Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lacan, Lacan, Lacan.

I am trying to understand how my work is tied to Jaques Lacan, a psychoanalyst from roughly 1950-1980. So, here goes nothing:
My work explores the dichotomy between the personal authentic self and the image of the self, which is based on perception. The seriousness of this quest for authenticity versus the humor of what is portrayed is another dichotomy that I work with. The questions I ask in relation to this "self" deal with the idea of gaze, but not in the feminist sense of the "male gaze." Instead, I am looking at the male gaze, the female gaze, the inward gaze and the societal gaze.  Although gender is involved, my work enters a realm beyond gender perception.

This is where Lacan comes in. The human experience consists of  the Symbolic (discursive) Imaginary (perceptive) and the Real (inner self). Lacan thinks that children are born into the symbolic cultural structure, resulting in an alienation from what we are, or our authentic self. Lacan believes we will never reach this self, and will always be a sort of "Other." This also reveals the fantasy of social reality and social construct, which only exists due to our desire for that fantasy. We crave what is absent and things like advertisements and consumable products promise what Lacan calls "jouissance," which we experienced before we entered into the realm of the symbolic as a child.
He places importance on what is seen, and what is absent, claiming that presence and absence results in gaze and desire. The gaze attaches the viewer to what is there, while the desire attaches the viewer to what is absent. 

This idea of product, image and advertisement ties into my ideas on the image of femininity, and how the image remains a consumable product, but also a product of alienation.  We have a desire for what is lacking, namely, the true image of ourselves. The marketing of this image, or fantasy, exists because of the desire for it, which we will have forever due to our inability to ever connect or define with an authentic self, what I believe Lacan would call "jouissance."

I am the subject that is lacking in my work. I ask the questions, but always fall short of the answer. That is part of the fun.


  1. I like the set of visual concepts you have introduced here. I tend, as an engineer, to think of things more mechanistically and sort them into sets of three (for a nice stable trichotomy).

    The idea of symbolic cultural structure as alienating wall rings so true and I tend to group these structures under the label of "Icon'. The 'icon' was originally illuminated to seize the illiterate peasant mind with an overpowering urge to follow the church and of course the gaze was the operative vehicle. Today all our western Icons fit the exact same purpose, only a vast multiplicity of 'churches' have emerged. They all entreat us to gaze and follow. And although I sometimes like to fantasize that these icons become part of our culture and part of us, they often feel so much more like an array of alienating walls.

    When I gaze, however, upon an image searching for an element of art, my mind begins to break perceptions into three levels of cognition (at least I theorize thus). There are those Icons, the pre-packaged instantly recognized emotive concepts. No thought required (no really, please don’t they say) we’ve already been taught what to think and feel. Then there are the geometric- bio-social levers and pulleys created (perhaps with talent and experience, perhaps serendipitously) which form a narrative or complex statement each viewer will cognitively tease out for themselves. Something we can all argue about (if it’s good art) for centuries. I think I’ll call these Narative elements.

    Finally there are the elements of an image which perhaps fit more with the Real, both in Lacan’s psycho-metric sense and Hofmann’s (I think also psycho-metric). These visual responses (I like to think of them as Abstractions) operate on a more primitive area of the brain; which way is up, looks like shelter, could be food, where’r da women. Seems like these elements are the ones which most powerfully influence us and the ones society operates to de-nature, alienate, distill for controlled consumption.

    So while Lacan may believe society has alienated us from our Real and our Perceptive selves, I believe that society manipulates our Real selves (so in a sense agree) often through the use of iconography and that it is our responsibility to understand how this mechanism works so that we can reinsert our Perceptive selves between the Real and society. OMG almost sounds like building moral compass on top of our reptile brain. Couldn’t hurt. Guess it depends on one’s definition of pain.

  2. Hi Fortrium,
    Thanks for your comment. You seem to be referring to culture, perception and instinct...three very powerful forces. My investigation into Lacan has just started, but I felt he really made sense to my work, and especially my thesis. Icons (or what I refer to as the Venus in my thesis) can be very alienating, and aid in the perpetuation of the "other," something I deal with in my work. Would you be interested in reading my thesis?