The Architectonics of Identity Construction

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“I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares).” - Roland Barthes

I have been chasing my identity as if I were chasing my tail and this chase has become an ongoing race between myself and who I think I am. Like many artists, I explore who I am through surface appearance, inner context, or self reflection of the past (and the present). It has occurred to me that I never explore the future of my identity and seems not to be something that percolates to the surface in my art making. I turn to Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin to explore the self in relationship to identity and its constructs through using architectonics to create a model of identity.  Bakhtin theorized that identity can be made up of three parts that were dependent on the use of internal and external language. I would like to approach a selection of self portraits as seen through the lens of the architectonics of identity construction.

For reader/viewer understanding I would first like to include what I have written in my journal when these images were first created: My self portraits have become more intense.  This is the third or maybe fourth self portrait image during the year 2011 that I have produced.  All these images utilize extrusive time.  This is part of the depictive level as described by Stephen Shore where motion represents movement in time shown through use of slow shutter speeds.  In these images my face is concealed by a masking or shrouded, the images have the commonality of concealing some part of the facial identity through use of motion blurring techniques.  There has been a stark duality between my outer self and my inner self that I do not always recognize.   What this self portrait depicts is a ghost of myself.  

Bakhtin lists three metaphors as the construction that makes up the architecture of identity. These include the center, the not-center, and the relationship between the two. The center is not to be mistaken for the core of the identity described as our bodies and possibly their defining features and all that our bodies demand. Bodies have basic needs and they have specific abilities and disabilities to each one. My self portraits typically hide the surface features of the body and thus conceals the first element of identity construction. But does it?  We can tell that the figure is likely slender through the implied definition of bodily features. We can also tell that the figure is not smiling although the face is concealed. There is some definition of basic facial features and skeletal identity. The center however is more complex than just basic surface features of human identity as it is a shapeshifter and only caters to the desires of the center. The center desires to hide and it has been hidden with the protection of an ominous image that creates a wall around the vulnerable center.

The second metaphor for identity construction is the not-center. The not-center includes all that is surrounding you in the world of society, culture, and media. This could consist of important characters or relationships in your life, what you enjoy, your profession your cultural influences, and essentially the world that you and I live in. I have depict myself stripped of my not-center through lack of or generic clothing, unidentifiable environments, and there are no other characters to create visual relationships to. It could be said that a loss of not-center had occurred. Of course everyday, we are surrounded by the elements in our universe that define who we are. I am still a college photography professor, I still drive a Volkswagen, and I still still live in Colorado. All of these define the not-center. Because the not-center is centripetal, all of these things that make up the day to day thrust the not-center in flux with the intensity of interest and internal or external influences.  The not-center elements are suspended in a void in certain imagery where it cannot be displayed; but do not be fooled into thinking it is not present. These images do not depict a reality, but like Frida Kahlo, they depict something similar to a magical realism because I am and you are not a ghost living in a void but allowing the heteroglossia or the inner dialogue to have a voice within artwork to speak for itself. For myself, my artistic and aesthetic influences dictate the stark and ghostly visual language in my visual and written work. 

The last construct of identity is the relationship between the center and the not-center. It is my understanding that this relationship is determined by the use of the same language of the various visual tones and implications that can be interpreted. Many people may look at self-portrait images - and although recognize the ghostly visual language that is being presented - but yet not feel the personal impact of these pieces of art meant by the artist. Without background information the relationship between the center and not-center cannot be fully related to the viewer. Without such information the viewer could read a variety of meanings based on their own cultural and life experience. From the perspective of the artist, the relationship between the center and not-center is the battle between the two as the center’s desire to create a protective wall with the ghastly appearance while tearing down the not-center’s characteristics that defines the subject in the such photographs. Their relationship is at odds.

In conclusion, deconstructing self-portraiture was a study in releasing the monophony of a very loud heteroglossia. With that, it was also meant to provide a voice to unspeakable things. Although some might find this method of understanding ones identity as melodramatic or theatrical, it is still a very real part of learning about who the artist is.