So, I promised I would say a few things about the Imaging Identity symposium. If I leave it any longer I'm going to forget everything, so here is my attempt.
Disclaimer: I took copious notes throughout each day, but (predictably) these notes make limited sense now. I scrawled down the phrases or ideas that jumped out at me in the moment - so my description of their meaning should be considered as 'interpretive' rather than a verbatim reproduction. Many of the papers were filmed, so perhaps they will appear on the net at some point and people can watch them in their full glory. I also had an hour or less of sleep on the red-eye flight from Perth, so the first day is a little hazy.
Didn't take many photographs. Loved this blobby thing by James Angus though.
And the hanging lights on the gallery roof.
The technical set up of the main room is also worthy of high acclaim. A good lectern is worth its weight in gold - especially for people with wobbly hands and flapping pages. Likewise, the enormous screens that made my slides look so nice. ALL conferences in the world should be held in this room:
The first paper was one of my favourites (full details of abstracts/papers here). Melinda Hinkson talked about the idea that we, as humans, actively "create ourselves" on a daily basis. She quoted Zygmunt Bauman: "we are all artists of life - whether we know it or not." Self-making, or the link between action and identity, was the theme of my paper on video games; so this seemed a very auspicious beginning.
She also examined the question: what work do we expect images to do for us? In relation to paintings, she argued, we desire a text that is autonomous of technology - one that reflects the work of human hands rather than the operation of digital technologies. Sam Leach's now notorious prize-winning reproduction was her example of this phenomenon, and the extreme disappointment felt when a painting fails to provide the expected 'authenticity.'
Hinkson also discussed John Durham Peters, and his argument that technology has resulted in the distant becoming clearer, while the immediate becomes more difficult to represent. This is a very interesting dichotomy. I'm not sure if I completely agree, but it's worth thinking about.
David Campbell introduced what would become a popular phrase throughout the event, when he commented that images often represent "the individuated aggregate": an individual, who nonetheless 'stands for' a larger group. Examples included "the soldier" or "the rape victim." He talked about this in relation to the dynamic of distance/closeness and object/subject in war photography, where the image simultaneously constructs a distance and gives 'face' to pain and human suffering.
My notes for Michael Desmond's paper go like this:
depicting the quivering inner being
distortion of bodies
as expression of inner turmoil of artist
flesh as meat
paint as flesh
takes time to experience
the mask reveals as
much as it conceals
Kinda poetic, eh?
Photographer Refi Mascot talked about his Bautanah street gallery, which involves turning the Jakarta footpath into a display space open to anyone and everyone. When it rains, they simply throw clear plastic sheeting over the paintings. Very cool.
Didier Maleuvre's keynote was another of my favourites. He talked about identity as socially constituted, and the "humanising gaze" by which "others give us our soul." Identity, he argued, "hangs by the thread of recognition," it "awaits confirmation" in the eyes of others.
He argued that photography is not portraiture, because it is "forensic and archival" rather than descriptive or creative. Paintings allow us to "enter the orbit of another's perception," while a photograph "records, it does not represent." Photographers are "hunters, not interlocutors." This argument proved contentious, and there was quite a bit of snarking during question time. No wonder. When I wandered out into the gallery later on, I noted that photographs and paintings were given equal weight as 'portraits.' Should they be? It is a question worth asking, although it seemed to trouble many of those present.
I loved how Maleuvre described the painter as one who pursues "the journey from object to subject," as one who "subjectifies" others.
Tangent: all the talk of portraits and self-portraits made me think about a painting I did in high school. I always denied that it was a self-portrait, but this event made me think about it again.
Without going into too many details, at the time I painted it I had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness. The prognosis wasn't good, and it was touch and go for quite a while. There are few photographs of me from those years, and certainly none that convey the intensity in this image.
Taking up Maleuvr's point about the painter as a "subjectifier"- I wonder how/if the painted portrait allows individuals to 're-subjectify' themselves in contexts where their identity is overtaken by forces beyond their control? I'm not a huge fan of 'art therapy' (mainly because of the 'therapy' bit - just call it art and maybe more young people will want to do it). But perhaps painting allows individuals to escape the sense of being an "individuated aggregate"? And can this experience be replicated by digital technologies? Or is it a special 'painting thing'?
Apologies for the lack of grotesquerie. Gotta branch out sometimes you know.