this, as stated by Ettinger, citing Lacan: '...the screen of phantasy is eternalized onto the painting's screen of vision, something of the psychic gaze is always contained in the tableau [picture/painting], waiting to affect us. But for Lacan, the viewpoint of the gaze, as object a, is my blind spot, since I cannot see from the point from which I am looked at by the other or from where I desire to be looked at. Thus, when the gaze appears, the subject situates itself in the picture only as a stain' (ibid., p.256).
Concluding speech section of the above video, transcribed to convey a degree of revelation of the suitability of duct tape situated at note 3, adjacent to the cirular mirrored self-portrait
While it is through language that one orientates around the Real, which by its nature cannot be accessed and is not to be confused with what we commonly understand as reality, according to Lacan (2018, p.121) one's actual body '...is a mode of support that is assuredly material, and first and foremost because it is corporeal'. The viewer-reader will of course notice bodily references in the visual-material work; hands, head, reflected portrait, while the objective is to present and discuss in and as the work itself the phenomenon of perception that is not itself visual, even though it is instrumental in the visual and other sensory perceptual modes. How the foot comes in, if at all, is as a metaphor for the often abruptness of the hand against the support, pushing visual-material substance into it, or more literally kicking detritus aside that has fallen to the floor. In certain Lacanian theory, to be discussed below, the detritus is not for nothing in relation to the visual artist's psychic engagement with their work. This is also indicated in the suggestion in the artefactual product's title that the subject, in this case the work's creative agent, has for some reason been floored, as well as being flawed – flawed logic, perhaps, that has floored the subject.
Diagrammatic sketch separation of the layers implied in 'Diagramming Perception 2' (as in video shown above)
The left-hand diagram is from an A4 sketchbook, gridded and copied onto the drawing so far, as shown on the right. In my terms, that is without theoretical validation, visual notation such as that on the left is increasingly redundant as the bearer of information the further it recedes from memory, leaving only its visual aesthetic, the latter of which suggests rather than conveys information (See 'A Note on Peirce's Firstness', above). This sense is further enhanced when it is not only copied but also enlarged onto the larger drawing on the right. Would it be possible to suggest that the enlarged diagrammatic sketch conveys negation of information as information – a sense that something should be being conveyed that in fact is not? Negation of information may therefore mean the aesthetic of visual notation through an example of such notation removed from its living context, which is itself a context of relative redundancy, to that of complete or near-complete redundancy save only its aesthetic. In this case, the negated visual notation will serve as a backdrop to an intention to upgrade the same configuration to the status of image.
My recent discovery of Ettinger's theory of Matrixial borderspace – already introduced into the research, above – has, at least in my own understanding, more specifically qualified the Lacanian question of originary desire, which I associate with the early infant stage of the Imaginary, pre-linguistic register. (Of course, one does not have to apply psychoanalytical conjecture to the making of marks as the beginning of drawing, but the theory is compelling.) Ettinger's theory, which locates the beginnings of one's psychosomatic development in the third stage of pregnancy, therefore takes the foundations of desire and its oscillation between one's emerging mind and body and one's mother's own psychosomatic state back to a stage of growth of human life that is relatively unconsidered by Lacan. How this helps visual art practice, particularly my own current artwork under consideration during and as part of its development, concerns its semiotic basis in terms particular to the psychoanalyst and linguist Julia Kristeva (1997, p.35) and its more primal manifestation as Plato's chora, and the indexical terms through which the semiotic achieves expression as ‘…distinctive mark, trace, index, precursory sign, proof, engraved or written sign, imprint, trace, figuration’. The latter given examples suggest that the semiotic basis of language, different from its conventionally communicative ‘symbolic’ level, can function in and as other forms of language, in the present context that of the visual. According to the Lacanian psychoanalyst Paul Verhaeghe, the mother or main care-provider as the first embodiment, for the child, of the authoritative Other – termed (m)Other, which is always associated with the paternal – provides the infant its first access to jouissance via signifiers as bodily stimulations from the giving of maternal care, which Verhaeghe, citing Lacan, terms 'markings'. Verhaeghe (2009, p.58) then explains why the (m)Other becomes '"the seat of enjoyment” against whom defence is necessary’. This suggests that the role of the mother is at-once full of love and a challenge to the infant. Part of the infant's growth away from the mother is due to its own recognition, according to Verhaeghe (ibid, p.49) that the mother also has desire for the father, and '... the infant’s sense of being engulfed by the mother’s desire abates as the child is able to signify the mother’s desire in Symbolic, phallic terms’. Suffice it to say in the present context that such signifier activity, crucial to psychic development and embroiled with the bodily, happens in the first year after birth. The idea of sensations of 'markings' signifiers is suggestive of the indexical, which in the case of drawing could be visual-material surface-based mark making before it begins to signify. Continuing this analogy, Ettinger's citing of the pre-natal scenario may have its equivalent in terms of the potentiality of mark-making fluctuating in one's mind before ever committing marks to a page. The in-between of either analogous state may be considered a gap that one desires to bridge, both intellectually, hence with recourse to theory, and as an instinctual reason for being involved in a visual practice such as drawing.
Writing in the context of her theory of the matrixial gaze, referencing both Lacan and Merleau-Ponty on the question of gaze, Ettinger (2020, p.249) states: '...the matrixial gaze emanates from within a stratum of subjectivity formed by what I call metramorphic processes of subjectivation beginning in the late prenatal stage and continuing throughout life'. Whereas in Lacan's theory the object a is the forever lost object signifying the originary desire, though the quest to recover the object is no less insatiable, in Ettinger (ibid, p.181) '...the objet a is not utterly lost because of its primary shareability and exchangeablity'. This object a is therefore different to that of Lacan, not only in its accessibility, but also in the fact that it is a '"feminine" objet a' (ibid, p.181). However, Ettinger's feminine in her theorised 'Matrixial' context does not concern gender. The difference between the female body of having and not having is 'the difference of the alike and not of the same or opposite...' (ibid, p.341). (Part of what may be considered the compassion of Ettinger's review of classic psychonalytical theory, particularly including that of Lacan, is that she adds to and modifies rather than rejects.) Ettinger describes the difference of the 'alike' as '...a swerve, intertwined in border linking, in plaiting and interweaving of bordelines, and in the opening of a borderspace that the interwoven plaits create' (ibid, p.340). The borderspace is more of a gap between various pairings that can be made of the Lacanian psychic structural registers: 'Phallus and the Symbolic'; 'Phallus and the Imaginary'; Phallus and the Real'. It is as though Ettinger strives to articulate the gaps of knowledge between the existing theories that betray the incoherence between their parameters (ibid, p.249). This sense of gap exists in the analogous domain of drawing and painting, where the momentum of time is broken – where Bergson's (2001, p.102-3) 'pure duration' becomes space.
In Lacan's structuring of the scopic drive, where the gaze is and projects the object a, the gaze is at one end, the in-between of which is the image blurred or stained by a psychical screen. While the Renaissance German artist Albrecht Durer's lucinda, as shown in his woodcuts, concerns the flat-plane screen of Euclidean optics, onto which are plotted the coordinates of, and therefore becoming, the image or picture, the psychic screen distorts such an image. In terms of optics, one may consider that the distortion is due to the imposition of the organic curved plane of binocular vision, whereas in Lacan's theory this is, in effect, the anamorphic image of/from the psyche; the mysterious, non-visual constituent of the gaze, the object a, which projects an at-once obfuscating constellation (of light, from the object (1981, p.96) and a point – '...the point of gaze always participates in the ambiguity of the jewel (ibid., p.86). Lacan (2016, p.70) also refers to the object a as a 'blind spot', and Žižek (2006, p.17) to 'the blind spot; something more in the object than the object itself'. According to Lacan: 'The correlative of the picture, to be situated in the same space as it, that is to say, outside, is the point of the gaze, while that which forms the mediation from one to the other... is the screen'. Then Lacan (1981, p.97) states of oneself in relation to the picture from the psychical perspective: 'If I am anything in the picture, it is always in the form of the a screen...'
The screen in the psychic context is therefore different from the screen as the lucinda, as shown by Durer, yet as a visual artist working in and through the medium of drawing and/or painting one trades, as it were, in this flatness. Ettinger (2020, p.258) cites Lacan on his references to the 'screen', also termed 'stain', and the 'tableau', the latter of which is associated with flatness. Ettinger (ibid, 258) in her own translation of Lacan, dated 6 January, 1965, states: '...the tableau [picture/painting] is, the real tableau. It is the gaze. It is this tableau that gazes at whomever is caught in its field, falls into its snare'. Such flatness is also suggested as ambiguous; as a 'field' and as something which one 'falls into'. However, this oscillation between the sheer materiality of tableau that translates as table-top, and the psychically intangible, is also how the artist encounters and experiences the material plane on which they work. Ettinger (ibid) states of this ambiguous experiential situation that it is 'the want-to-be'.
The drawing has now been overlain with clear plastic, reproduced below, and reworked in relation to response 1 and 2 of 6 attached textual prompts, simultaneously audio-visually recorded. While the plastic obscures the work's content due to light reflection, this is not necessarily counter to its concept. Recount Lacan's explanation that the Gaze in the scopic drive projects a screen, in effect, in the vicinity of the image that obfuscates the image with a blur or 'stain', and likens this to the interference of a constellation of light. Since I've been looking for metaphors, and can only visualise this Lacanian theory obtusely, through the use of metaphor, this distortion of the drawing so far by actual light, albeit highly sensitive to the slightest movement, is almost a living instance of the effect of the Gaze.
The right-hand angled photo of the work is to show the drawing in its present state relatively undisturbed by the aforementioned reflection.
Floored/Flawed Subject, Dermatograph pencil, acrylic and paper collage on cartridge paper and tablecloth paper, oil paint on a clear plastic overlay, double-panelled, horizontal format version, 140 x 92cm, 2022
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Lacan, J. (1981) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, first published in English trans. Alan Sheridan, 1977) London; New York, NY: Norton
Lacan, J. (2016) The Sinthome, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XXIII. (ed. Jacques-Alain Miller; trans. A, R. Price) Cambs, UK; Malsen, MA, USA: Polity
Merleau-Ponty, M (1968) The Visible and the Invisible Evanston: Northwestern University Press
Noë, A (2006) Action in Perception (First published 2004) Cambs. Mass., London: MIT Press
Scruton, R. (1996) Modern Philosophy (First published 1994) New York; London: Penguin
Soler, C. (1995) The Body in the Teaching of Jacques Lacan, Journal of the Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research, Vol. 6, 1995, jcfar.org. Accessed 29. Dec. 2015
Verhaeghe, P. (2009) New Studies of Old Villains: A Radical Reconsideration of the Oedipus Complex. New York: Other
Žižek, S. (2006) The Parallax View Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
All indented material, this being its first example in practice, concerns my review of the project subsequent to its completion, including the dates of such interventions to convey this as more of a journalistic form of reflection on the available content.
The 'punctiform object', as a gift of theory towards what might have stayed at the level of mere accident, has both metaphorical and literal meaning. When, in the above quote, Lacan states: '...where the subject falls', this suggests both the location of the subject in the aspect of the gaze that concerns the object a, and literally falling. I play on the latter possibility in terms of the subject floored and flawed. Where he refers to phantasy, I assume this may have figurative connotations, even expressed through preferences of mediums and methods of handling in one's work, apart from more personal manifestations in one's conscious sense of desire.
Insofar as desire as the first or 'originary desire' is not easily comprehended, Lacan (2018, p.175) gives the enlightening example of a tendency one may have towards 'knavery', and states: 'It's not a matter of heredity, but rather of the desire, the desire of the Other, from which the one in question has arisen. It's not always his parents' desire. It might be his grandparents' desire. But if the desire from which he was born is the desire of a knave, then he is inevitably a knave'. The point is that one doesn't in any obvious and apparent sense necessarily know this of oneself. While I have not read Lacan's work comprehensively, this is the clearest statement I've so far encountered of what is meant by 'originary desire'.
The above pair of diagrammatic sketches shows the trajectory of the gaze from its orientation in effect behind the object through whatever has become the object's image – taking this to be a typical scenario of the visual artist working from an observed object – when the image is in my case the optically imploded rectangle of the action camera. Since the question of the art has now been introduced, it may be considered that whatever is the blind spot in the wart, the object a, rather than literally its seed, will also pass through whatever becomes its image. Time will tell if the image materialises, and if so, how it will look.
The green ground, which ideally should be bottle green, is to my mind always an allusion to the colour of the front door of my parents' first lodgings when I was still a babe-in-arms. The house belonged to an elderly woman who had an elderly woman neighbour, both of whom, at a few years later in age, I found somewhat fearsome – despite their probably being loving souls to me. Paradoxically, since the human associations are not positive, I am drawn to this colour, and coincicentally find it a popular colour for the details of dwellings in Porto, my present home. Whether the colour is of object a psychical significance can only be a matter of conjecture, but my mere choice of it in relation to a personal early narrative causes it to be potentially interpretive content.
The distortion of the drawing so far by actual light, sensitive as it is to the slightest movement, is almost a living instance of the effect of the Gaze!
Floored/Flawed Subject, Dermatograph pencil, acrylic and paper collage on cartridge paper and tablecloth paper, oil paint on a clear plastic overlay, double-panelled, horizontal format version, 92 x 140cm, 2022
The doing of the work is synonymous with exploration, with the expectation of finding out. While there is a sense of knowingness conveyed through certain mediums and their functions that accrues through repetition, which does somewhat determine in advance the outcomes, the audio-visual recording of the drawing process helps me to focus on the drawing's middle-ness and on-going-ness, and in this respect prioritises exploration. If the videos are ponderous, with observations repeated and over-emphasized, it should be born in mind that I, the drawer, do not experience ponderousness, and they are made primarily for me. The viewer-listener may scroll back and forth and, in effect, conduct their own edits, which should not adversely affect one's understanding of the project. However, the videos in their present simple and mostly unedited format are authentic examples of project material, when the emphasis is on artistic research. At the time of making each of the videos of the project, I could not have known that the artefactual outcome would be as shown above. The videos, screenshots of them, and transcripts of speech that attempt to grammatically format enunciation, are considered research material that may or may not lead to content synonymous with having found out. As research, however, it is arguably necessary that the latter, finding out, will not have happened.
The Professor of Literature and Media Arts, Mark B. N. Hansen (2016, p.49), states that ‘…Firstness, cannot be directly known, or intuited, and is always at an unbridgeable remove from any direct access’. In the context of diagram, citing the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce, Hansen (ibid., p.46) refers to a ‘Firstness’ of ‘diagrammatic appearance’, becoming a ‘Secondness’ as and when it is ‘…actualized in particular existent qualities or experience’. Hansen (ibid, p.45) discusses the possibility of a phenomenology of the diagram, citing the work of German ‘media archaeologist’ Wolfgang Ernst, and defines ‘diagrammatic phenomenology’ as ‘a logic of appearance’ that ‘…is rooted… in the self-manifestation of data itself’. This suggests to me that the diagram, whether analogue or digital, has and conveys its own aesthetic – with the difficulties, relating to its Firstness, of articulating this quality – that also has the potential to be read experientially. Speaking from my own tendency to reduce visual images to sketches that may or may not later be further developed, the diagrammatic results are hand-drawn utilising line in pencil, ink, or paint, and occasionally colour-coding and/or tonality. In most cases their iteration is conceptual, and as such veers towards abstraction, visualising mentally formulated strategies or memory-based simplification of what was initially perceptually observed. Insofar as one’s first impression of a diagram is its ‘self-manifestation of data’, one has then to be able to read the data from such conceptual basis. Unlike a learned language, however, the vocabulary of the visual diagram is much less stable, relying on degrees of association between a high degree of abstraction of and from things. The choice of term things, rather than objects, may also provide a clue to what manifests as a between of referenced objects and an obfuscating veil of less or unconscious intentionality for such objects.
In the first instance, to reiterate, the diagram arguably presents Firstness, which has an abstract aesthetic that then, as a second instance, needs to be decoded. While this suggests the need of a logic of readability to be contained within the diagram, in my own case – due partly to the kind of diagram I'm starting with – I prefer one’s encounter with the diagrammatic drawing to oscillate as sheer abstraction; ‘Firstness’, in Peirce’s terms, with intimations only, within the abstraction, to which one may relate experientially. The diagram, according to Hansen, is ‘…pre-experiential… that enfolds potentiality into phenomenology…’ The appearance – or what I have myself referred to as its aesthetic – is a diagram’s ‘Firstness’, from which its enfolding into one’s experience constitutes its ‘Secondness’.
Can a contingency determine so much as, in this case, a final horizontal as opposed to vertical formatting of the research project's artefactual product? One might more directly, as well as nicely, call the latter a drawn-painted image, since the result drifts between drawing and painting, which is a verb I like in relation to the awkwardness of the medium. Lacan (2018, p.200) states of mental illness that it's not an 'entity': 'Rather, mentality has rifts'. While I am of course playing on the insertion of rift into drift, there is a mental rift in choosing to stay on the cusp between painting and drawing, and when one thinks of the cusp of a rift, it may suggest something sharp, at least uncomfortable, as if within the drift something is likely to be severed at any moment. (Here I'm somewhat playfully posing what might be confused opening raw material of an analytic discourse.) In other terms, I prefer not to give what is merely a stage-post in the project the elevated status of either definitively drawing or painting, especially since this visual-material result is in many respects an accumulation of vestiges of traces of the project's process. This is not to say that I do not stop if and when the image looks something and has sufficient degree of coherence – a rifted drift may be discernible – even if such a decision is largely subjective – rifted drift as the abrupt non-fitting of imagery between the two panels. I have, however, taken a gamble, not only by splitting the image into two panels, but also by shifting them to horizontal format. This move is contingent, also, on the fact that I only have room in my present domestic working circumstances to display the work on a horizontal wall space. If such information is overly informal of a practice within which one strives to be professional, there is also a degree of conceptual efficacy to what I've been trying to do in the work. The subject, in the region of the lemon yellow profile head, is looking towards a drawn-painted surface – the self-same surface of the work itself – in a sense, and inasmuch as the surface is a tableau that in such circumstances happens to be ranged vertically, is applying the mediums in such terms that they metaphorically fall to the floor. (Ettinger is referenced in terms of tableau in Comment 2, above.) The truncating of the format in this sense brings the top panel literally closer to the ground – in other words it becomes floored – and ranges it alongside the lower panel in which the imagery is in any case lower to the ground. The subject is flawed inasmuch as the reasoning of the work – the reasoning that I bring to it – is flawed in the first place. Such reasoning wouldn't necessarily be flawed if I'd not been trying to diagram my thinking, but is so from the point of view of prioritising the signifier basis of the diagram, or what Peirce, (See above: A Note on Peirce's 'Firstness') refers to as a diagram's 'firstness'. In terms of language, which is here being used to identify a specific question of the work, there is a certain relevance in the oscillation between floored and flawed as a result of their identical pronunciation: I merely bring to the table the recipient's choice of hearing the word in relation to what can be seen of that of which it here applies. The work does nonetheless work, but only in conjunction with one's reading, literally, of the project. In this respect, the visual-material outcome is not so much the culmination of the project as an advanced stage of it, still in process.
Later in the visual work, the 'punctiform' point of focus becomes a plaster that is worn of the back of the hand, noticeable in the video, which is declared as masking a skin wart. The plaster is changed to duct tape, and from then on the wart, hidden under the tape and never exposed, is a metaphor for the object a. There is a sense, however, certainly to me, and perhaps also to the reader/viewer of the work, that the mere exposing of this albeit slight medical issue does have a degree of redolence that surpasses the object as a mere metaphor. Or in other words, one might ask: 'What lies behind the metaphor, more than what can be seen if one removes the tape?'
Whoever is one's interlocutor – of which there can of course be more the one – is a person who listens and responds empathically, and frequently pushes commentary in directions that prompt one's own further interpretation. In any discourse that incorporates a substantial degree of reference to psychoanalytical theory, one may be more than usually aware of occasions when, due to personal reflexivity, one's writing conveys one's own unconscious content. If nothing else in my own writing, I'm aware of this in terms of words' compound and polysemic meanings and sometimes allow them to stay, even in academically written content. More deeply, one may sense oneself as subject inside the work, as it were, when psychoanalytic theory is the most helpful in attempting to objectify such subjective presence.
Lacan (2018, p.208) adapts Peirce's semiotic triangle, 'Representamen, the Interpretant, and the Object', to the idea that 'the Interpretant is the analysand. The analyst as the object a, or the aspect of the psychoanalytical process that involves semblance, is in the position of Representamen. While this is an aside to the present research, it is not difficult even to imagine the artist at the position of analysand, with the interlocutor at the position of analyst (the Representamen), and the artwork at the position of Object. This of course works best where the interlocutor is someone who is empathic, and not merely the positively or relatively curious receiver of the work – less likely that one would be prepared to attribute interlocution to whoever was antagonistically critical – for which reason research that is shared as part of, or actually or hypothetically encouraging, discourse, is more conducive of the analogy to psychoanalytic discourse than the outcomes only, of one's artistic practice. Inasmuch as such circumstances of communication may be considered hermetic, this is understandably of more concern in relation to a research-based artistic practice, while the hermetic nature of relatively form-based visual artwork is not often an issue of its rationale. The possibility of an artistic approach that is comparable to the analytic discourse may help alleviate the problem of the hermetic in research practice by addressing others, albeit a more specific audience, who are already within the potential of this kind of discourse. The key, perhaps, is in considering the Object as the artwork, as projective material, rather than the object referenced by the artwork. This draws the artwork into the domain of the question that generates it, rather than being outcomes or findings of the question. In this regard, the implied finished work that opens the exposition is more accurately an advanced stage in an on-going process.
- Top half of drawing diagrams relationship between image/screen and Gaze and Subject – theory of Lacan
- Relationship viewed in side elevation with referenced object: 3D representation of image/’screen’, turning to viewer through three repetitions
- Axial projection, Gaze to Subject, enlarges as tubular, reaching lower half of drawing
- Speech-based monologue uttered while drawing
- Speech fitted into long pauses, (punctuated as ellipses), breaks for and as reflection, when drawing
- Speech reporting on reflexive engagement through and as drawing
- Recorded interventions inserted into the monologue in bold, after the recorded event
- Long pauses inferring moments of silent focus on drawing
- Italics for when giving emphasis
- Screenshots as/between each edited transition
- Reflection – indented prose – on the transcript’s initial content and its later interventions
6: 40 mins
There you see I’m saying that this I can see the action camera with this arrow, that I’ve drawn in the mirror. Now this here, is the lens itself which I can see . . . .
is the line of the top . . . of the lens goggles . . . . So this is actually now wrong it needs to be moved down . . . . But that was a gift, you see . . . .
- Axial projection, Gaze to Subject, enlarges as tubular, reaching lower half of drawing
- End-of-tube self-portrait looking at/recording process of making drawing through clear goggles + action camera attached to front
- End-of-tube self-portrait looking at/recording process of making drawing through clear goggles + action camera attached to front
- Top half of drawing, difficulty of representing drawing’s material surface: side-elevation, logically against wall
- Problem of location of object that produces image/screen, since only referential object is illusory imploded rectangle of action camera
- Speech-based monologue uttered while drawing
- Speech fitted into long pauses, (punctuated as ellipses), breaks for and as reflection, when drawing
- Speech reporting on reflexive engagement through and as drawing
- Long pauses inferring moments of silent focus on drawing
- Italics for when giving emphasis
- Screenshots as/between each edited transition
- Reflection – indented prose – on the transcript’s content
See-ha! Interesting. Ha! This is very, interesting. In attempting to convey the idea of the gaze as having a point of focus, a point of resonance of most resonance, the a of the object, I’ve torn the, paper, so I have a hole here, and the–– the other interesting thing is that this hole, projects, right through the image, of the imploded rectangle that’s coming out this way. So this is the––. I’m using, the idea of side elevation, to describe something which has, manifest itself, as a front elevation . . . and this is the . . . the resonant point, of the gaze, which is the a of the object a. I mean this is how I, understand it.
17 : 40
And I’m using, diagramming, insofar as this is, a form of diagramming––. I’m using diagramming to try to tell you . . . .
Journal entry (5 Jan, 2022)
There's Lacan's theory, with the schizm represented by birth, towards a situation of 'want-to-be', (Ettinger: 2020, p.258) and the best we can sense of what we want is as and through intimations only – but it seems right, or is the best theory there is. When Lacan suggests that the gaze is out there already, for us to take up, this is more interesting to me than Merleau-Ponty's idea of reciprocity between the gaze and the subject, seer and seen. I interpret this as what we leave behind at/from birth. Ettinger's (ibid, p.252) 'pre-natal zone of relation', and co-naissance (co-birth knowledge) seems a more precise location of Lacan's idea of originary desire, even though, in Lacan, before birth is what we leave behind, and the founding desire seems more a matter of the Imaginary, pre-linguistic phase of relations between infant and mother. Everything else in Ettinger promises a very compassionate challenge of Lacan, based on this sense of retreating towards the pre-natal period, the third phases of two or three months. Ettinger (ibid, p.257) refers to a 'mythological encounter "before" the emergence of the subject as split', where the split may concern one's entry into language, the Symbolic phase, which is Lacanian, but again, Ettinger traces this back to an earlier period of origin than Lacan.
Current progress of the drawing (left image), showing establishment of duct tape coverings of wart, as duct tape applications
There in effect now three trajectories in the drawing:
- Gaze – Subject
- Gaze – Self-portrait
- Wart (duct tape in region of note 3) – Self-portrait
Is it possible to start an artistic research project with its finish – a finish at least in terms of an artefact? By start, I here mean the retroactive placing of a product of the finish at the forefront of the research's formatting. By artefact, I mean a key-stage of the project, the latter of which, inasmuch as it is research-based, may just as likely be as on-going as finished. Equally, the finish of the project could as likely be considered the research itself, formatted in such a way as to intervene with later stages of the project's apparently linear unfolding – an issue of format – in its early stages. In this case, the finished artefact has intervened in the start, just as several other interventions are to occur along the way. Look to the Epilogue, however, and you will see a later stage still, of the product in question. Two different formats, this time not of the research content but the project's outcome, head and foot a body of research that concerns the circumstances that have results in, but are not exclusive to, its drawn-painted product.
I'm interested here in the fact that by referring to the start and finish of the project as head and foot, I've intuitively referenced the research itself, as a movement, the body. It's more or less, or mostly, however, the head that projects the research, as the region of the mind, with the body cited through the metaphor of engagement of hands in collaboration with mediums. The psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (2018, p.21) locates jouissance – in Lacanian terms the psychic level of enjoyment, which seems to be able to manifest itself as much through pain and the intellect as more obviously pleasurable sensations – in the body; '...the clutching, the fragmenting of the body'. While I do go along with the more phenomenological idea of integral relationship between mind and body, through being mostly inspired by Lacanian theory I'm constantly looking for correspondences between language per se, and approximations as visual-material language. According to the Lacanian psychoanalyst Colette Soler (1995, p.4), 'Now the true body, the primary body, says Lacan, is language; that is, what he calls the symbolic', and Lacan (2006, p.248) states that '...language is not immaterial. It is a subtle body, but body it is'. Such theory not only foregrounds language but positions it as a body.
Diagramming Perception 3 video clip, edited details of lower half of drawing in process, concerning eye dominance (7 : 55 mins)
The object represented by the heavy black vertical in the right frame of the image pair is the action camera, which appears imploded to such thin shape when viewed from behind while wearing the clear plastic goggles, left-frame. The imploded version of the object is of regular size, although larger from such nearness of view than the camera’s actual size, which seems larger still as it scales up in relation to anything else viewed in front of it. What can be seen of the inside of the goggles’ frame also simplifies, as well as distorts in consequence of my left eye dominance, which means that all observation is as if from the left, through my left eye only, as indicated in the right-frame. As an observable motif for drawing, the imploded rectangle of the action camera can easily be considered as at once an object, albeit very simple, and an image.
A three-dimensional modelled diagram of the imploded rectangle of the action camera + indication of the horizontal trajectory between gaze and subject suggests potential for a three dimensional object/image as a real object, as drawn and rendered on the next new version of the drawing, now with a green ground, below.
Components of the diagram developed in the video, showing:
1. Picture-plane, side elevation
2. Image, front elevation,
3. Mark-making that metaphorically hits plane and falls to ground, defusing the object 'a' (see 5)
4. The gaze, externally to and projecting towards the subject, obfuscating the image with a 'screen',
5., The object 'a' as focal point that proejcts from the gaze through image and screen to meet the subject
The present re-working (far-left) follows my sketch diagram (near-left), where the object/image suspended between the trajectory Gaze - Subject, is rotating and turning towards the viewer. While the locus of the axis is conceptualised as the point of the gaze as object a, what it here contains, shown at the Subject end, nearest on the drawing plane and to the viewer, is a mirror-view portrait head of me looking outwards from the drawing's space. This question of looking out from in the course of looking towards and into, implicates the drawing's viewer. The drawing cannot not be a mirror view, despite the singularity of one's aims at this stage. The drawing as screen bearing imagery affected by the screen's psychical resonance is self-represented, as well as conveying an image, the rotating object/image, so-termed, portrayed in the self-same drawing as against a wall. The wall is shown as a vertical line that is right-angled towards the base of the drawing, becoming tableau/floor. As tableau, more so than floor, the idea is that this is the nature of the drawing as screen; a vertical whose acceptance of mark making and gestures of the medium is affected by gravity and falls, in effect, if not literally. Such falling is, in turn, an effect of one's resistance to the object a, resistance in this case to myself, I am suggesting, through the wordplay between floored and flawed subject.