In chapter XI (Courtly love as anamorphosis) of Lacan‘s Seminar VII (The Ethics of Psychoanalysis), Lacan suggests the term “extimacy” (extimité) to talk about the “intimate exteriority” that is at the core of the Thing. The Thing (das Ding) is a concept that Lacan develops from Freud to identify a primordial element that has been lost and that is “out-of-meaning.” In identifying the symbolic order with the unconscious, beyond which he locates the traumatic nucleus of the Thing, Lacan argues that the Thing is “out-of-meaning”, i.e., the Thing is the emptiness that escapes all types of representation. The Thing is an “extimacy,” a type of “intimate exteriority” that we find at the heart of artistic expression and which attempts to regain the spectator’s primary satisfaction. In Lacanian terms, all art starts from emptiness and “organizes itself around an emptiness”, with the purpose of elevating the object to the dignity of the Thing and to meet meanings that are not allowed to fall into the void.
There’s a lot of interesting notions in Lacanian discourses about art, but throughout the years, and particularly due to my studies on authenticity, one question became more pressing, namely: if the subject’s desire is the desire of the Other and if the void is a consequence of the symbolic (language), is there any authentic way of expressing one’s singularities beyond the conditionings posed by language? Can art occupy that space?
Evoking one of the first female psychoanalysts in history, Hélène Deutsch (Some Forms of Emotional Disturbance and their Relationship to Schizophrenia, 1986), Lacan introduces us to the idea of a special type of individuals, which Hélène Deutsch qualifies as the personality as if. According to Deutsch, this type of disorder is characterized by the dominance of a great “affective deficiency” that guides the individual in order to please the Other. The as if personality is also distinguished by the individual’s excellent adaptability to the external environment, a kind of tendency for identification, an exceptional mimetic talent, which highlights the lack of understanding of the subject as being. As Hélène remarks: “[A]ll these relationships are devoid of any trace of warmth, that all the expressions of emotion are formal, that all inner experience is completely excluded. It is like the performance of an actor who is technically well trained but who lacks the necessary spark to make his impersonations true to life.”.
According to this Lacanian notion that our inauthenticities are deeply related to our efforts to satisfy the Other, it is important to note that we all grant the Other’s desire by locating objects, in the real world, to somehow participate in symbolic acts. Fantasy is, in this context, the ultimate screen, for it is through “her” that we navigate in the realm of desire. Somehow, I think this is related to how deeply suspicious I am of everything that lacks originality, for I equate it with inauthenticity, i.e., with as if personalities and as if artworks.
Another thing makes me very suspicious, namely shapes that are just too rapidly seductive to the eye. Sometimes, the harmony of the shapes and the formal symbiosis are not examples of an original symbolic proposal but, instead, of an as if mechanism of representation, without a soul. Joanna Piotrowska‘s project Frowst is the sort of artwork that challenges me to think about these sort of mechanisms of representation and I’ll try to explain why.
Piotrowska’s creations fascinate me. At first glance, she seems to be able to let photography, as a technological mechanism, disappear inside the compositions. These are subtle and contained, as if the objects she chooses to depict (her family members) were found objects, at the same time lost and ready to be found by love. I find gesture, as form, to be at the core of this project, as if these people were only animated by the gesture of another. The lightness of those gestures are then accentuated by a very cleaver use of illumination – one that serves to highlight the contours of these sculptural figures. But is there any truth beyond the strategies of such compositions?
Frowst is about familial relationships, its originality seems to breakthrough as an alternative to the conventional family album. So it’s about encounters and disagreements, trust and disbelief, frustrations and support. It’s about falling into someone else’s arms, about letting go, trusting that love will rise up to the occasion and sustain the unsustainable. However, if I had to suggest a core theme to this project, I would say: intimacy. As a matter of fact, I think it is precisely through the notion of intimacy that the morphological aspects of these photographs ultimately succeed, revealing the shapes and textures of intimacy.
In my favourite dictionary (thesaurus), intimate appears in relation to interior, internal and intrinsic. So, in that context, what is intimate is described as the superlative of what is internal (internal being “what is profoundly hidden and enclosed inside the thing”), as something that is as profound as possible and also very connected, contrary to what is transient. To this the authors add that the word intimate is a “polite and affectionate word” that we apply to “the things we want to endear from the bottom of our hearts, in our innermost souls”.
Thinking about Lacan’s “extimacy” and Piotrowska’s representation of the intimate, what I would like to suggest is that if these photographs succeed in reveling some sort of intrinsic human condition is because they manage to represent that hidden world in a profoundly intimate and, thus, original way, as something that starts from void, that is out of meaning and creates its own fluxus of experiences.