On layering and emphasis on materiality (2010–2012)

This section introduces a number of visual strategies that define different types of self-portraiture with regard to their propinquity to the clichés of portraiture. They also define different attitudes to narrativity, illustrating my wish gradually to enrich the work’s general theme through consideration of elements inside the narrative scene, as well as elements concerning the work’s overall appearance.

The photograms derive from a desire to strip images down to an equal emphasis on image construction and indexicality. On the one hand, the images’ construction and artificiality dominates their overall appearance because of the emphasis on their physical support and the association of photograms with ‘forms’ that describe only the shape of an object and its density. The images present themselves as binary codes, forming patterns on each individual sheet, between information and empty wall space (image 20), or between tinted and non-tinted papers (image 22).

All images in this exposition, including the ones in the previous sections, are defined by different geometries and structures (circular, hierarchical, triangular, linear, mise en abyme, and mirroring) applied externally to the work, to the general layout of the scene, or to groupings of characters and clues. This is disguised in the smaller portraits and polyphase images that are presented in the previous sections of the exposition because of their increased representationality and detail, but it is more obvious in the photograms (images 19–22) that have less narrative complexity.

The use of photography and narrative elements (gestures, atmosphere) can be catalytic in counterbalancing the initial, superficial impressions received from the heightened artificiality of the work. No other photographic genre is closer to the idea of the analogue imprint. Beside, the scenes represented are narrative: they are polyphase and contain spatial relationships, movement, temporality, and references. This equal emphasis on image construction and indexicality aims to add gravity and formality to the images’ references to esotericism and solipsism. For example, Domestic Scene with Mirrors (2012), image 21, refers to representations of women with mirrors found on archaic pots. Preoccupation with the mirror is a sign of femininity and is considered antisocial (narcissistic in the conventional sense) and linked to domesticity: a replacement for, or barrier from a subject’s participation in the common and political life. In combination with the image’s superficially contemporary appearance, it aims to capture the current meaning of such ideas and phenomena.

In the Defected Rota-trope (2010), image 23, the semi-circular disposition of the images emphasises the lack of progression in the image-sequence, despite it being a sequence. The second work in this category, the Dislocation Creep (2012), image 24, as the term in the title also implies, refers to minor changes in the image, which necessarily change – even superficially – the overall work. Both works operate as metaphors for narrativity as a tendency, not a resolved outcome.

The Cliff with Pine Trees triptych (2012), image 25, is meant to reproduce the polyphase effect of the black-and-white composite images. Here, instead of digitally composing the images, I weave strips from different images to multiply the figures and bring different elements together. Weaving makes visible the image’s construction. It also links the image’s narrative to different traditions and forms of labour linked to mythologies of femininity.

Each work took its final form gradually, through envisioning and composing elements in different stages: before, during, and after the image was made. I consider the resulting works to be residual rather than proportional to different definite narratives. They are the outcome of an empirical procedure of structuring, framing, reworking codes, and existing or intuitive narratives, drawn from my own experiences and visual bank of references. I consider the procedure of making the images equal to the viewer’s reconstruction of a narrative in his or her attempts to fill the narrative gaps: I let the images exercise their projective power on me, with the difference that I am physically drawn into the work to bring different elements together, reduce the narrative gaps, and enhance narrativity and legibility. Yet, the work does not attempt to reach a linguistic degree of organisation or raise photography’s narrative indexicality in Werner Wolf’s terms – that is, toward the affirmation of a pre-existing narrative. I provide clues and entry points to animate the viewers’ elaborate engagement but the images are not resolvable; instead, they are just as nebulous and varied as the signs themselves. The resulting images are dialectical and open to analysis – inviting questioning, yet indefinitely suspended.

22. Perspective, 2011, b/w photogram, oil paint, undeveloped photographic paper, 115 × 163 cm (approx.).

23. Defected Rota-trope, 2010, digital c-prints, 90 × 140 cm (approx.).

20. Self-contemplation with Scissors, 2010, b/w photogram, 130 × 162 cm (approx.).

19. Pilgrimage, 2010, b/w photogram, 350 × 180 cm (approx.).

25. Cliff with Pine Trees, 2012, woven digital c-prints, 66 × 66 cm each.

21. Domestic Scene with Mirrors, 2012, b/w photogram, 210 × 210 cm and 230 × 180 cm (approx.)

24. Dislocation Creep, 2012, digital c-prints and gold, 40 × 250 cm (approx.).

Narcissism expanded

The previous section of this exposition explains how narcissism in my practice started being understood both as a theme or a code that implies schemes of wholeness and as a threatening void to suggest an order different to the representational one and to appeal to the viewer’s imagination and subjectivity. It also explains how the images’ representationality and photographicness allowed bringing together different codes. This idea is similar to Barthes’s (1977: 51) illustration of the relationship between connotators, that are ‘strong signs, scattered, “reified”’ and the ‘syntagmatic flow’ introduced at the level of denotation, which ‘innocents the semantic artifice of connotation’ (ibid.: 45) and ‘disintellectualizes’ the image (ibid.). Barthes does take into account alterations applied in the postproduction of photographs and composite images, but this relationship still applies to my images if denotation is to be understood as a quality related to photographic realism.

In fact, to a varying degree, this principle of intellectualisation/disintellectualisation defines all narratives and the sense-making process in operation when, driven by ‘blind compulsion’, we read in texts and photographs things that are outside the actual text/image. In literary fiction, while this underlies realist texts that produce the automatic perception of events, it becomes more obvious in self-conscious fictions that challenge the conventions of realism and the borders between narrativity and incommunicability. Linda Hutcheon in Narcissistic Narrative (1980) claims that by increasing the narrative gaps, the use of self-conscious devices (such as the mise en abyme, parody, narratorial commentary, and the unorthodox use of a language) suspends the attribution of a definite narrative and offers the reader a more engaging experience. Further, for her, auto-referential texts encourage auto-referentiality in the reader. This is the reason why she uses the expression ‘narcissistic narratives’ to describe such texts.

Similarly to literary fiction, in photographic self-portraiture projection emerges both in images seemingly unspoiled by authorial interventions and in over-structured ones. By projecting conscious and unconscious associations onto the image, the viewer fills the gaps between narrative fragments and counters the terror of the image’s uncertainty. In self-conscious images, narcissism illustrates the critical and imaginative capacity of the viewer at work, with the incorporation of his or her unconscious fears, while he or she immerses en abyme into the image’s polysemy. Narrative narcissism enriches the narrative economy of an image by means of a demand to acknowledge an alternative order to ‘culture’, in Barthes’s terms. On the one hand, this implies a more positive and useful expanded notion of narcissism to help narrativity and genuine engagement, without its negative connotations (regression, egotism, or incommunicability and lack of empathy).

My attention was increasingly drawn to this distinction between narcissism operating within the intellectualising space of connotators and narcissism operating within the uncanny, threatening void introduced by narrative gaps. Influenced by literary criticism on self-conscious fiction, I decided to experiment with increasing the narrative gaps between connotators. To do this, I decided to work with elements additional to the ones included within the image: structures that encompass the images, and emphasis on the materiality of the image and its material support. These elements constitute additional layers of coding, operating outside the image; however, they can enrich the work’s meaning in a meaningful way.

The different layers of coding and structures instigate different viewpoints for seeing and understanding the work: they hold individual fragments together or emphasise parts of the image. Ultimately all images still present themselves in terms of balance (between different codes, image construction, and indexicality) and narrative progression achieved through structures and layering. The aim is to create a play of networks based on polarities (construction/indexicality, public/personal, reality/unreality, objectivity/subjectivity) to allow the gradual indexical mutation of signs, as well as a shift in viewers’ perceptions; in addition, it aims to include a space to which the viewer can return, to bring all these elements together and inform their extracted narratives with every repeated viewing.

Self-portraiture also serves as a space for the viewer to return and bring together his or her impressions. I believe this is possible because of the ambiguous hybrid perceptual space between fiction and reality the artist occupies in the representation. Beside the fictional status of the artist as a generalised actor within the representation, self-portraiture also brings forth the artist’s authorial voice and responsibility for the image, and implies the artist’s availability to embody any imagined narratives invented by the viewer (including the connotations of self-portraiture).

Continue to next page >