An email dialogue with the artist Cecilia Bullo and some unresolved thoughts. This text accompanies Cecilia Bullo’s exhibition The Fractured Self , running 28 May – 13 June, 2010 @ The Market Studios, Dublin 7.
Hi Cecilia, great talking to you too. The work is really interesting and thanks for your statement. I will come back to you by email on Friday or Monday hopefully.
Hi Monica, Thanks for that. I was going to ask you if you could help me with a name for the exhibition. I was thinking of not using METANOIA anymore.
If you come up with any ideas I would appreciate it.
I thought of: Complex Quixotian Escape
or I was looking at the burial American Indian scaffolds which is connected to my coffin/table.
MF: I was trying to think of a name for the text and ‘the fractured self’ keeps coming to mind or something like that. There is an element of self-healing to the work.
I met an artist recently whose son has schizophrenia she also agreed about ‘the quest’ aspect of the condition, for her son. Coincidentally we were talking about mysticism or the possibility that mystics were experiencing schizophrenia as we now call it. She mentioned that Beckett thought that Schizophrenia or madness was a way of seeing the world without any filtering where all experiences are pouring in and over whelming the person but that this was a natural state. It is true that many of Beckett’s characters are involved in ritual behavior and what has been described as pathological language and thought patterns. For Beckett ‘the role of the artist is to find order in chaos’.
I’ve also read a bit by Deleuze & Guattari who see the condition as an individual rebellion against society. The quest aspect does remind me of the Native American Spirit Quest, a rite of passage generally linked to discovering a totemic animal and connecting with this animal or spirit guide.
I’ll have a bit of a think and get back to you. I know you are probably not overly concerned with schizophrenia but the divided self a link between psyche and body I think is there in the work.
I tend not to go for cryptic titles more for poetic ones, perhaps de-medicalise the title a bit more, after all medical labels can cause more stigma than healing.
Just some thoughts.
CB: Thank you Monica,
I found very interesting what you wrote and very relevant to the work. On the original email that I was writing to you yesterday, in regards to the names for the exhibition, I thought of “the fragmented self” myself…, then I scrapped it as I wasn’t sure.
It’s great that you were thinking on similar terms!
(I had the image of the fragmented porcelain stick joined by the shunts.)
Artaud to me is a total anarchist, who indeed was an individual who was rebelling against society.
I thought of the American Indian funerary scaffolds in relation to my coffin/table/apparatus, like a resting place. But I wasn’t really thinking about the concept while in the making, it was a visual image that reminded me of the funerary beds after I had made my structure..
Have you read the “Divided Self” by R.D. Laing?
I must I agree with you that even though the work is not solely based on schizophrenia, there are definitely strong references to it; the “divided self”.
I was definitely thinking on those terms while making the work.
This is a quote from Artaud which was also very important in my work and kept creeping up in my head:
“ the cataclysm which was my body…this dislocated assemblage, this piece of damaged geology”.
“Acid Dreams” p.67
It was with the hope of alleviating his own tortured mental condition that Artaud made an intercontinental trek in the 1930s to participate in the peyote ritual of the Tarahumara Indians in the Mexican highlands. Artaud did not undertake such a risky journey as a tourist or an anthropologist but as someone who wished to be healed, as a spiritual exile seeking to regain “ a Truth which the world of Europe is losing”. The desperate Frenchman experienced a monumental bummer-“ the cataclysm which was my body…this dislocated assemblage, this piece of damaged geology”.
In the installation I was thinking of including a photograph of the peyote flower, which I may have shown you, when you came to the studio.
PS. I will be away during next week so I may not be able to get straight back to the emails during that time. I am hoping to make a decision in the next few days for the title.
MF: Hi Cecilia, sounds like you’re really busy but I’ve been thinking further about your work and gathering some thoughts this morning. I’ve gone back to Anti Oedipus again which I’ve had difficulty getting to grips with but thinking about your ideas and concerns it seems to make more sense. Yes I have read some of R.D.Laing’s case studies of schizophrenics and their families. As with Artaud and Deleuze & Guattari he also sees the condition as a resistance and reaction to the untenable or contradictory realities imposed by family and society.
The seeming polarity between man and nature, nature and industry for Deleuze & Guattari are null and void, all these elements are interconnected in what they describe as a process of flows of production and consumption.
I’m struck by the image of your walk up Croagh Patrick where you are carrying the rubbish bag. It seems to suggest a number of things for example excess material no longer needed, but which you are unable to dispose of. This motif could perhaps also reference what you describe as a desire to reconcile the different interests and ideas carried in your work or perhaps the resulting detritus of over consumption and insatiable desire. From my point of view I think this looseness in the mesh of ideas and concerns is what makes the work open to the viewer.
Framed within a Marxist-Freudian construct of the world, Deleuze & Guattari describe the body as a ‘desiring machine’ our organs functioning within processes of desire, production and consumption coupled with other ‘desiring machines’. That our bodies and psyches are caught with in this web, that we are subject to forces beyond ourselves, such as the family (a supposedly normative unit) and a functionality determined by one’s ability to be productive and to consume, would suggest an impasse or impossible circumstance for anyone whose desires are at odds with the larger social machine.
Thus from the D&G perspective all ills commence from this locus where the individual, ill at ease within this framework for her being, seeks to disconnect or uncouple herself. Without being explicit in the work I think your interest in Artaud as an artist and schizophrenic would suggest ideas around mysticism and self-healing, where ritual and ritual objects become important in stepping outside reality in order to seek healing and to examine the fractured self.
Your walks both urban and rural, the ritual element of quest and the stick or ritual object involved in this quest suggest a Shamanic notion of the artist as someone in a process of ritual and psychic healing. In Shamanic terms illness is a loss of part of the soul and the Shaman is the interlocutor between the material and spirit world.
Interested to hear your thoughts in response, I have some other observations that have been simmering. I should probably also point out that Deleuze and Guattari were very interested in Artaud and Beckett. They borrowed the term ‘the body without organs’ from Artaud as a description of Schizophrenia.
CB: Hi Monica,
In relation to “the body without organs”, BwO, that was what attracted me to Artaud in the first place. That’s where my interest in Artaud began.
I am aware of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing and read some of their work. I did not go into it too much into it though, as was afraid I would be influenced too much while making the work.
But you have pinpointed very well my interests in their theories. It is difficult to extract and edit what is relevant to the work but it seems very clear the way you have written about it.
In relation to the rubbish bag, it has all the elements that you have so well described. It is also for me a carrier of the essential elements in our lives, a bag of “last resort tricks”, perhaps to help us survive. Also the image of contemporary homeless people, I have seen them carry their belongings in these bags, some could be contemporary Artaud’s. In some hospitals (in Italy anyway as I have witnessed it) if you are taken to the emergency unit, they put your clothes and your belongings in a black rubbish bag. The essential self, private belongings are put in bags where we usually put refuse. That image stayed with me.
Precious, essential/Waste, refuse
I have used it in the video to give that sense of precarious living, a sense of lack of stability.
There is definitely a Shamanic element to it also of course, indeed a bag of tricks, a bag of hope, a bag of weapons.
Hope it makes sense.
Thanking you again,
MF: Your performative walking brings many cultural and artistic references to mind. You mentioned having worked as a tour guide, in a sense tourism is a contemporary quest or pilgrimage. The guide like the Shaman is a mediator, but of culture and landscape. Perhaps you felt ill at ease with this contemporary role which often mediates a cannibalistic engagement with landscape and the culture of ‘the other’.
For example your theft of hotel towels to create something, while a cliché of sorts, could also be perceived as an act of resistance. To steal from the soulless environment of a hotel room and to fashion something of almost magical qualities, your puppet-double, is again a transformative exercise.
This creation of stand-ins and replicas has analogies with religious beliefs and rituals. Your wooden walking stick, you might say, transmigrates into porcelain becoming both natural and man-made and as we discussed works on a number of registers, as talisman, guide, support, weapon of defense and fragment. Your motif of ‘the double’ and ‘the split’, is present on a number of levels in both video and sculptural work; your split screen video showing your walks posits urban against rural and culture versus nature similarly your act of carrying your puppet-double suggests a restorative or reconciliatory task in operation around this split.
You mentioned metamorphosis as a concern in the concepts behind your object-organs e.g. Wound X. These objects have an animated yet abject quality. Their animation is at odds with the preciousness of the marble material you have used causing them to hover uncannily between life and not-life. A physical wound is healed when sutured together but how can we heal a psychic wound, you seem to say? Just as the flesh can be made to knit together can we then have faith that the psyche may also heal itself?
‘What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’.
The scaffold in the Edward Curtis image you sent also has the quality of a mythical creature stalking through the environment carrying away the dead. I did some further research which described Choctaw burial rituals. The dead were left for several weeks on these scaffolds until their flesh had putrefied, a ritual that directly sought the transition from the human to the abject. At this point Elders, whose role involved seeing the dead to the spirit world, would strip the bones of flesh with their long finger nails and burn the flesh and entrails, retaining the bones for communal burial or safe keeping. According to one nineteenth century account only those who had died by their own hand or enemies were excluded from this ritual and buried beneath the ground.
The concept of the outcast brings me back to the idea of individuals as part of a social body and notions of what it is to be human. In his exploration of the history of madness Foucault points out that those mentally at odds with society bear a long precedent of being rejected and confined outside society. During Renaissance times the mad were cast out to wander on the edge of towns or in Germany placed on ships which dispatched them elsewhere. Foucault points out how our language has absorbed the imagery of these practices i.e. ‘the walking wounded’ and ‘the ship of fools’. But he also makes reference to ambiguity between the practice of casting out the mad and a tradition of pilgrimage by those who were considered mad.
Whatever about this ambiguity, historically a spatial delineation has been created between ‘the mad’ and the ‘non-mad’ the sick and the well, the clean and the unclean. Do we fear madness because we cannot bear to acknowledge the possibility of our own dissolution? Who decides who can remain within and who is to be cast out?
There are two specific gazes that you address in your work that of the tourist and medic. During our discussion you spoke about time spent in the College of Surgeon’s and how fascinated you are by the contradictory nature of surgery as an action i.e. the body is wounded so that it can be healed.
The surgeon is in a sense the contemporary Shaman or Witch Doctor, do you think that we perhaps imbue these roles with too much power and thus feel powerless to help ourselves when conventional wisdom fails us? Your table/ platform piece Metanoia I, suggests these tensions between the medical subject and medicine as a discipline. While medicine sometimes distances us from an understanding of our own bodies it seems in this piece that the body is evading medical observation. It has absconded, escaped the sanitised distant medical view, connoted by medical instruments which, cut, tear, probe in a sterile yet violent contact with the body.
Religious symbolism or tropes – heads of the enemy invested with power, the prophet wandering in the desert, asceticism
The therapeutic process: re-experiencing trauma to understand and assimilate the experience and move past the neurosis that a previous trauma has caused. Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ has parallels with this process in that it seeks to throw the audience into another emotional register in order that they experience theatre rather than consume it from the distance.
Thinking about your work tipped me back into revisiting a number of writers and thinkers that I’m interested in. On the topic of walking Rebecca Solnit discusses the notion of wandering and getting lost and the potential of the unplanned journey. This also reminds me of the Situationist dérive and Vito Acconci’s Following Pieces a mapping of space through the act of shadowing another person on the street. The shadow, the double, the doppelganger. There are references to mountain climbers and Arctic explorers experiencing someone travelling with them like a reassuring presence. Shackleton referred to what he called ‘the third man’ in his final journey towards the South Pole, he had only two companions with him.
Sophie Calle, having herself followed to define who she is through another’s observations.
We did discuss a feminist perspective in relation to your earlier work Wound X, which references the vagina dentate. The body which is ultimately and historically ‘other’ the female body, the body to be looked at, probed and understood rather than subject in itself. It strikes me that the references in your work to the female body has further potential. The female body in particular has been subject to the medical gaze. You mention the use of doubles and memisis but also the use of mirrors in the table piece reminds me a little of the Medusa myth, where Medusa whose gaze cannot be met can only be viewed by looking at her in a reflective surface.
It is fitting that your table is surrounded by mirrors the body or metaphorical body can only be viewed through the mirrors. Might this invisible body be the powerful female body which is able to bring life into the world? At various time in history women who were healers were often persecuted as witches. This power to heal was seen as evil and dangerous and its power was subsequently undermined by institutions like the church but also by the growing science of medicine. The tall inaccessible table also suggests the remove that we have from conventional medicine as discipline as rarefied knowledge. There is a contradiction in traditional gender roles which place woman as carer, but in a neutered sense, with the loss of the role as wise woman and healer.
As I’ve been writing this over the last few days I’ve been pacing and writing. It seems that writing and walking are interdependent. There are also some amusing coincidences in the background for me as I approached this dialogue. I’ve been following the course of a friend’s sailing journey online. He is on his way to A Coruna or Camarinas in Galicia and from there by foot on the Camino to Santiago. I’m not sure what he is seeking but I do understand his need for this pilgrimage and hope he finds what he is looking for.
On my desk is a piece of quartz crystal given to me by my Canadian friend Mike. It was given as a temporary gift of protection and will return to him when we meet again. For Mike this quartz shard has magical qualities. He first noticed it in a shop window but driving away could not get it out of his mind and had to return and make it his own.
The first lines from the Kavanagh poem Advent keep surfacing.
‘We have tested and tasted too much, lover
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.’
Cecilia your mirrors refract our gaze and by so doing bring wonder and discovery to the experience of looking. Last night my friend Diana reminded me of the need for poetry and of the staleness in the rational explanation.
 Michael Foucault , Madness and Civilisation, Routledge, London and New York, 1989