DEATH AND TRAUMA
OF THE SELF AND THE TRUTH
WHO AM I?
AS A RESULT OF AN ORDERED
AND CATALOGUED SOCIETY, WE INCREASINGLY SPEND MORE HOURS OF THE DAY LIVING IN SYNTHETIC ENVIRONMENTS,
LIVING WITHIN A DETAILED BLUEPRINT OF DEFINED 'NORMS' AND EXPECTATIONS,
WHICH ARE ESSENTIALLY
OF WHAT OUR
REALITY SHOULD LOOK LIKE.
THERE IS A GROWING CONFUSION BETWEEN REALITY AND ILLUSION, BETWEEN AND SELF
Much of this confusion can be owed to the influence of the spectacle: Something that can be seen or viewed, especially that of a remarkable nature.
The spectacle is anything that could be seen from an uninvolved third-party perspective: a movie, a concert, a car-wreck, or even a photograph.
The spectacle manifests a sign with value of the real. It translates the real world into real images: something tangible, to be seen, instead of to be involved within. The nature of the spectacle is to replace experienced reality with an image of reality: An object of reality. Something that can be defined objectively, something that can be owned.
The spectacle ultimately transforms being to having.
The distant viewer, in a sense, owns his ''performers.'' They are no longer seen as human beings, but as objects to impose ones' own judgment. The spectacle does not stop at a collection of images, rather it defines social relationships between people that are mediated by its' images. The viewer, being able to judge another as a tangible image, assumes a position of power and of ease, a position where he can easily catalogue himself as an image in relation to the other as an image.
Victims of gang warfare or social cleansing in a Rio De Janeiro shantytown. The killers carefully arranged the corpses for greater effect; an ode to the power of the spectacle, where the idea of death no longer has enough of an impact, it has to be created as an object, an image.
W E A R E EASILY ABSORBED AS CREATURES
WE, AS A
CO LL EC TI VE SPECTACLES
WE BECOME UNABLE TO DEFINE
THE OTHER, A PERSON
W IT HO UT SHIELD OF DEFINING FUNDAMENTALISM,
IN O N E CERTAIN BELIEF,
SUCH AS A
OR AN IDENTIFIED
THAT IS A
OUR REALITY THEN
RESPONSIBILITY SOLELY BY THE WITHIN SOCIETY, CREATIONS OF THE SPECTACLE.
“There is only one object finer, more precious and more dazzling than any other…that object is the body. Its omnipresence in advertising, fashion, and mass culture; the hygienic, the dietetic, therapeutic cult which surrounds it, the obsession with youth, elegance, virility, femininity, treatments and regimes, and the sacrificial practices attaching to it all bear witness to the fact that the body has today become an object of salvation” –Jean Baudrillard
THE FLESH THE SOUL. becomes
The flesh becomes the soul. We have come to value our bodies as objects as much as we value the existence of life itself because the weight of our existence is now manifest soley in the flesh, our idea of death enters into the realm of uncertainty, of that which we cannot know. Death is something we cannot experience within a finite physical reality, only something we can observe. Our desire for certainty, for power, for identity, (the former three essentially the same essence) naturally compels us to alleviate our fear of death by observing it elsewhere, within the otherâ€”anything beside ourselves.
But, as Broyard points out, â€œIt may not be dying
mortality. In order to stay relevant, intriguing
we fear so much, but the diminished self.â€? 'Pain'
and carry any sense of authenticity (no matter
is the bridge that determines the degree to which
how false it is), the effective spectacle needs the
the body is diminished. Oneâ€™s true experience of
individual to gauge his certainty, his 'aliveness'
pain, of physical trauma awakens him, its' victim,
based upon its' image of the diminished body.
into a more sensitive and conscious state of his
This is effectively achieved through the depiction
body. It offers both his sense of certainty of his
of pain, a universal element of existence.
body, as well his sense of weakness, his sense of mortality. Pain is crucial to understanding the state of the body within physical reality, within
The success of 'horror' and 'apocalyptic' films,
The spectacle is thus creating images that have
the pornography industry, and even ancient
no true grounding in reality except for the fact
gladiator games (all violent and traumatic
that the image was produced within an existing
embellishments in their nature) speak to the
reality (for example, the image of man with a
power that death and physical trauma can have
severed arm cannot allow the observer to
on the human psyche. The effective spectacle
experience anything that it depicts, it is merely
creates an image of trauma to represent a real
a sign for reality that was produced based upon
experience, but a true experience cannot be
a representation of an experience).
presented visually, outside of the body in pain.
AS THE IMAGE, THE OBJECT, OF TRAUMA
IS NOW A REPRESENTATION OF MORTALITY
JUST AS THE OBJECT OF DEATH IS,
THOSE OBJECTS LIE AT THE FARTHEST REACHES OF THE SPECTACLE; THESE ARE ITS MOST
SOBERING AND UNIVERSAL INCARNATIONS OF REALTY
BECAUSE THEY REPRESENT THE MOST IMPORTANT
ASPECT OF EXISTENCE:
LIFE AND DEATH. OBJECTIFIED AS IMAGES–CARRYING
THE WEIGHT OF THE MOST
FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN CONCERN,
THEY BECOME THE ULTIMATE
REPRESENTATIONS OF THE OTHER.
THE SPECTATOR IS INSTANTLY CONTEXTUALIZED BY
THE OUTER BOUNDARIES OF PHYSICAL REALITY.
HE IS THEN FORCED TO EXPLORE HIMSELF.
HE MUST DECIDE
BETWEEN TWO OPTIONS: TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRUTH
OF HIS OWN MORTALITY; TRUE REALITY, BY REALIZING THAT WHICH HE CANNOT CONTROL
AND THAT WHICH LIMITS HIM,
OR, TO ONCE AGAIN SHIELD THE
INEVITABLE, GRANTING HIMSELF THE PLEASURE
OF TRIUMPH AND CONTROL BY COMPARING HIMSELF AS OPPOSITE TO THE OTHER, HIS PERFORMER, AND FALSELY
SATISFYING HIS INEXORABLE
NEED FOR CERTAINTY,
FOR IDENTITY. THE LATTER CHOICE IS WHAT HAS ELEVATED THE SPECTACLE TO A POSITION OF POWERFUL INFLUENCE
OVER THE MASSES WITHIN MODERN CULTURE, A
CULTURE THAT INVARIABLY DEFINES THE
NORMS AND EXPECTATIONS OF THE SOCIETY IT INHABITS.
Many artists and designers have contributed to the attitude and style of this project; while many writers and Postmodern thinkers have helped influence it’s subject and content. I have these individuals especially, to credit for my inspiration for this work: Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, James Victore, Damien Hirst and Joel Peter-Witkin.
MICHEL FOUCAULT (1926-1984) was a French historian and philosopher, associated with the Structuralist and Post-Structuralist movements. He has had wide influence in the philosophical, humanistic and social scientific disciplines (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2003). Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, such as psychiatry, medicine and the prison system. His subjects seem to always relate back to the relations of power and knowledge. Foucault was very politically active in the 1970s. He was a founder of the Groupe d’information sur les prisons and often protested on behalf of homosexuals and other marginalized groups. An early victim of AIDS, Foucault died in Paris on June 25, 1984. Foucault’s writings could be related to the archeology of history as much or more so than philosophy. His concerns were mostly histories of medical and social sciences, his passions were literary and political. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2003). Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ was the first complete work of social theory that I have ever read. This book was fascinating. It opened the floodgates to my own critical analysis of society on a systemic level. It actively engaged me in the realm of philosophy, specifically the genre of Postmodernism. ‘Discipline and Punish’ documents the transformation of punishment within society from the ‘spectacle of the scaffold,’ which generates fear in and control of citizens by showcasing the sovereigns power, to the whole of modern day society: generating fear much more successfully, by means of anonymous, unknown surveillance, essentially playing off the inherent fear of uncertainty. This same element, the fear of uncertainty, lies at the very core of this project. JEAN BAUDRILLARD (1927-2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism. In 1966, Baudrillard entered the University of Paris, studying language, philosophy, sociology, and other disciplines. During the late 1960s, he began publishing a series of books that would eventually make him world famous. Combining semiological studies, Marxian political economy, and sociology of the consumer society, he began his life-long task of exploring the system of objects and signs which forms our everyday life. Baudrillard argued that the transition from the earlier stage of competitive market capitalism to the stage of monopoly capitalism required increased attention to demand management, to augmenting and steering consumption. Baudrillard analyzes how the commodity
and commodification permeate social life and come to dominate individual thought and behavior (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2005). In his work ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ Baudrillard claims that modern society has replaced all reality and meaning with its' ever increasing fabrication of images and signs (the spectacle), and that everything is now a simulation of reality. Simulacra are not representing a false reality, nor do they hide a reality, they merely hide that anything like reality is irrelevant to our current perception and experience of our lives. “The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth— it is the truth which conceals that there is none” –Baudrillard. His ideas have combined with the ideas surrounding the modern “spectacle” (thanks to Guy Debord) to create my inspiration for this project. I am fascinated with the idea of simulation, something not truly grounded in any reality. This is where I make the connection with the individual within his “confused” reality. He is living in a world of uncertainty, one where reality, and thus himself and his perception of himself, is always changing according to whatever stimuli the spectacle has offered. JAMES VICTORE “I strive for one thing in my work: to make it personal. I believe that, as a graphic designer, if you do a good job of telling your own story, putting your experience, your knowledge, and your life into your work, it will resonate with your audience. Simply put, in the particular lies the universal. If I am too careful not too offend, too worried about what the client will think, or, even worse, if I become a stooge for marketing concerns, and forget to bring my sense of play or poetry to the work, how can we expect the public to get excited?” James Victore is becoming a rather “big” name in contemporary graphic design. His pieces stand out from among the stagnant work of the current design community. In his book: ‘Victore or, Who Died and Made You Boss?’ James presents not only top quality portfolio work, but rather a chronology of work that represents his own development—with its failures and successes. It is personal; it communicates his own opinions as well as his priorities. He is creating artwork not only for a client, but for himself and for an audience. His interests and his personal philosophy precedes and greatly influences his work. He poses the question: ‘How can anybody make anything of value without an opinion?’ I believe James is on to something here. His work is so successful and intriguing because it offers an opinion of the man– or the client, behind it. Offering opinion is crucial to getting noticed for any single person or for any business. An opinion helps to define a context and an identity,
and, if presented in a proper way, can help the viewer–the one being communicated to–to define his own opinion; his own personal truth. “The subject matter of my work speaks to this influence. I try to create work which is personal for the viewer, work that will help the viewer to make his own decisions, to decide for himself what he wants to take away from it." As imagery of physical trauma can strike nerves deeply within the human phyche, this current project intends to sear into the viewer, and provide a personal experience, an experience, which inspires self-identification and realization, offering a chance for “personal truth” for the viewer. As James would agree, the viewer cannot hope to take anything of value from a work if it does not strive to offer and request something personal, something in need of an opinion, something the viewer can contribute to and help define. DAMIEN HIRST is an English artist born in 1965. His work directly addresses the inevitable mortality of all living beings. He is perhaps most well known for his series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved in a tank of formaldehyde. Hirst places medical sciences at the core of what he does. He has said, “I like creating emotions scientifically.” His work strikes me because it showcases a sterile and cold hospital environment somehow soliciting an uncanny sense of emotion. This is interesting because science tends to rationalize physical and psychological existence. Hirst proclaims, ‘The primary purpose of the scientific ethos is to identify, control and alter natural phenomena by the acquisition of reliable knowledge while also providing a more straightforward allegorical representation that life’s a bitch and that there are a lot of different things out there to get you hurt and to get you killed." I believe Hirst’s work is very powerful because of this contradicting irony. He utilizes his subject matter effectively. He uses “Medical apparatuses and equipment with the ability to lift pain out of the body and make it visible.” The equipment carries the cargo of the dead and the terror of the viewer. I believe Damien is one of the most successful contemporary artists for a reason—his subject matter. It draws crowds, it is shocking, and it offers its' opinion. It demands self-reflection from the viewer. Conceptually, Damien’s work has had profound impact on my development of theory within this paper. Here, I have tried to explore what exactly sparks such fascination with death, trauma, and mortality and how that relates to self-reflection. Many of Hirst’s ideas allude to our current perception of death as that of social construction. “Death has become increasingly
mediated; of how the technological media, which enormously reinforce and heighten the illusion that death happens only to others, have put a distance between us and our dying" –Hirst. I have been inspired to pursue this theory, among others. In writing this paper, I am proof that the subject of trauma, death and mortality has very powerful and moving qualities and is begging to be understood in the context of each individual. JOEL PETER WITKIN, born 1939, is an American photographer whose work throughout the 1980s until the present incorporates shocking themes such as death, mutilation and physical disfiguration of the human body. Witkin is known to “comb medical museums and morgues for his models, creating startling still life arrangements, for example, the split halves of a head kissing each other, or a severed arm in the midst of a table arrangement.” Witkin claims that his vision and sensibilities were initiated by an episode he witnessed when he was a small child, a car accident that occurred in front of his house in which a little girl was decapitated. “At the place where I stood at the curb, I could see something rolling from one of the overturned cars. It stopped at the curb where I stood. It was the head of a little girl I bent down to touch the face, to speak to it–but before I could someone carried me away.” Witkin is known to mimic classical paintings and taboo subjects, or both, such as his famed ‘Madonna and Child’ which displays a vulgar eroticism and eludes to severe disfiguration of the child’s face. Witkins’ distinct style of photography gives his work a nineteenth century ‘carnival’ ambiance. Witkins’ work offers a spectacle into the other’s presence, the other’s history, whether alive or dead. “He gives us permission to stare, compels us to stare, at the human body in extreme states, both natural and artificial, evoking at once a fascination and a revulsion. And the repetitious quality of the work…suggests the effort to overcome the repulsion by repeatedly confronting the darkest fear of the human psyche.” Witkin acknowledges this. He asserts, “I am most interested in photographing conditions of being, that show changes in attitudes that effect me and my needs…I’m really photographing myself, I’m photographing what I don’t know.” – Joel Peter Witkin Witkins’ work successfully pushes and exceeds the boundaries of physical reality by showcasing the dead and the grotesque as his subjects. Both embody our visual perception of death and dying, which then essentially represent the ultimate other in a form of existence which we cannot experience ourselves.
Published on Dec 10, 2010
Published on Dec 10, 2010
This is a printed piece on newpaper. This work explores the relationship between individuals and how death and trauma are viewed and accepte...