Thoughts on “the self”


Her Landscapes, 2014 / copyright: oini

“I wanted to work with the tradition of self-portraiture but also with the classical bust…I had the idea that I would make a replica of myself in chocolate and in soap, and I would feed myself with my self, and wash myself with my self. Both the licking and the bathing are quite gentle and loving acts, but what’s interesting is that I’m slowly erasing myself through the process. So for me it’s about that conflict, that love/hate relationship we have with our physical appearance, and the problem I have with looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Is that who I am?” Janine Antoni, ART21

In the interview with ART21 magazine Janine Antoni talks about her project Lick and Lather (1993). The concept of the self in art has always been intriguing to me and apart from the visual outcome of such projects the emotional side of the process interests me a lot. To me it’s frustrating. It’s hard. It involves a strong connection between one’s life and the work, therefore it can be very vulnerable.

It feels mysterious and unnatural. Like gazing into a black hole and being faced with nothingness or a fear of death. I look at an image of me, created by me, and I can’t relate to it. Do we ever wake up to the real us? “I am not who I was and I am not who I am becoming” is an anonymous quote I came across many years ago and it stuck to me. When I was working on a series of collages Her Landscapes (2014) I thought I can take a photograph of myself. Throughout the process I realized that it’s more that I am using my body in order to explore a world rather than representing myself. I am taking apart my body and constructing a scene with it. I don’t predict every move, I am just interested in how my body can fragment and what sort of expression it can sculpt itself into. But sculpting and destroying as well as raising up and dying is part of becoming and not being. It is somehow a bit a like being at war with myself – yes, I love you, you are the only one I have so you need to work well but now I will cut you, tear you apart and let’s see what’s inside… And what’s inside is maybe visible in the image and maybe not. But that is not the point, it’s not even important. To me what is important is the self – surgery, repeated over and over again to the point of a universal meaning, when the body could be me but it also could be anyone… a tree, a thought or a form.




Spirituality and forms / Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky, 1947

Her Landscapes, 2014 / copyright: oini

In 2014 while working on a Her Landscapes photographic series I was looking for ways to describe my ideas of constructing images that would represent myself but in an invisible, perhaps spiritual, dimension. During that time I was fascinated with creating landscapes made of body parts, abstract forms, shapes and colours. Discovering an essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1947) by Wassily Kandinsky gave me a better understanding of what I was trying to make.

Throughout the process of development of his works, Kandinsky discovered that spirituality is tightly connected to our experience of the world through abstract forms, colours and shapes. He believed that the true work of art is spiritual and is capable of nourishing and inspiring the human‘s spirit, similarly as religious art. Kandinsky is exploring the reality of our experience of the world through creation of familiar but completely new forms, which have nothing to do with existing objects as such. In his essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1947) he states that “no theory can be laid down for those things that lie in the realm of the immaterial. That which has no material existence cannot be materially crystallized. That which belongs to the spirit of the future can only be realized in feeling, and the talent of the artist is the only road to feeling“ (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 31). In this quote the artist explains how illustrating the spiritual realm or a religious experience is impossible because we cannot visualize the unsubstantial. As opposed to the figurative religious painting (Rembrandt, Caravaggio or El Greco), in his works the spiritual realm is made of geometrical forms, freely painted colourful lines which explore the harmony, symmetry and beauty of the mathematics, which all the objects of the universe are made of. I see it as science combined with art. It makes me think of atoms and particles that are like abstract matter we don’t see with the naked eye but it moulds the world we operate in. For Kandindsky human spirituality is like a pyramid, and the artist is meant to lead others with their work to the top. ”It is a spiritual pyramid, advancing and ascending slowly even if it sometimes appears immobile. During decadent periods, the soul sinks to the bottom of the pyramid; humanity searches only for external success, ignoring spiritual forces” (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 61-75).

The spiritual experience is the one of a delight in a colour; it is like an illumination, a sudden understanding of it and feeling it – colour enlightenment that causes an emotional arouse. Kandinsky calls it a “vibration of the soul”, an “inner resonance” or “a spiritual effect in which the colour touches the soul itself” (Kandinsky, 1947, p. 61-75). For the painter the perception of the colours depends on the inner experience. The artist believes in the ‘absolute phenomenological life’, called like that by a French philosopher Michel Henry. It is a subjective experience fully based on ones perception and emotion towards the object that is being experienced.