My appearance belongs to you more than to me. This became clear through my work for #Selfie in 2014. It is a kind of negotiation – I choose my glasses, my haircut, my clothes, which are all clues about the way I would like to be perceived. You see these choices in living action in a way I never do, since mirrors and photographs don’t tell the whole story. You are better equipped to read the shifts and undercurrents of my external expressions than I can ever be.
The same applies in reverse: I can read more in your appearance than you can understand of your presentation of yourSelf. We all navigate our identity this way, learn about who we are through the responses of Other.
This is a complex negotiation, in every case, since what I see and what you see will always be subjective. Actually, the more I read and observe human and other-than-human nature the more I’ve come to believe that there is no such thing as objectivity – only degrees of awareness around what we project, onto whom, and why.
This applies academically too, in both arts and science, though culturally we still cling to this idea of rational, impartial, objective inquiry as the base requirement of measurable, reliable Truth. In a summer institute research course I attended two days ago the PhD prof said [I paraphrase here] …all research – quantitative, qualitative, is biased, always.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I still think research is a good thing. Just know thyself, and name the bias.
A corollary: if you made a drawing of me accurate to the finest detail, I would recognize more of you than mySelf – through the details you’ve noted and those you’ve disregarded, the respect and love you’ve invested in the drawing, the curve or the raggedness of the line you’ve used. Where you are confident, where not, etc.
You’ve learned the planes and lines of my face and body in the process of drawing me, I’ve learned about you from the choices and marks you’ve made. The drawing is in fact a map of the space where you and I connect. Also where we don’t connect. Interesting.
Subject, object, space between. Always subjective: Me and Other.
There’s a concept that has taken root in me in the past decade or two, that “.a person, or animal, can only experience the world as being a certain way if the whole person, or animal, can understand the world as being that way.” (found this pithy summary in Beaton, 2014).
In other words, we can only fully understand what we have known experience of. Beyond that, the non-experienced world is invisible, visible in an extremely threatening way, or visible yet utterly, laughably, terribly misinterpreted (to make it fit the known experience – witness colonialism, white nationalism, patriarchy…).
When applied to portraiture, this idea becomes a potential problem. Do I merely make use of this person I am depicting to describe my own world, then? Hmmm.
In counterpoint to the conceptualism theory is the Jungian idea of ‘collective unconscious’. That we know far far more than we are conscious of knowing.
A flash of insight, an epiphany, a dawning awareness that comes always (eventually), when we sit at the great blank walls that mark the boundaries of our experience and ask difficult questions. A gut feeling, an unexplained irritation, a magnetic pull that draws us off the known path, and inevitably, to that border-fence of understanding with the questions we’ve hunter-gathered.
To draw them there, on the wall. To turn the wall into something else.
Maybe a doorway.
The tug of curiosity as I walk along the rich, verdant summer streets of this new-to-me place. So many trees here, six or seven times my age. A cat who crosses the street just to talk with me. A seed caught on my clothing.
As the starling does, peering in at me in my morning routine, first one eye then the other, beak clacking – did the seed catch my dress out of a similar curiosity?
What would happen if I planted this curiosity somewhere wholesome? If I approached the possibility with healthy, Gaia-inspired intention, and watered it, tended it, painted it, made it into music, this seed I know nothing about?
I look out of my incredible, brave body from behind my eyes and skin, from inside my ears and lungs, at the known and unknown world. If there is a tug of curiosity felt and answered in even a small way by me or by anOther, a connection occurs that transcends body shape, adornment, smell and sound, and also celebrates difference, insight, challenge to our known worlds.
I have an idea that this has nothing at all to do with gender, race, roles or power, which have been such a source of projection, trauma and abuse for so long. There is, however, a powerful, planet-sized archetype that we could learn a great deal from as we grow beyond that old, tired, experiential harness. This is the direction I’m tugged in.
We can collaborate, respectfully, playfully, on the space between us. Human and other-than-human, inclusively. Is this where love lives.
Always subjective. Me and Other.
Ask difficult questions, know thyself. Me in Other. Me as Other.