Sacred Site/Sight 2016

Exhibition presentation of research for Masters of Fine Art research project -

From the Selfie to The Spiritual: Contemplating Female Self-Representation in the Digital Age 2016

 

Sacred Sight / Site Installation 2016

The work presented here represents part of my 2015-2016 Masters research project 'From the Selfie to the Spiritual: Female Self Representation in a Digital Age' exhibited at Victorian College of The Arts, University of Melbourne in December 2016. 

This work engages with existing research into selfie culture, contemporary self-representation in art and spirituality in art. 

Through my research and subsequent body of work I was seeking to discover the available alternatives for an artist who is interested is self-representation as art whilst operating within a visual culture obsessed with exteriority, object-hood and surface representations of the self.

Through a spatial installation of objects and images reflecting interiority, symbolic narrative and inward focus, I am exploring the potential to express a layered and complex spiritual account of the self from within our commodified, networked and disembodied digital age.

Deploying sculpture, video, light and photographic work, I sought to prompt a re-imagination of female self-representation with my art objects proposing a parallel symbolic relationship between sight and a search for self-understanding.

This connection between seeking and vision is referred to via a range of spiritual and religious references to meditation, pilgrimage, worship, baptism and rebirth and ocular motifs including irises, contact lenses, crystal balls and mirrors.

My studio focus on self-representation draws on symbolic Judeo-Christian frameworks including ritual, baptism, contemplation, transcendence and pilgrimage as tools for re-envisioning a subjective, spiritual and embodied female self.

My interest in religious modes of expression stems from a Catholic formal education during my early childhood and I have always held a deep fascination for the church’s use of symbols, objects and theatricality to translate meaning and create connection.

As a child, I genuinely felt connected to the idea of a spiritual life. However, as I grew up I began to experience Catholicism, and its doctrine as suppressive and burdensome.

Within its teaching I found women only represented by their suffering or their capacity to reflect back the greater stories of men.  Within it I also felt there was no place, no vision and no narrative which I could personally acknowledge, respond or aspire to.

Years later, making a series of artworks around the suppressive bind of female representation in art and culture, I recognized I have held a longstanding interest in challenging restricting frameworks as they apply to me, or other women.

In her article, ‘Torture the Women’[1] Phip Murray reviewed earlier works in my practice in this vein.

In videos like Trying to Be Beautiful While My Hand is Burning (2007), Embellir (2007), Exigence (2008) and The Hanging Head of St Julia (2009), I represented my experience of cultural and psychological restrictions that bind and limit the self through arduous ritualized, actions and bodily constraint. Citing Laura Mulvey,

Murray noted that we should be heading into a new era of representation for women.

‘The alternative (to the torture of women in art) is the thrill that comes from leaving the past behind without rejecting it, transcending outworn or oppressive forms, or daring to break with normal pleasurable expectations in order to conceive a new language of desire.’[2]

As I began my Masters project, I was interested to see if an integrated re-imagination of religious iconography and female self-representation could be complicating and liberating.

Specifically, I wondered if the current preoccupation with ‘selfie’ culture could be rerouted as a spiritual self-seeking to locate new ways of imaging and reflecting on the self.

I am reflecting upon the discoveries made through artworks which reframe and reimagine selfie culture through spiritual motifs and I also consider whether artistic deployments of the spiritual can operate as any form of antidote to culturally dominant surface accounts of the body.

I have created a series of works which speak to a desire to work directly with the mechanisms of the selfie to create images and objects which address underrepresented dimensions of female selfhood such as female genealogy, ritual embodiment and the divine self-image. 

I rely on ocular motifs including pupils, lenses and crystal balls to reconfigure sight to represent an alternative 'interior' vision or knowing.

The material limits of the digital selfie is pushed and tested as I have attempted to realign sight with touch via works which highlight the materiality of the eye.

Constituting a two-year journey of works made in various mediums, the work I am still developing mostly avoids a direct approach to self-representation. Instead, my work, like my subject matter, presents a sometimes elusive search for self, via a series of relics, portals, reflective surfaces and layered or repeated images.

Through images and objects that try to delve into a more subjective account of female selfhood as well as reimagine the selfie as a spiritual tool, I am reclaiming both ritual and sight as tools of female agency and I continue alongside other artists to unveil the complexity and significance of our self-imaging in a digital age.

Ultimately this installation is offered as a site of contemplation.  The work is I hope a gentle invitation for viewers to consider their own complex relation to self, sight and inner worlds.

 

[1] Phip Murray, "Torture the Women," Photofile 1, no. 88 (2010).
[2] Ibid.p 32