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The shadow of her gaze

A summary of ideas central to my arts practice. It is a distillation of key concepts from my research that physically manifest themselves in what I make as opposed to being abstract, pure, research issues.
by

Claire Manning

on 18 October 2013

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Transcript of The shadow of her gaze

In the shadow of her gaze
Embedded at the centre of my practice is a fascination with the gaze.
I’m interested in what happens when I look; in the difference between what I gaze at and what I actually see, arguably something concerned with the tension between fantasy and reality.
It has been
Photographic real
Photographs offer a sense of the event they portray in such a way that one is able to forge a specific connection that feels rooted in this photographic ‘real’. However, the experience is disappointing in that one cannot inhabit the originating event and take part in it or experience what it felt like to be there. Despite these frustrations, the photograph creates a link; a vestige, a trace, of documentary weight rooted in history.
Indexical pointer
My constructions reveal slices of the female face, an eye here, a mouth there. They are slivers of contradictory reality; a representational sign embodying a performative gesture that points to the event of their own inscription, documenting an instant where subject, photographer and camera met in the same place to trap a causal pictorial reality, revealing of a real where ‘objects have reached out and touched the surface of a photograph, leaving their own traces’, ‘proof of that thing’s being, even if not of its truth’. (1)
A temporal link is forged
If the original photograph is included in a collage, the connection between the event depicted and what is made is strengthened, positioning the original image in the territory of memento mori or talisman. However, digital montage creates a distancing that displaces the photo from the real to the virtual world, eroding the strength of the connection to the original event, shifting focus to form and concept.
Including the original
If the original photograph is included in a collage, the connection between the event depicted and what is made is strengthened, positioning the original image in the territory of memento mori or talisman. However, digital montage creates a distancing that displaces the photo from the real to the virtual world, eroding the strength of the connection to the original event, shifting focus to form and concept.
Desire
I am attracted to particular photographs, seduced by the hint of defiance and resistance in the glint of an eye or angle of body. The image pulls me in so I cannot look away; attracted by the ‘cloud of possibility’ it offers that I might otherwise name desire.(2) It visits as an impact from outside but makes me feel as if it comes from within.(3)
Fantasy's drive
Things we desire such as the photograph that attracts, offer a shaky anchor that seems capable of propping up my world in some way.(4) However, the instant I acknowledge my desire, the object ‘bobs and weaves, becomes unstable, mysterious, and recalcitrant, seeming more like a fantasy than the palpable object’ it seemed when I very first laid eyes on it.(5) I’m propelled by ‘a drive that moves beyond its objects, always operating with them and in excess to them’ with the intention both to ‘preserve and destroy them’.(6)
The nature of the gaze
The mature gaze
The mature gaze has allowed entry of the Other into my world; what I think and say about the image before me is no longer purely confined to my own thoughts but resonates with the words and values of human society, colouring my experience and giving cultural conventions, rules, current concepts, and psychological pressures the space to speak.(10) (11)
(10) Lacan, p. 447.
(11) Lionel Bailey, 'Lacan: A Beginners Guide', (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009), p. 66.
What an image promises never lives up to what it actually delivers, transmuting everything I desire into a lure -- a promise -- that only ever ends in lack.(12) (13) A photograph operates as talisman to ward off loss or death but it also cuts off what is depicted from its context in space and time, visually consuming some aspect of the original event. My gaze oscillates ‘between voyeurism and narcissism: between a gaze that seeks to control what I see and identification with that object’.(14) Initially what I see gives me pleasure but it is quickly frustrated as I cannot access the reality it represents, leaving me oscillating between desire and disassociation with what’s before me.(15)
(12) Lacan, pp. 606-607.
(13) Lacan, p. 388.
(14) Sabine Kriebel, ‘Theories of Photography; a Short History’, in 'Photographic Theory', by James Elkins, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2007), p. 32.
(15) Kriebel, pp. 32-33.
We live in ‘a culture governed by the invisible but many-legged tarantula of patriarchal law’.(16) So, inevitably, when I look, I see with a gaze that inadvertently perpetuates a masculine orientated power perspective.(17) If I look at Hutin Britton n.01 from the feminine perspective, I am drawn to the large, clear eyes and firm youthful skin, both perfect, passive, dependent signs of the ideal woman; woman as sexuality. I identify with and aspire to this image of woman as perfection which, if I achieve it, offers me the ‘passport to visibility in a male-dominated world’.(18) (19)
(16) Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, The Newly Born Woman, trans. Betsey Wing, (Minneapolis: the University of Minnesota, 1986 [La Jeune Née, Paris: Union Générale d'Editions, 1975]), p. xii.
(17) Mulvey, Laura, Visual and Other Pleasures, 2nd edn., (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009 [1st edn. 1989]),, p. 19.
(18) Mignon Nixon, ‘You Thrive on Mistaken Identity’, October, 60 (1992), pp. 59-81.
(19) Mulvey, p. 57.
Alternatively, if I consider Hutin Britton n.01 from the masculine perspective, I want reassurance of my own innate power and self-idealism through the promise of possession of womanly perfection it offers. Superficially, my desires are met as the source material is rooted in the passive perfection of filmic stills and fashion magazines. However, because the female face does remain intact, possession of womanly perfection is blocked, denying pleasure, and transmuting the experience of viewing into one of castration and anxiety. (20)
The nature of the gaze
The gaze is not something that fixed. It is comprised of components that constantly shift and re-align, akin to ‘some great conjuncture of planets’ where ‘artist, story, narrator, character all line up together’.(21) Not one true gaze, but a thing with multiple possibilities.
(21) Norman Bryson, ‘Introduction: Art and Intersubjectivity’, in 'Looking in: the Art of Viewing', by Mieke Bal, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2001), p. 14.
Fractured Fragments
It 'is strange how the passage of time turns every work – and so every man – into fragments. Nothing whole survives – just as a recollection is never anything more than debris, and only becomes sharper through false memories’.(22) The fragment -- the ruin -- is the ultimate fate of every undertaking, no matter how monumental it appears at its inception. However, such detritus also holds the promise of enlightenment, change, and self-learning, capable of infinite variation and adaptability to new usages, revealing possibilities previously hidden from our gaze.

Fragments; both tragedy and promise.
Collage relies on the fragment. The action of fragmenting can be interpreted as an act of violence:

I cut
I reduce things to bits and pieces
choice bits and nasty pieces
I dismember
I split up(23)

Or it can be seen as a gesture of healing.
Collage creates an inherent dynamism through the tension between its individual elements. It has a physical materiality in terms of cut edges, distinct parts, assemblage, and hierarchical arrangements. It also has a tendency to appear undone as if the work may collapse at any moment into its constituent parts, embracing the unique qualities each material offers rather than subsuming them into the synthesised, somewhat mutant whole of digital montage.
Rules determine how I manipulate the images I choose and these rules are rooted in my research into the gaze, and focused on locating the essence of the energy that attracted me to the image in the first place. Within this, the interventions I make to each picture are as minimal and simple as possible, retaining the honesty to form and spirit of the original source images. I cut my images to emphasise features or angle of the body. They are simple interventions -- often single -- reliant on crops, cuts, tears and pinning loosely in place. There is simplicity and irreverence to them but they are also gestures where self-assuredness is required in terms of the way the materials will handle and in my own abilities to manipulate them.
However, the rules I choose to apply can only take me so far. At a certain point each breaks free of such structure, propelled by my desire to trap a visceral real; the sensory beauty, and the inherent dynamic energy of the now of making. A quest for spatial awareness is also apparent in the introduction of other materials such as glass, metal, and different spatial planes into the work and in terms of the relationship created with the exhibition space that the positioning of each piece delivers. This reflects the desire to locate the body in time, space, and place that I might know it (and, by extension, myself) more thoroughly.
This installation is a quieter space of contemplation in which to play out my concerns.
Claire Manning
'In the Shadow of Her Gaze n.01'
2013
However, this second installation in the series, with its metal staffs and their implied alternative usages as a weapon of defence or attack, or a symbol of hierarchy within society, delivers a manifestation surrounded by an aura of subtle violence.
Claire Manning
'In the Shadow of Her Gaze n.02'
2013
What results in what I make is other -- true to the original but never predictable -- something with its own unique identity, revealing and creating an inner truth of its own.
Image © Claire Manning
(20) Nixon, pp. 59-81.
I appropriate photographs taken by others, forging a link between what’s depicted and the new use they’re put to. The primary image is from the 1930’s or earlier, detached from its original purpose and owner, and paired with a twin sourced from a contemporary fashion magazine.
(1) Geoffrey Batchen, 'Burning with Desire: the Conception of Photography', (USA: MIT Press, 1999), pp. 212-3.
(2) Lauren Berlant, 'Desire / Love', (New York: Dead Letter Office, 2012), p. 6.
(3) Berlant, p. 6.

(4) Berlant, p. 6.
(5) Berlant, p. 18.
(6) Berlant, pp. 19-20
Objects of desire exist in a state of attachment in ‘a relation of repetition to another scene’.(7) As Jorge Luis Borges expresses it:

'Every act (and every thought) is the echo of others that preceded it in the past, with no visible beginning, or the faithful presage of others that in the future will repeat it to a vertiginous degree. There is nothing that is not as lost in a maze of indefatigable mirrors. Nothing can happen only once, nothing is preciously precarious.'(8)
(7) Berlant, p. 20.
(8) Jorge Luis Borges, 'Labyrinths', trans. various, (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1970 [1st published as part of various volumes, Argentina: Buenos Aires, 1956-1960]), p. 146.
Superficially, the gaze is an optical experience. However, perhaps it’s more a state of mind in the particular instant of viewing, not fixed but, rather, something that changes according to circumstance
As an example, if I view this collage of Hutin Britton from a primal position of simplicity, my gaze judges form, shape and materiality so I’m drawn to patterns of lines, and variations in tone and colour. However, if I look with a mature gaze, from an Ideal-I perspective she appears perfect -- just what I desire -- but she is enveloped by an aura of falsity.(9) Certainly, considered from the point-of-view of Real-I, all that the image can offer is a harsh truth of inadequacy and lack.
Claire Manning, 'Hutin Britton n.01', 2013
(9) Jacques Lacan, 'Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English', trans. by Bruce Fink, (London and New York: Norton and Company, 2006 [Ecrits, Paris: Seuil, 1966]), p. 55.
(22) Roland Barthes, 'The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the College de France, 1978-1979 and 1979-1980', trans. Kate Briggs, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011 [La préparation du roman. I et II, Cours et séminaires au Collège de France, 1978-1979 et 1979-1980, France?: Editions du Seuil, 2003]), p.191.
(23) Messager, Annette, 'Annette Messager: Les Messagers', trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods, (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2007)., pp. 314-315.
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