Assignment 2 Research paper and presentation
Title of project:
Neither/nor; Investigating a liminal conscious state using the photographic medium
This assignment is a personal response to the emotional and personal feelings attached towards moving houses for the first time in one’s life. In my personal situation, my family has bought a new house, but are yet to sell our old and current one, so we are in a state of transition where we aren’t living in either house entirely, with the added stress of weekly house inspections and an expensive monthly ‘bridging loan’ that goes towards the new house adding extra stress to our lives.
How can transitional periods in one’s life, such as when one is in the process of moving house, along with the emotional and mental feeling of disconnection and liminality of living neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’ that go with it, be faithfully portrayed using the photographic medium?
The bulk of my research was directed at the concept of ‘liminality’, which I discovered upon researching psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s concept of ‘transcendent function’ and ‘individuation’. Liminality is defined as the conscious state whereby one is on a ‘threshold’ between two separate planes (i.e. divided between two separate homes, or standing half way in a doorway, being half inside/half outside at the same time). In such a state, one is stuck at the midpoint of transition in a sequence between two positions – it signifies the paradoxical situation whereby the death of the old coexists with birth of the new. The idea of ‘Liminality’ was originally conceived by anthropologist Victor Turner, whom used the term to describe the middle of three stages of primitive initiation ceremonies, known as ; separation (signifying the detachment of an individual from a fixed state), margin (liminality; the state of ‘in-betweeness’ and transition), and finally, aggregation (when passage through this state is consummated). In such initiations, one is separated from their status in a culture, placed in a state of liminality, and after the initiation process, is returned back to their social structure with a new status or role. Turner described the person going through a liminal experience as ‘structurally invisible’ because he/she belongs neither to the old nor the new in that period. Carl Jung also added that while one is in this state or transition, their consciousness moves into a new territory of pure possibility that is the potential source of all sorts of original and new ideas. This space allows and forces the reformation of old into new, and forces ones consciousness to embrace change. As someone who is stuck in this disjointed inner state of chaos while in the slow and arduous process of moving house for the first time, this research into liminality has influenced and fuelled the creation of my photographic work for this unit, and has allowed me to channel my energy into something productive rather than something detrimental and counterproductive.
Aside from my conceptual research, I also investigated and was inspired by a handful of photographers. I began with a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve visually with my final pieces, and my research into the works of people who had worked using ‘photomontage/collage’ techniques inspired me greatly. David Hockney’s joiners have been my main influence, with his insights into finding a new perspective in photography using a photo-collage grid aesthetic being the core influence in the visual parts of my works. I’ll return to Hockney later in more detail. Another photographer who worked using a grid display was Thomas Kellner, who lined up horizontal rolls of developed film to create a final composite image that displayed a large scene split into hundreds of tiny pieces. I was also inspired heavily by Daniel Crooks video works that had a heavy emphasis on the portrayal of time and motion. Crooks’ works hold a transcending nature to them that almost shows a spiritual side of the human race visually, which crooks achieved through the editing of his videos. The self-portraiture works of Lee Friedlander also helped me understand the ‘self-portraiture’ genre in a more realistic sense. His self-portraits of himself and his shadow/reflections, in his “Self Portrait” series, led the way in a new form of self-portrayal in photography that was raw, real, and in no way glamorous. Friedlander showed audiences his own self in the most bare and basic ways, showing no emotion, and remaining as ‘objective’ as a photographer can.
David Hockney, though, remains the most important influence for my work this year. Hockney has been an important figure in painting, illustration, and photography for the past 40 years. Although not being trained in photography, Hockney worked extensively using the polaroid camera since the early 80s, and exhausted nearly every possibility in the medium of ‘photo-collage’ or ‘joiners’ as he liked to call them, by 1986, when he returned to painting as his primary interest. Hockney states that his experimentation with the Polaroid camera making photo-collages rekindled his interest in cubism, and allowed him to see the world in a new light. Hockney’s earlier experiments in the medium focussed on the grid structured photo-collage, where he would take 40 odd photographs of each piece of an entire scene close up, then combine them together to create the final image. These pieces allowed Hockney to portray 40 different moments in time from 40 different perspectives, creating new meaning when paired together, evoking a sense of time as well as spatial depth and complexity. In Hockney’s book ‘That’s The Way I See It’, he explains that there are two ways of seeing the world; seeing the world from a distance (through a keyhole/window, from a one-point perspective), and oppositely, from being ‘in the world’, i.e. being an active participant in viewing a scene without ‘edges’. In his later photographic works, Hockney attempted to remove the edges to his pieces, allowing his audience to feel more connected to his works. When viewing an image from the ‘keyhole’ perspective, the viewer can remove himself from the image and see it as a portal into another time/space, whereas when the edges are removed, the viewer becomes more involved in the subject in a very personal way. Hockney was primarily concerned with experimentation using cubist aesthetics in his photography, and his investigation into perspective and time accompanied this aesthetic perfectly.
One of Hockney’s most impressive pieces, which was also the last created using photographic medium and also a culmination of techniques he had experimented with during the 1980s, is titled ‘Pearblossom Highway’ from 1986, which was commissioned by Vanity Fair magazine. Hockney states that the piece is a mixture of photography and painting, as he had to literally paint each piece of the entire scene and combine them together in a collage to complete the piece. Each close-up photograph of the signs featured in the setting, the road, or rubbish found on the ground, was taken in front or close to that subject. The entire piece is a construct of moving about the setting, even though it looks like an entire scene shot in single perspective at first glance; and it accentuates Hockney’s championing of the non-central standpoint in his photographic works. Pearblossom combined all the experimentation Hockney had trialled over the 1980’s, using reverse perspective in the close-up objects, no central standpoint, and the manipulation of “perspective” as a core feature of the photographic form, much like he did in his earlier piece ‘Walking in the zen garden’ from 1983.
“Most photographers think that the rules of perspective are built into the very nature of photography, that it is not possible to change it at all. For me, it was a long process realizing that this does not have to be the case.” – David Hockney
Present and discuss the issues in your work:
My work is personally important as it is a way to understand and cope with being in a liminal situation – being stuck in the middle of chaotic circumstances and not knowing where to find peace amidst the chaos. The fragmented nature of these works will be presented as an overall image made up of composite photographs placed in a grid structure, influenced by David Hockney’s ‘joiners’. This accentuates the idea of disconnection in ones consciousness during a transitional period in their lives. The pieces will be large scale in their final form, and will only be able to be viewed as a whole image from afar. As such, there is a physical involvement of the audience with the work that acts as metaphor for the work one has to make consciously when working through a liminal period. By stepping back from the chaos, one is able to view the bigger picture and make sense of their lives (and the work). Also by looking introspectively at a close distance, one is able to analyse these past parts of their lives (symbolized by each image individually in the grid in the pieces) that they worked through, ultimately forming who they are as people in the present. Technically, I want each photograph to be successful on its own, and as such I will have to make sure the exposure and focus are correct for each self-portrait photo. My final presentation will be made up of either 1 or 2 large photo-collage pieces made up of approximately 64 images (an 8x8 grid).
Anonymous, David Hockney’s Joiners, 5election, 2010, retrieved 22 May 2012, <http://5election.com/2010/09/05/david-hockneys-joiners>
An internet article from 5election (the international coolhunting magazine) about David Hockney, mainly focusing on his experiments into the photographic medium during the 1980s. It features a historic look at Hockney’s work, from his early experiments using a Polaroid camera, making photo-collages in massive grid layouts (much alike a huge version of a polaroid exposure), to his evolution into 35mm print photomontage creations, where there were no edges to his pieces and each photo overlapped another (creating a non central standpoint in these pieces), to his latter pieces which created narratives showing the passing of time or an activity (his famous work of these is the portrayal of an active scrabble game in photographic form as it progresses), and conclusively, his final piece ‘Pearblossom Highway’, whereby all his past experiments in the medium were combined in one final, massive piece. The article also discusses Hockney’s latest projects, from 2009, whereby he made paintings using the apple iPad, and displayed them in a dim gallery using the iPad as the display and lighting for each piece.
This article is a fantastic starting point for anyone interested in David Hockney’s photographic experiments, and gives great amounts of insight and quotations from Hockney himself that accentuate the works and provide new meaning to these pieces.
Anonymous, Liminality, Evolve The Conversation, 2012, retrieved 22 May 2012, <http://www.evolvetheconversation.com/words/liminality.php>
Friedlander, L, Self Portrait, Meseum of Modern Art, 2005
Getty Museum, David Hockney’s Pearblossom Hwy, Youtube, 2012, retrieved 22 May 2012, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sD123svCFHQ>
Hockney, D, That’s The Way I See It, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1999.
This is a book written by artist David Hockney that discusses the philosophy and conceptual/technical ideas behind his life’s work in both painting and photography. It includes in-depth analysis of not only bibliographical pieces of Hockney’s life and art, but also the ideas, the deeper meaning, and the philosophical ideas of what it means his art means to represent, and how it achieves that. Although mainly focusing on Hockney’s lengthy array of painted works, there are 2 chapters based on Hockney’s photographic works, including discussion on the mediums limitations and its representation of time, perspective, and space – including how these can be exploited. All chapters link into each other, and provide historic insight into various painting movements, with cubism the main focus throughout most of the book. This text also includes full colour reproductions of Hockney’s painted and photographic works in great detail, all of which are accompanied by a brief insight from Hockney himself.
This book is the ideal source for anyone wanting to understand Hockney’s work, as all of its content comes from Hockney himself. It would be the perfect reference material for painting and photography students, and just ‘art’ students in general due to its in-depth discussion on how art is perceived and understood in our society.
McRae, E, Profile: Daniel Crooks, Experimenta, 2007, retrieved 22 May 2012, <http://www.experimenta.org/mesh/mesh17/crooks.htm>
Miller, J, ‘Chapter Six: The Deeper Roots of the Transcendent Function’, The Transcendent Function: Jung’s model of psychological growth through dialogue with the unconscious, State University of New York Press, Albany, 2004, p. 104.
This is a book by Jeffery Millerwhereby he discusses themes and research by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, and investigates these findings in an in-depth manor, linking Jungs research to that of others, and discussing them in a general manor that is accessible for most people (i.e. not solely for psychology students). Chapter six investigates Jung’s interpretation of ‘liminality’, and how it fits into his ideas of ‘transendent function’ and ‘individuation’ – which are two key focuses of his psychoanalytical work used to describe the evolution of ones consciousness throughout life. Jung states that a liminal conscious state acts as a psychological purpose to transition psyche from a conflict set of circumstances to one that allows us to resolve a conflict. Miller’s book draws heavily on the history of ‘liminality’ in this chapter, referencing the words and ideas of anthropologists Victor Turner and Arnold Van Gennep, who coined the term ‘liminality’ when studying ancient initiation ceremonies in Zambian tribes.
This book acts as an anvaluable link between the historic forms of liminality researched by Turner and Van gennep, and the more pshycological works of Calr Jung – where the focus is on liminality as a conscious state that helps us evolve and grow through conflict, rather than using the term to solely describe stages tribal ceremonies. Jung’s research allows the term ‘liminality’ to be applied to many contexts, and proves that the state is a pivotal stage in personal inner-growth in life.
Scully, J, ‘Can you take out insurance against the hazzards of self-expression?’, Modern Photography, vol. 49, 1985.
Turner, J, Cubism, Joiners and the Multiple Viewpoint, The Delights of Seeing, 2007, retrieved 22 May 2012, <http://thedelightsofseeing.blogspot.com.au/2011/03/cubism-joiners-and-multiple-viewpoint.html>
This article was posted on a blog ‘The Delights of Seeing’ by photographic teacher, J Turner, in order to inform and inspire photographic students. This individual post focuses on cubist aesthetics in photography, including works that focus on multiple viewpoints, the manipulation of time and perspective, and a large focus on painter/photographer Daivd Hockneys experiments with the Polaroid camera. The article goes in depth with information on how Hockney created his photocollage creations, and then delves into his influences, which range from ancient eastern art, to painters and cubists Picasso, Paul Cezanne, and George Braque. A link is drawn between these painters latter cubist inspired works, and Hockney’s latter photographic experiments with 35mm camera, whereby he attempted to show no perspective/reverse perspective/and no edges in his works. The article then goes on to investigate, briefly, other contemporary modern artists whose work shows these cubist aesthetics, which ranges from the video works of Daniel Crooks, to the photomontage cityscapes created by Sohei Nishino, to the epic grid photo collage creations on film by Thomas Kellner. Overall, this is a valuable starting point for anyone investigating these ideas in photography, and although the information is brief, it is informative and proves as a spring board onto artists you otherwise may have not heard of.
Victor, T, ‘Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage’, Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Rituals, Cornell University Press, p. 94.
This book, and most specifically this chapter, written by anthropologist Victor Turner in 1967, focuses on the investigation into the idea of the ‘liminal period’ in ancient tribal initiation ceremonies, drawing reference on another anthropologist Arnold van Gennep’s research into ‘rites de passage’. The text discusses this idea of ‘liminality’ as the middle of three stages during rites of transition, separated by three different stages (separation, margin, and aggregation). This middle phase, defined as liminality, is explained as a point of ‘in-betweeness’ and transition in an individual, whereby one is neither part of the old or new, and symbolizes the death of the old paradoxically coexisting with the new. Turner states that all individuals must go through this process in order to transition through phases in life (puberty – from boy to man, marriage – from single to coupled, etc) and to evolve as individuals. Turners study focuses on examples found in initiation ceremonies of the Ndembu tribe of Zambia, and relates the idea of ‘liminality’ towards the transition of boy to man through these ceremonies, but his studies can be related to any other transitional period whereby there is a liminal period in life – you just need to change the context into a more contemporary form. This chapter is invaluable to anyone investigating the idea of ‘liminality’, as it defines the original terms and helps one understand how it was conceived in a historic sense, thus allowing one to understand the term when related to contemporary contexts.
J Scully, ‘Can you take out insurance against the hazzards of self-expression?’, Modern Photography, vol. 49, 1985.