Seeing The Self as Immanent and Divine

 Glitter Saint–Me–Icon (2015-16) involved my contemplation of what a contemporary manifestation of female divine representation might look like. 

In her essay How Do We Create Our Beauty French philosopher Luce Irigaray asks us to transform how we see and think to reconstitute a transcendental and universal imagining which is inclusive of women.[1] 

I don't interpret Irigaray as defining a new female aesthetic, nor do I see her advocating creation of essentialist notions.  

Instead, I take from Irigaray the notion that female beauty becomes a potential state of being resulting from rethinking political and cultural discourse.[2]  

One aspect of rethinking this discourse now is contemplation of what divine representation for women might look like.  

Any reconceptualising of the divine and transcendental realms remains rooted in the material. 

This materiality is to counter Western cultural symbolic systems historically constructed from resemblances abstracted from the body rather than expressive of it.[3]

It is a small photographic print that references religious depictions of saints as icons. In the Judeo Christian tradition, icons are traditionally small portraits of sacred figures. 

They are often painted with gold-foil backgrounds and placed at angles throughout medieval places of worship. 

In her essay Love of Self [4] Irigaray compares the icon as a possible statute of representation for women’s self-love, because its expresses the woman’s love of self and a love of her invisible ‘innerness.’[5] 

In the icon, the passage from inside to outside occurs through the insistence of invisible within visibility: the icon irradiates the invisible, and its gaze seems to gaze on the visible from out of the invisible, gaze of the gaze beyond our usual perceptions.[6]

 The image of Glitter Saint–Me–Icon pictures my face/head, lying on grass surrounded by shimmering shards of silver. I look at rest, or perhaps even dead. 

The reflective fragments appear to be pieces of broken mirror, or party glitter from a long night of celebration. 

Some of the glitter covers or ‘blinds’ my left eye whilst also catching the light, reflecting its brilliance back to the viewer.  

My eyes are shut. I exist within myself, indifferent to or unware of the gaze of the viewer.

 The image is a video-still extracted and saved as a single image.  It pictures one frame or a time span of zero-point-two-two parts of a second.  

The presence of a circle around my face is similar to the halo around the heads of holy or sacred figures in religious paintings.  

The halo in Glitter Saint–Me–Icon is both horizontal and vertical depending on the viewpoint of the observer. 

Traditional representation of a halo in religious paintings is vertical and ascending. 

In the frame of this image my halo occupies the ascending top section of the frame but if you view the image from above, the halo hovers horizontally as a ring in front of my face.  

My own inclination to locate a horizontal halo in this work echoes Irigaray’s notion of ‘horizontal transcendence’[7] a description of divinity as earthbound and immanent rather than vertical and hierarchical in its transcendence.

Irigaray’s critique of the Western symbolic system is that it forgets or represses female subjectivity within the symbolic realm,  leaving woman without her own place and representation.[8]  

Women need a horizon, consisting of ideal images, in order for each of us to fulfill ourselves as human beings.[9]  

Horizontal transcendence refers then to possibilities within the self to develop fully and to relate to others in respect of difference. 

What Irigaray is illuminating is the transcendental potential of my flesh to hold within it the condition of being and knowing.[10] 

Immanent (material) and transcendent (immaterial) are no longer considered in opposition but combined and embodied. 

Horizontal transcendence thus exemplifies a critique of binary oppositions and how they are related to the schism in our culture between the masculine and feminine. 

Glitter Saint–Me–Icon speaks to this schism via a self-image which is small, female, finite, material and earthbound. 

Yet every woman as a finite physical being can relate to the infinite. 

This means that being a woman and cultivating this state of horizontal transcendence implies relationship between one’s intimate physical self and the infinite potential of the divine, or what Irigaray also calls, the feminine genre.[11]

 


[1] Irigaray, Je, Tu, Nous : Toward a Culture of Difference.p. 100-105
[2] Robinson, Reading Art, Reading Irigaray: The Politics of Art by Women.p. 152
[3] Luce Irigaray, Sexes and Genealogies (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).
[4] An Ethics of Sexual Difference.p. 59-71
[5] Ibid.p. 70
[6] Ibid.
[7] 'Divine Women', Sexes and Genealogies. p. 55-72
[8] Annemie Halsema, "Luce Irigaray’s Transcendence as Alterity " Culture and Transcendence: A Typology of Transcendence(2012). p. 122
[9] Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One.p.162
[10] Dialogues, vol. 3, Paragraph 25 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002).p. 174
[11] Halsema, "Luce Irigaray’s Transcendence as Alterity ". p. 131