Considering the feedback at the intensive and in subsequent meetings with supervisors was valuable in revealing the perceived allure of the shroud and predicament surrounding my painted or stitched contributions to the works. Painting has cultural baggage and it contrasts dramatically with the ineffable quality of the decomposition print. My main research question concerns representation and the meaning it brings to a painting. Aware that mimesis is a system of representation that constructs the world rather than reflecting the world as it is (Sturken and Cartwright 2001 Practices of Looking) I developed the shroud process finding the world constructed by mimesis, reflected in the meaning decoded by the spectator, disagreeable. In the generative process of writing about practice I found that some meaning encoded in process by a painter is also ineffable even when clear intentions drive decisions. What role do memories or moments of decoding by the artist during process, play in the encoding of an image? Materials encode meaning, as does the labour of the artist, whether process centres on observational, imagined or technically mediated constructions of the image. The feedback at the intensive centred on the tensions between what the critical spectators found easy or difficult to decode. Preference was for the shroud image for its ambiguity or ability to elude decoding. This was compromised or at least mediated when I reintroduced the silhouette of the body prior to decomposition (which often disintegrates the boundary of its form). The silhouette gives agency to the painter, allowing them to encode or direct meaning. The ochre is obvious, its pigments strong and application graphic, which distracted spectators impeding on their desire to engage with the indistinct other, the animal subject. Is the animal shroud, so lacking in cultural baggage, able to therefore escape anthropogenic meaning? Offering, instead, a message from outside the ‘human’ construct? We have a visceral bond with the shroud as bodies, living matter that will die and decompose. How much should I read into this? To begin engaging in a political dialogue about animal/human relations operates (as Erica Fudge illuminated in Brutal Reasoning 2006) by turning the animal into a conceptual framework with which humans can again become the subject. This endless narcissism responsible for the construction of the ‘human’ and the ‘other’ appears to be culturally specific.
Spectatorship and “the role of the psyche – particularly the unconscious, desire and fantasy – in the practice of looking” (Sturken and Cartwright) and Lacan’s culturally constructed ‘subject’ draws on the mirror phase of a child’s development to validate it and the formation of ideology through representation. The emphasis is on a physically disempowered infant in that moment when intellectual development occurs in a body restricted by underdeveloped motor skills. The perception of being a separate entity is said to occur through a process of looking at other bodies while becoming aware of being within a body. This instils a power relation between self and other mediated by a desire to control ones own body, which is projected onto the ‘image’ of other bodies moving around them. This developmental moment was likened by film theorists Baudry and Metz, to the viewer in the theatre environment, dominated as it is by the passivity of the body and overpowering size of the image. What is evident to me about this theory is how culturally specific it is. Infants in settled cultures actually extend this moment of apparent disempowerment by allowing their infants to remain physically dependant for longer. Placed in a crib or pram there is no encouragement to move and stimulation is limited, in fact the entry of the carer into the infants line of vision must create excitement and fixation. In contrast, the necessity of mobile communities to walk and find or catch food and make shelter results in parenting techniques which speed motor development, such as not supporting the head of a newborn and leaving the child lying on the ground often outdoors unrestricted amidst the activities of siblings and extended family, resulting in rapid motor development.