A DIVULGENCE OF MELANCHOLIA AND THE DESIRE OF DISDAIN
BRIAN PATRICK WEAVER
CHAIR: NAN SMITH
COMMITTEE MEMBER: LINDA ARBUCKLE
COMMITTEE MEMBER: JULIA MORRISROE
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTERS OF FINE ARTS: CERAMICS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
© 2011 Brian P. Weaver
The despair that is a symptom of depression mimics the despair that might accompany full awareness of the absurdity of our lives.
The world is something that ought not to exist: The truth is that we have not to rejoice but rather to mourn at the existence of the world; that its nonexistence would be preferable to its existence; that it is something which ought not to be. It is absurd to speak of life as a gift, as so many philosophers and thoughtless people have done. It is evident that everyone would have declined such a gift if he could have seen it and tested it beforehand. To those who assure us that life is only a lesson, we are entitled to reply: “For this very reason I wish I had been left in the peace of the all-sufficient nothing, where I would have no need of lessons or of anything else.”
I was at a loss for the thematic nature of my life’s path and for what I have experienced has led me to spend a life thus far in angst and melancholia. All the terrible people I have met throughout my life have compelled me to dig deeper into understanding why people are the way they are and why I feel and react the ways I do to them. I suppose at this point it has been worth it. I dedicate my art work and this thesis to those for whom I feel disdain.
I wish to thank the Chair of my thesis supervisory committee, Nan Smith, for her mentoring and support as I progressed through the MFA Program. I wish to thank the members of my supervisory committee; Linda Arbuckle and Julia Morrisroe for all of their mentoring and insight as well.
Self-deprecation and destructive behaviors are common in everyday life. It would seem that most people resist these thoughts so as not to alienate themselves from society or create a miserable life experience. Some accentuate the positive by cultivating constructive and self-actualizing behaviors, but it is my contention that many people still retain hidden questions or fears about negative emotions and become self-destructive. Sorrowful longing can be brought on by paranoia and fear. By recognizing the negative characteristics of the self-conscious, the associated shame, anxiety, issues of privacy and embarrassment, one can understand the mentality of self-deprecation. Wayne Weiten in Psychology: Themes and Variations explains that the conscious removal of oneself from what may actually be happening and becoming enveloped in the psychological aspects of a newly created reality acts as an active defense mechanism (Weiten, 546-547).
Master Debaser, my project in lieu of thesis, is a mixed-media installation depicted by a theatrical environment to evoke the psychological state of self-loathing through the male figures desire to create or possess the reality of marionettes. This imagery is used to convey selfishness and the lack of responsibility that can exist within human nature. The manipulated mental landscapes create a sense of malaise which is the contemptible, despicable, abject paradigm of the work. The facial expressions, body postures and stage “props” allude to the individual variations of this theme. Symbolizing the mental distress many people experience but hide, I hope to force the viewer into a realm of subliminal uncertainty. The installation Master Debaser causes one to confront mental and emotional issues that result in the insecurities which in some people take precedence and dictate their waking lives. Through their distorted bodies and emotive facial expressions, the viewer is confronted with the emotional issues and mental duress that live within all of us.
Self-doubt and fear which results in moral weakness is a universal topic in literature and film. Introspective mental negotiations, especially the “darker” more destructive ones, influence my aesthetic choices and conceptual framework. The installation creates identification with the abject and the recognition that this mentality can exist within us all.
DEFINING THE ABJECT
Julia Kristeva is considered to be the leading authority on the abject, essentially defining the subject. She states in Powers of Horror,
The abject is not an object facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. What is abject is not my correlative, which, providing me with someone or something else as support, would allow me to be more or less detached and autonomous. The abject has only one quality of the object- that of being opposed to I. If the object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture of a desire for meaning, which, as a matter of fact, makes me ceaselessly and infinitely homologous to it, what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses (Kristeva, 1-2).
Self-deprecation is in a position of desire and innate interest because of the need to make life meaningful. Through the abject scope, one is found not only denying the abject, but also needing it to make meaning of the “other”. This “other” being the dystopic component to any ideal, and specifically the irrational pursuit of happiness.
The abject becomes something that is within all of us but is suppressed through necessity to function in society. This becomes a paradox through the need for the abject in society and the lack of acknowledgment and appreciation of these feelings.
This perceivable idea of the abject then becomes something of suppressed disdain. The abject mentality is one that exists within human nature and can overwhelm the conscious mind. The conscious can then become whatever it decidedly defines as reality, and this can be driven by fear. Kristeva states,
The phobic has no other object than the abject. But that word, “fear” –a fluid haze, and elusive clamminess –no sooner has it cropped up than it shades off like a mirage and permeates all words of the language with nonexistence, with a hallucinatory, ghostly glimmer. Thus, fear having been bracketed, discourse will seem tenable only if it ceaselessly confronts that otherness, a burden both repellent and repelled, a deep well of memory that is unapproachable and intimate: the abject. Though its very nature is that of turmoil and suffering, the imposed self-hatred and self-deprecation that is projected still allows for the conscious to rationalize the everyday (Kristeva, 6).
Albeit this is a life of misery and melancholy, it may be easier than the alternative and yet strangely fulfilling and pacifying to the conscious. Kristeva states,
One thus understands why so many victims of the abject are its fascinated victims - if not its submissive and willing ones. We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it – on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger. But also because abjection itself is a composite of judgment and affect, of condemnation and yearning, of signs and drives. Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be-maintaining that night in the imponderable affect is carried out. To be sure, if I am affected by what does not yet appear to me as a thing, it is because laws, connections, and even structure of meaning govern and condition me. That order, that glance, that voice, that gesture, which enact the law for my frightened body, constitute and bring about ad effect and not yet a sign. I speak to it in vain in order to exclude it from what will no longer be, for myself, a world that can be assimilated (Kristeva, 9-10).
An obvious absorption of self becomes apparent. This obsession with creating meaning and rationale to life is a voracious and cyclical paradigm. The conscious mind will continually be “tested” with negative thoughts that need a rational explanation, but this mode of thought only breeds another level of questioning and disbelief. I believe through the abject and the act of embracing its existence the self is constantly damaged. Kristeva states,
Abjection, with a meaning broadened to take in subjective diachrony, is a precondition of narcissism. It is coexistent with it and causes it to be permanently brittle... Desire alone will henceforth be witness to that “primal” pulsation. But desire ex-patriates the ego toward an other subject and accepts the exactness of the ego only as narcissistic. Narcissism then appears as a regression to a position set back from the other a return to a self-contemplative, conservative, self-sufficient haven (Kristeva, 13-14).
I feel this narcissism is no longer avoidable once it has been implemented; it becomes the status quo. Kristeva states,
The abject is related to perversion. The sense of abjections that I experience is anchored in the superego. The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them. It kills in the name of life- a progressive despot; it lives at the behest of death- an operator in genetic experimentations; it curbs the other’s suffering for its own profit- a cynic (and a psychoanalyst); it establishes narcissistic power while pretending to reveal the abyss- an artist who practices his art as a “business.” (Warhol) Corruption is its most common, most obvious appearance. That is the socialized appearance of the abject (Kristeva, 15-16).
Through my research, I believe it is the abject that ultimately makes up the cadence of self-deprecation. The desire for answers and normality usurps and creates an inability for the conscious mind to separate reality and the conceived surreality.
For, when narrated identity is unbearable, when the boundary between subject and object is shaken, and when even the limit between inside and outside becomes uncertain; the narrative is what is challenged. If it continues nevertheless, its makeup changes; its linearity is shattered, it proceed by flashes, enigmas, short cuts, incompletion, tangles, and cuts. At a later stage, the unbearable identity of the narrator and of the surroundings that are supposed to sustain him can no longer be narrated but cries out or is descried with maximal stylistic intensity (language of violence, or obscenity, or of a rhetoric that relates the text to poetry.) The narrative yields to a crying-out theme that, when it tends to coincide with the incandescent states of a boundary-subjectivity that I have called abjection, is the crying-out theme of suffering-horror (Kristeva, 141).
PERTAINING TO MELANCHOLIA AND DISGUST
Melancholy is and has always been a major staple in my mental diet. The lackluster grays of the everyday and social interaction is consistently being tested while I wonder through life searching for something that I know I’ll never really find. Logic and baser understanding tells me that this is not a road to be traveled, but my journey began long ago, with or without my consent. I know this is a path through consciousness that I simultaneously abhor and adore.
Philosopher Jennifer Radden writes in Moody Minds Distempered,
The melancholic man will suffer, for he is “morose, taciturn, waspish, misanthropic, solitary, fond of darkness…extremely wretched and [he] often longs for death.” But he is also, “of deep reach, excellent apprehension, judicious wise and witty.” A person of melancholy mood or disposition was likely to be marked by his wit and wisdom—his wit and wisdom, indeed, may have occasioned his melancholy (Radden, 62).
She then goes on to more clearly define the feelings of one suffering from this mentality.
A major depressive episode is said to be marked by:
A: the psychological “dysphoric” mood, or loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all normal activities or pastimes.
B: some of the following behavioral symptoms: poor appetite, insomnia, psychomotor agitation or retardations, slowed thinking or indecisiveness, fatigue or psychological states: feelings of worthlessness or self-reproach or excessive guilt or wishes to be dead (Radden, 65).
Radden further explains the link between depression and melancholia in the following,
A comparison between today’s depression and the melancholia portrayed in these descriptions of signs and symptoms yields at least four similarities. First, prominence is given to a clustering of sadness, dejection, and the despondency symptoms with fear, anxiety, and apprehension symptoms (Radden, 76).
Melancholic symptoms also included mistrustful attitudes toward others and suspicion of being the object of others’ malice, which define today’s persecutory paranoia (Radden, 78). It is this paranoia that motivates and informs my art. The utter malaise and dissatisfaction of the everyday, coupled with incoherent ramblings of the psyche and unsubstantial schemes strengthens my own pathology. Radden then eloquently states that pathological depression, habituated despair, and discouragement wrought of powerlessness and genuine grief all have the effect of deadening responses, dampening motivation, and slowing and compromising cognition. For example, they are equally likely to interfere with “getting on with things.” While it is a key to lay understanding of other forms of mental disorder, observable dysfunction cannot be interpreted as an attribute distinguishing the pathological from more ordinary misery (Radden, 78-103).
Continually losing interest in oneself and all of the activities attached to daily life makes for a rather unpleasant morning. Contempt and boredom, with little interest in redemption or the belief of its plausibility create a rather large weight to shoulder day to day. This is then compounded with falsities and pseudo-simulated interactions with others where one feigns excitement and mutual interest. Freud characterizes the symptoms of melancholia as,
…profoundly painful dejection, abrogation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance inself reproaches and self-reviling, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment (Radden, 156).
There is an apparent and interesting component that goes with this melancholic state, the sense that it contains a certain level of mental capacity that unfortunately and ultimately causes this vicissituduial swing. The notion of knowing too much and feeling too much in daily routine may be a source of this melancholy as it has been stated throughout the ages,
Melancholy’s link with genius, creative energy, and exalted moods and states is the third feature of earlier accounts that can be found in Freud’s essay. This is an alignment that traces back to Aristotelian writing. Reawakened and transformed during the Renaissance, the “glorification of melancholy” gathered strength from the new category of the man of genius. It waned during the early eighteenth century, only to be revived with the Romantic Movement. Now the suffering of melancholy was again associated with greatness; again, it was idealized, and the melancholy man was one who felt more deeply, saw more clearly, and came closer to the sublime than ordinary men (Radden, 156).
This wonderful “abuse” of a disorder has always captivated me. The romantic alteration of feeling miserable and moody justified by ones proposal of superiority is rather ridiculous and seemingly a defense mechanism. More likely and more succinctly, Radden states,
Melancholy is many things: cognitive defects, errors of judgment, bodily states of humoral imbalance and their sequel, behavioral tendencies, a character type, and a bundle of affective states- of emotions, attitudes, and feelings (Radden, 185).
I believe that melancholy and our mentalities are linked through the association of characteristic affective states and through my research have found that they are linearly tied to disorder and the temperament of the individual.
THE INSANITY OF NORMALITY
If we lose the connection to our own interior world, then we can relate only to a false self, to an image-orientedself, attuned to behavior and feelings pleasing to our surrounding world. Jakob Wassermann states, “Good and evil are not determined by the intercourse of people with one another, but entirely by a man’s relations with himself” (Gruen, vii-viii).
Escape from responsibility is repressed from consciousness. Necessarily so, since the surrender of autonomy by submission to the will of another initiates a fundamental power game: “I will become the way you want me to be so that you’ll take care of me. My submissiveness ensures my power over you from now on; with it I force you to take care of me” (Gruen, 4).
In this way, dependence becomes revenge for submissiveness. Thus, a vicious circle is set in motion, with submission and self-contempt each giving rise to the other. In this situation, two things are always present: self-hatred and self-contempt. Yet they must not be felt, as that would be unbearable. For this reason, the whole process must remain unconscious; it is repressed and denied with the result that those involved fall blindly deeper and deeper into the snares of a power game (Gruen, 4).
It is absurd that we cannot live with self-hatred without doing something about it. To face it directly we would have to confront the pain of our self-betrayal. Therefore, we deny our self-hatred. This is not just a case of repression but of a radical splitting off of awareness of self-surrender and the resulting self-hatred, which then becomes a basic principle of our whole life (Gruen, 5-6).
Jakob Wassermann’s novel, The World’s Illusion, illustrates the inner processes of Niels Heinrich Engelschall as terrible emptiness and wild rage. The author’s description of himself as believing…
…there were no real things in the world except stench and misery and avarice and greed and treachery and malevolence and lust. Wassermann goes on to describe him as thinking that the world “was a loathsome thing and had to be destroyed. And anyone who had come to see that, must take the last step, the very last, to the place where despair and contempt are self-throttled, where you could go no further, where you heard the Angel of the Last Day beating at the dull walls of the flesh, whither neither the light penetrated nor the darkness, out where one was alone with one’s rage and could feel oneself utterly, and heighted that self and take something sacred and smash it in to bits (Gruen, 41-42).
This contempt and anxiety fuels the emptiness and the destructive aspects attempt to pacify but continues the cycle of despair (Gruen, 41-42).
Everything that diminishes the unity of development also diminishes the human capacity for aliveness and responsibility. With the loss of wholeness comes constant inner unrest. Pain and suffering are dismissed as weakness rather than recognized as meaningful human reactions. Power as the means of compensating for feelings of helplessness and weakness becomes the way to undo the results of self-engendered dependency. And because power arrogates to itself the right to determine what is reality, addiction to power, is equated with “realism.” Yet this can lead to nothing but the idealization of death (Gruen, 43).
Master Debaser is a mixed media installation that seeks to depict an interior melancholic mentality through tangible sculpted forms. The figurative ceramics are emotionally driven as revealed through the physically distorted body forms; depictions of the abject male. The use of one-quarter to two-thirds life scale figures and the sculpted physical distortions convey the idea of being morally and emotionally diminutive. The bodies are contorted and twisted as a physical depiction of the mental, emotional landscape of the abject self. In addition, facial expression, posture, and surface color create the emotional and mental paradigm of self-hatred and self-depreciation.
The selected painted colors are indicative of an emotional response to a surreal and melancholic world view. Flesh tones reference reality, but overwhelming red and pink in color they speak of embarrassment and sorrow. The figures have heads that are too large for their weak unhealthy bodies, and as such appear unavoidably lost within themselves. This shift in scale plays on the ideas of the head as self and the body is the embodiment for mentality. Within Freudian theory, the superego is not just a voice; it is an operator, a subtle and complex manipulator, a prover of points. It prosecutes, judges, and carries out sentences, and it does all this outside of our conscious awareness… it can become the most overbearing and perhaps the most destructive part of “our” personality. Psychoanalysts believe that this superego can create lifelong depression and in some cases cause its physical self to commit suicide (Stout, 31). This superego as Freud suggests is the creator of awareness that inflicts the physical distortion on the body and environment. The superego is absolutely necessary to live “comfortably” in reality and also a great cause of pain, both physically and emotionally.
Each of the five sculpted ceramic figures is displayed alone on a scaled-down theatrical stage. The stages are placed low to the ground to reinforce the concept that the abject male figures are not at the same level as the viewer. They are both physically and mentally inferior to onlookers. The wooden stages reference the theater to provide a setting for the play in Master Debaser. This setting and theme is opposite to that of Pinocchio. I hope to suggest the idea of the figure wanting to be a marionette so he can then have his life controlled or manipulated by someone outside of himself. However, this not a real possibility and as such removes any redemptive qualities these abject men may have.
In the Walt Disney version of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio there is a wonderfully poignant introduction by Maurice Sendak that motivates the underlying theme of my installation. Sendak writes,
My memory of the book was a mixture of the utterly sad and the peculiarly unpleasant; and when I finally reread it, I found that this memory is accurate. While Collodi’s Pinocchio is an undeniably engaging narrative that moves with tremendous energy- despite its shaky, loose construction- it is also a cruel and frightening tale. It does not suffer from whimsicality or sentimentality, but its premise is sickening. Children, Collodi appears to be saying, are inherently bad, and the world itself is a ruthless, joyless place, filled with hypocrites, liars, and cheats (Collodi).
The “inherently bad” innate liars and cheats demand my attention. I believe that through the ideas of self-awareness and consciousness as Jennifer Radden and Sigmund Freud have examined, one can hope to curb these traits, but cannot ever become a person that inherently “owns” them.
In Master Debaser, the gaze of the sculpted male figures stares quietly through the viewer. These abject males are alone and unable to see what’s right in front of them. Their impermeable gaze reveals a solitary disconnect from others and the world outside their own. My intent is to project that they are aware of their transgressions and falsities but will not accept responsibility.
This denial of behavior and actions is typical of sociopaths. They are infamous for their refusal to acknowledge responsibility for the decisions they make, or for the outcomes of their decision. In fact, a refusal to see the results of one’s bad behavior as having anything to do with oneself- “consistent irresponsibility” in the language of the American Psychiatric Association. This bad behavior is displayed in these Surrogates of the Master. Simply becoming the marionettes would not be enough for these self-absorbed abject males. Sociopaths exist within their own jaded realities. They theorize that all people are the same- unscrupulous, like them- but are dishonestly playacting something mythical called “conscience” (Stout, 50). My Surrogates are sociopathic in their own theatrical worlds, while ultimately being a partial glimpse to the larger central characters overwhelmingly irrational and irresponsible self.
The installation includes six nude male figures, two theater masks and a mass of tangled rope that are the tethers for the self-imposed marionettes. (Figure 1-1) The spatial organization defined by five separate stages with curtained exteriors is a metaphor for emotional emptiness and physical isolation. The “Comedy and Tragedy” masks hung high on the back wall of the installation opposite the central figure suggest an emotive setting. The figures create a collective narrative although they are separate from one another. The five “satellite” theater stages are separate landscapes that reflect the emotional outlook of the figures within them. They are connected high above their enclosures by six small pieces of rope, tethers, held by the Master’sclinched fists. This central figure stares out into space. He appears to look through or past you to an entanglement of the rope which is spot lit as it becomes a character itself. Each of the stages has a surrounding tent-like fabric structure open on the front side. These structures are wrapped in panne velvet that references theater curtains. The interior of the structures has a webbing of white fabric to depict the interior ofself, specifically a ribcage. Harsh spot lights placed in the interior of the structures creates a glow within the opened space. This dramatic focused lighting contrasts with the surrounding environment which is very dark to separate the figures and any physical connection they may have to one another.
Master is a three-quarter scale nude male figure seated in a flesh colored director’s chair. (Figure 2-1) He sits quietly in his chair holding five marionette controllers that are tangled on his left side. His right hand brings the tether of ropes up to heart and his clenched fist is pressed into his chest. The Master is painted in realistically flesh-like color; blushing and bruised his body expresses sorrow and embarrassment. His lower lip juts out expressing his negative attitude about life and his inability to take control of himself. His eyes are moist with tears and welled up as he confronts his detrimental and unwelcomed waking life. Nude and un-athletic, he sits in shame, vulnerable and alone. The use of real and synthetic hair connects to the viewers’ reality through identifiable materiality. His pubic hair and the unkempt hair on his head and body aids in placing his existence in the abject atmosphere that makes up his psyche. The wooden puppetry devices known as “controllers” are gold in color as is the rope that connects each one. The golden color is representative of power. The quintessential director’s chair reiterates the master’s position of power and potential to control the self. The chair is painted in flesh tones to reflect an extension of self. His power is part of his station in this seat of obvious control. (Figure 2-2) His eyes gaze outward and up towards a knotted entanglement of rope that flows forth from his hands. The knotted tether of ropes represents his unclear ability and lack of responsible control. The knots represent the complications and hardships of self-accusation and independence.
The knot then carries on swooping outward to five theatrical stages that create an arc in front of the Master. The sculpted males under his “control” are one in the same, they are the abject other and actually the Masterhimself. The ropes connect to his different mental emotional landscapes of the Master. Although knotted the ropes venture down to each figure to entice or relieve. However each figure is unsaved for they long to be controlled and exist as marionettes.
The figure located to the left of the Master titled, Surrogate: Prevaricator lies on his right side. (Figure 3-1) He leans out of the theater stage screaming quietly as his eyes and mouth stretch open to their limits. The surface color scheme suggests Pinocchio’s traditional outfit. Three cones occupy the stage with him to suggest dunce caps of different proportions for different situations. On each cap the text, “T O E” is used as an acronym for “Theory of Everything”. This is a signifier of his position as a liar. The ropes controlled by the “Master” enter the space but remain disconnected. The stage is formed from floor boards that are unraveling and disjointed. His environment indeed is a continuation of his non-idealized self.
The figure next to the ostensibly based Pinocchio figure (Surrogate: Prevaricator) is the self-abusive character entitled, Surrogate: Abused. (Figure 4-1) He lays as though in a fetal position. He is surrounded by soiled bandages that create bedding for him on a very confined stage. His face is full of distressed pocked imprints that symbolize his own mistreatment and self-mutilation. His gaze is a powerful stare. He looks at the controlling tether of ropes, although he is too small to every reach them. He is helpless to do anything about his life, he is doomed to stay curled and deteriorate until his demise. His skin color is dark and mimics burnt decayed matter. His stage is also five inches lower to indicate his state of demise. His presence is one of less daunting physical proportions, reflecting his internal state, as his plight is brought on by self-abuse.
The centralized figure is enacting his world within a larger staged space. This figure is titled, Surrogate: Masochist. (Figure 5-1) He stands almost defiant. He is active not passive; the ropes lay across his bloodied face. His gaze looks past the ropes and through the viewer. He looks out towards the large mass of rope and to the Master. His mouth is agape although he does not speak; it is the mouth agar; as he is too exhausted to even close his upper jaw. The color of the skin on this figure is painted with red hues to mimic the bloodied liquid that drips from head to foot. He personifies the tortured character. Beaten and bloodied through masochism as he stands waiting for more abuse. (Figure 5-2)
Greed is the theme of the figure placed at central right. This figure is titled, Surrogate: Avarice. (Figure 6-1) His space is occupied with piles of rope and other golden items. He stands with his arm upraised, in a blocking position. He is sculpted in the act of claiming his space as he turns inward towards his possessions. The golden coloration of his body reflects his yearning for more; more control and more possessions as he is becoming what he covets. The ropes in his space are plentiful yet are still disconnected from that of theMaster. His mentality is still helpless, as this sculpted male purely represents the state of selfishness; he is both unaware of his surroundings and denying any need for help.
The figure to the right of the Master is the lustful character titled, Surrogate: Salacious. (Figure 7-1) His persona embodies impurity through selfish physical acts. Painted in skin tones which are dominantly reds, purples, and pinks; tones that are associated with romance and love, he is anything but. His actions are purely selfish and of the physical nature. His space is occupied with a “makeshift” sleazy faux black leather mattress and a bunched white veil that is stuffed underneath it. The veil symbolizes purity in marriage and cleanliness. Though this figure might suggest his demeanor as such, his is physically hiding and above such appropriate quality traits. The veil is to be hidden from his physical sexual partners yet readily seen by (viewers) anyone unlucky enough to share his space. His hands are larger than the other figures symbolizing the need for physical touch without moral discrimination. (Figure 7-2)
Conceptually I am very attracted to the paintings of Egon Schiele, Michael Hussar and Chris Mars. All three of these artists have a distinct way of showing a very “moody”, expressive narrative that directly speaks of the human condition. Egon Schiele is said to be one of the most influential and controversial painters of his time. (Figure 8-1) His direct connection to the aesthetic style and narrative qualities of the abject makes his contribution that much more important to understanding this negative approach to mentality. Schiele’s interests were varied, but centralized around the abject; he is quoted as saying,
Art must be critical, or it is not art; subversion is its standard, and deviation from the norm is its ideal…. This is the lesson that we learn from a long history: a thing or person is obscene if he, she, or it has in some place, at some time, and for some reason, provoked indignation in someone. Only in the presence of indignation does the obscene become more than a phantom… (Schroder, 46).
Schiele painted primarily self-portraits and saw himself as an “emaciated, ectomorphic, long-limbed body, spastic and hunch-backed, or with a rachitic deformation of the ribcage: this was the artist as an image of abject misery- a cripple” (Schroder, 50). His work forces the secret voyeur in all of us to emerge and be confronted as we gaze in pity at this mangled debased body. The ill proportioned and sickly depiction of the body lets us see more than the physical self and what one knows of their grisly suffering inner life. The eyes and minimal expressions in correlation to the deformed anemic body speak of a lack of redemption the putrefaction of the exterior materiality and the destructed mental emotional landscape. Arthur Roessler stated, “This is a mangled soul in a mangled body. We see through the body into the soul” (Schroder, 50).
The faces seem frozen in a state of untold misery and despair. They seem to look at you but also through you, alone and silently searching for help that will never come. The deep swollen eyes and contorted appendages scream of anguish and hopelessness (Schroder, 50).
Anton Raderscheidt has reflected on the complex issue of an artist’s ability to split his own being, and to look at his familiar appearance with the eye of a stranger, “The painter has self-observation in his bones. His is used to regarding himself as an object. And yet he, like everyone else, is taken in by his own idea of what he looks like. His posture is deliberate…He shapes the self that he wants to be” (Schroder, 52).
These postures and expressions are directly related to his inner self and his social destitution as Klaus Albrecht Schroder states, “Schiele is capable of intensifying this to the point where suffering consecrates the artist” (Schroder, 52-53).
Gazing at Schiele’s paintings give so much information about his mental state, the figures eye contact that is undeniably commanding is then confused by the smiles, smirks and grimaces of the overall expression.
Behind all of these images of the “misunderstood artist” lies the idea of solitude, as a perverted surrogate for the inner psyche. Schiele’s paintings sing to me of suffering and self-loathing. At first glance they are repulsive, and after contemplating the images they become enriched with emotion and sorrow. Michael Hussar and Chris Mars also work in a similar style and conceptual manner. Hussar’s work mainly of oil paintings and drawings are loaded with expression and emotive qualities. (Figure 9-1) Chris Mars’ paintings and etchings are heavy with pictorial space crowded with content. Hussar describes his work as, “A voyeuristic snapshot of perceived humanity, complete with freaks and fakery; a gothic wonderland illuminating the gray area between truths and lies” (Beinart).
This wonderland (as he calls it) is precisely the tangible mental landscapes that I am interested in creating. His work is confrontational for many of the general audience while being evocative and attractive to this same assemblage of gawkers. Hussar works through introspection and continues to catalogue his personal thoughts through his paintings. It is this cathartic and cyclical existence that never seems to make anything “better” that captivates me when viewing Hussars paintings. I am inspired by the personal narratives he chooses to reveal.
Chris Mars quite often over-contextualizes his paintings with imagery from or alluding to mental hospitals, eerie landscapes, mental health and devastation. (Figure 10-1) This is his response to his brother, a diagnosed psychotic-schizophrenic.
I learned it first from my Brother. He didn’t teach me; I watched it. They will pin a word on your chest and use it against you. They will create a word that’s excuse to take your humanity away. I saw it happen to him. There are the voiceless, who cannot speak for themselves. These are the easiest ones to shrink down. There are words for the non-conformers, simple words that can be quickly acknowledged by those that buy in. From my hands, my mission: To free the oppressed; to champion the persecuted, and the submissive; to liberate through revelation the actualized Self in those proposed by some to have no self at all. It’s in every single one of us, somewhere underneath that word on our chest. In my hands, my version: All art is political in some sense, be it through conformity, reflection, propaganda or rebellion. My paintings are rallies and trials, photographs of a moment when Truth was made public, and Mercy known (Mars).
Sam Jinks is another extremely skilled artist whose sculptures are hyper-realistic and figurative. (Figure 11-1) Similar to the intensely detailed figures of Ron Mueck, Jinks also creates environments that are breathtaking and beautiful while being repulsive and sorrowful. Scale shifts with both of their work jar the viewers comfort level. The sculptures draw one closer to the work; to hold and to embrace. They also intimidate and make us feel like the objects on display as we gaze at one another. These shifts in reality and their morose expressions influence and inform my ideals while capturing the essence I desire in my own work. Jinks states, “I’d like to think that the viewer would feel something after viewing the work; perhaps they could even have some sort of physical experience or maybe see something that they can relate to in their own lives” (Jinks).
This experience described by Sam Jinks is present when I view his and Ron Mueck’s figures. I forget that I am viewing a sculpture at times and no matter the scale of the piece, I begin to look for signs of breathing, signs of life. The absurdity of these synthesized realities has been described as creepy, casually offensive and too real. (Figure 12-1) Their ability to captivate my gaze is similar to that of Egon Schiele but becomes so much more as I view these sculptures and begin to believe they are real and have a life and vitality of their own. Egon Schiele, Michael Hussar, Chris Mars, and many others fascinate and inspire, but Ron Mueck and Sam Jinks force me to question my own assumptions of reality and what I believe to be true.
The self is very vulnerable to society and affected by social influences. Interactions involve a rigorous deciphering of thoughts to understand and predict potential schemes that others may bring to light. The ability to react quickly to the most obscure interactions becomes crucial to keep a grasp on the interior self. The physical world involves even more language that is inferred, undefined, and unspoken but most of these discussions are internalized and certainly can be a one-sided projection of self. My project in lieu of thesis,Master Debaser, describes a mental state where paranoia is escalated through the excessive immersion of pressures and self-prescribed manipulation.
The Master Debaser project offers viewers an insight into the rejection fears of the needy. This sense of abandonment, anxiety and self-deprecation is often hidden. The figurative sculptures reflect the dramatic selfas one over-evolved with emotion and express the mentality of hysteria as an outlet. The excessively emotionally deprived and self-loathers find ways to force this identity upon others. I feel they tend to fuse and enmesh themselves with those around them, and often have a real struggles taking responsibility for their own lives (Forward, 6-27).
My research for Master Debaser has shown me that these deviates of society look only to themselves for morals and values while exercising torture, blame, and guilt on others. We all live with a certain amount of guilt. We wish we could turn back the clock and undo an action that hurt someone. We regret things left undone (Forward, 40). Many times it seems the goal is not to feel good but to make others feel bad. In an attempt to show the rightness of what they want, people cast aspersions on others characters and question their motives. If the self-depreciated abjected self could allow for a few moments of introspection, they would probably be revolted by the fears and vulnerabilities they would discover. Master Debaser presents this most fascinating paradox of human behavior. The self viewed through the paradigm of self-deprecation and self-loathing is influenced and controlled by fear of responsibility. A system of denial and sociopathic excuses allots for their contemptuous frustrations. They create so much unhappiness with their behavior that they often cause people to leave them; thereby ensuring that the thing they fear the most will happen (Forward, 93-94).
I have found that conscience is not a behavior at all, not something that we do or even something that we think or mull over. Conscience is something that we feel. In other words, conscience is neither behavioral nor cognitive. Conscience exists primarily in the realm of “affect,” better known as emotion. This likely is connected back to the self (Stout, 24-26).
Thus the defense mechanism of “consciously removing oneself” that Wayne Weiten mentioned earlier in this paper becomes elemental in the mind of the abject self. Fear, anxiety and self-hatred take precedence in order to survive. The sculpted male figures, installation, and supporting aesthetic details convey cyclical disdain. A person can suffer from no redemptive qualities in this state. These abject souls live in a world full of illogical paradigms, destructive to their well-being. Master Debaser presents a glimpse into a psyche of the troubled mind. This disturbed mentality, though often repressed, is necessary and exists within everyone.
Beinart, Jon. Michael Hussar- Painting- beinArt Surreal Art Collective. http://beinart.org/artists/michael-hussar/. Beinart International Surreal Art Collective. n.d. Web. 7 Sept. 2010.
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