Persona’s central subject of analysis is the Self. Questions such as Who am I or Where do I belong have exponentially become of vital importance for late modern individuals and collectives. Notions such as self and identity, once unquestioned and safely maintained by tradition, have undertook an irreversible process of transformation that responds to the changes brought by processes of globalisation. In this unprecedented situation, the Self is struggling to find a new vantage point from which to reposition itself in a radically different and increasingly complex world.
The three artists presented in Persona investigate notions of self, other and identity. They explore it in a variety of ways but, to some extent, they all agree on the fundamentally plural, fragmented, fragile and incomplete nature of such constructions. They enquire about the psychological mechanisms deployed to conform a coherent image of the Self and the way it is articulated in such a constrained environment like the social arena.
Tom Gidley’s ground floor installation includes painting and ceramics. In his practice both mediums are in continuous dialogue, constantly implementing and replicating each other. One might think that his work aims for perfect synchrony but the opposite is true. His work relies on notions of fragmentation and struggle; beneath the surface of his apparently controlled artworks lie the fragile nature of human existence. Figurative and abstract pieces coexist in formal and conceptual dialogue creating very localized points of tension. The spatial arrangement of the works increases that feeling and lays the ground to formulate multiple associations.
Tom Gidley understands identity as a fragile and fragmented psychological construction, a concept he translates into his work as psychological landscapes. Sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that in late modern times the Self has become a self-reflexive project whose ultimate goal is to create a coherent image of itself. He continues by saying that modern individuals are asked to sustain a coherent, yet continuously revised, biographical narrative in order to create a fictitious sense of unity. However fragile and utterly fragmented this image might be, it is the only way to position one self in the vast spectrum of social life. This is probably the reason why Tom Gidley intertwines different elements in his practice, meticulously arranged yet always in fragile equilibrium. There is an analogy here, just as identities are in a constant process of becoming, Tom Gidley’s paintings and ceramics reciprocate each other ad infinitum.
Korean-born artist Go-Eun Im’s practice is characterised by an on-going and continuous effort to reflect on notions of self and other. She overtly deconstructs such concepts establishing dialectical relationships between them sin order to enquire about their nature. This revisited version of Take a Picture, 2004 tackles issues around notions of representation and perception of images. Drawing from Jacques Lacan, the artist makes reference to the Mirror Stage theory when an infant first acknowledges its unified image in front of a mirror. For Lacan, the split between subject-object is of central importance for the future development of the self and Go-Eun’s reenacts such milestone experience to investigate herself and others. By taking a picture of herself she feels compelled to ask if what is represented in that image is her subject-I or her ego. She explores the way images are processed and how perception is subject to filtering and distortion. In a wider scope, Go-Eun is also interested in the blurred boundaries between self/other and the reciprocal relations that exist between these two notions. She is aware of this and recognises a trans-personal dimension in her practice. Go-Eun herself argues, ‘I who was taking the picture was engraved in eyes of the other – the twinkling of my embarrassment which was hers’.
‘Because the outside world has changed’, 2014 takes as a point of departure the institutional transition of the former Filmmuseum in Amsterdam. This work-in-progress, made in collaboration between Go-Eun Im and Bosnian artist Igor Sevcuk, introduces the concept of acculturation. Drawing from a passage of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel ‘Timequake’, the artists stress how socio-political and cultural systems not only structure social life but are also deeply embedded on a psychological level forming a set of frameworks that establish accepted ways of doing. It is precisely in these moments of transition, or processes of acculturation, that previously accepted forms of behaviour cease to be valid and very specific kinds of social anxiety, such as social embarrassment, arise. As a result society in its widest sense, not only provides material comfort, patterns of conduct and ontological security but also defines in space and time, the very notion of self. ‘Because the outside world has changed’ also includes work by Igor Sevcuk that on a more formal and dialogical level investigate possibilities between different media.
Harald den Breejen showcases John, 2013, a site-specific installation that comes as a result of a two year period of work in which the artist painstakingly collected over two hundred books with the name John on it and put together, page by page, a newly formed story. Here, John acts as a metaphor that subtly points to our incapability to fully grasp reality. John remains elusive, only accessible to the audience in a partial manner through the leafing of the books used to create this kaleidoscopic version of John. Each page with John’s name on it becomes a fortuitous encounter with the character which gives the audience a chance to create their own image of John. What is really captivating about this work is that it not only gives away with traditional linear narrative, which makes the work accessible in unpredictable ways, but also indicates that one’s identity is not just a private affair. Indeed, it is only through intermittent social interaction that one is able to piece together and construct a coherent image of other people. The point here is that such a coherent image of other people will always be as fragmented, as incomplete and as open to renegotiation as one’s own identity.
Den Breejen’s A Passing Resemblance, 2014 sets the Self in motion. Taking the now obsolete geocentric model of the universe as a point of departure, he suggests that our personal understanding of the external world does not come from a single fixed perspective but from multiple perspectives which constantly shift in time and space. Harald den Breejen places the idea of transition at the core of our lived experiences and forces us to engage with reality in a pro-active way. For him, both reality and the Self are highly complex entities in perpetual motion that are constantly interacting and transforming each other. In A Passing Resemblance, Den Breejen offers a series of images that suggest how their subject might look if we believed that the table and players were moving side to side, while it remained still. We might recognize the ping-pong balls straight away, but we do so only by yielding to the work’s subtle demand for conceptual repositioning..