Monday, 21 May 2012

What does Lacan mean by the ‘Mirror Stage’. How does Mulvey use Lacan’s theory in her critique of film?

In order to describe what Lacan means by the term ‘mirror image’ it is essential to identify the key components of the theory, which Lacan illustrates as one of his four fundamental concepts of psycho-analysis. Throughout the text, Lacan explores the ideas of, physical reflection as wholeness, misrecognition, nature, the human being and reality, a fragmented body and ultimately the formation of the ego. Through analysing each of these components of the mirror stage, it will provide a notion of how the mirror stage theory is a key component of psychoanalysis.  Lacan was a fundamental influence on contemporary critical theory, namely film theory. By outlining the components of Lacan’s mirror stage, it will provide a point of comparison to how Mulvey uses the theory in her critique of film, and the psychological workings of the film viewer.

It is interesting to note that Lacan was interested in the surreal ideal and was good friends with surrealist artists of the time when this paper was presented at the international congress of psychoanalysis 1949. It was a particular painting of Salvador Dali’s that caught Lacan’s attention, and consequently gave him the inspiration for the proposal of the mirror image theory. The painting is called Metamorphosis of Narcissus. By looking at the painting we can see why he may have proposed the theory, two similar figures, represented as if they were each a mirror image, but with imperfections and obvious differences which describe the notion of the wholeness and fragmentation.  Lacan explains the notion of the ‘mirror stage’ in his first paragraph of the text; he describes it as “the formation of the ‘I’ as we experience it in psychoanalysis”.  Lacan mentions that the stage occurs in children between the ages of six and eighteen months. During this period, an infant is able to recognise itself as an ontological being in a mirror and distinguish itself from the reflection and not looking at anyone else. By identifying with its own reflection, a sense of self or ‘I’ is formed. Thus process ultimately forms the self conscious mind, which is essential to Lacan’s theory later when describing ones creation of the ideal self, otherwise known as ‘ego’.  Lacan states “we only have to understand the mirror stage as identification...the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image...” this suggests that the creation of the ego is primarily the result of identification in the subject. Homeomorphic identification, which is the identification with one’s self, the same person. This is interesting because when an infant is six months old, it still lacks informed coordination; an ability to make conscious movements on their own, but they are able to identify with their reflection as themselves and know that it is not anybody else, but that other people exist that are physically different; Heteromorphic identification. This then brings in the idea of the reflection as a visual identity being perceived as fantasy ‘wholeness’ in relation to the realistic ‘fragmentation’. This suggests that from the beginning, the subject strives for mastery but will never be achieved; the image in the mirror looks better than his actual self and seems more ‘perfect’ and idealised. This creates a conflict, between the infant and its reflection which introduced the notion of beauty and the ‘ego’. Because the infant is not in control of coordination, the “wholeness” of the image becomes fragmented, creating rivalry between the infant and the image of itself.  Lacan describes the function of the mirror stage is to “establish a relation between the organism and its reality--or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt”. This means that the inner self is able to connect with its outside world, more like a reality within its environment. This idea also coincides with the idea of heteromorphic beauty, that in the subject’s environment, it sees beauty in other things that characterise within themselves or their physical exterior. This may be why people strive to adapt themselves to other people’s characteristics, in order to ‘boost’ their own ego and move closer towards their idealised image of themselves. This is obviously fictional and will never happen; it is about the subject being able to face up to reality and being truthful to it. Lacan describes the role of the mirror image as being derived from human nature and other animals.

Now that Lacan’s Mirror image theory has been described, we can now outline how Mulvey has incorporated this theory into her critique of film and how it relates to the film viewer. Mulvey describes one of the main concepts of Lacan’s theory which is the idea of the screen of which the film is showing becomes a mirror metaphorically. The person who is sitting watching the film identifies with a character on the screen, creating a rivalry between the subject and what they see in front of them, again reiterating the idea of a fragmented body, which will never be ‘whole’. Mulvey uses the idea of complete alienation of the subject’s feelings, because of the cinemas influence upon the subject to strive for a certain look, mainly a Hollywood movie star. This idea also coincides with the idea that the persons view is isolated; it is only the subject seeing the film, therefore the one desired image. The image being a handsome Hollywood film star, usually considered to be closest to the subjects ideal image of themselves and the nearest thing to a perfect image. So why do we continuously attend cinemas when we know we will never reach our own idealistic image as we see ‘mirrored’ at the cinema? Mulvey explains this using Lacan’s concept of animal morphological mimicry. Lacan states “animals seek to replicate features of their environment, not because it serves as camouflage against predators (it doesn't) but because the development of a notion of self is tied to the mastery of one's physical space”. Mulvey conveys this idea using a slightly different approach. The subject is already in rivalry with its self image which it reflects, in comparison to its inner self, but by going to the cinema, they are building a relationship with the ideal image...Subconsciously bringing the image closer to their ideal Hollywood image. But in reality, this brings false hope to the subject, creating an ongoing strive that will never be fulfilled, commonly known as the ego which is constantly trying to be ‘inflated’. Mulvey uses Lacan’s concept of the “I”, when discussing the role of women actresses in film and the notion as the ‘woman as an image’. Mulvey describes women as being in a “traditional exhibitionist role” and that they are traditionally looked at and displayed.  This suggests that women have two main functions in a film one of which relates to Lacan’s ideology. She is an erotic object for the characters within the screen and in the storyline. Secondly, adhering more to Lacan’s theory, is that she is an erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium. She then goes on to say with a “shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen”; again this applies to Lacan’s idea of the mirror image and the constant strive for ego enhancement in the sense of the spectators view.  An example we could use, is seeing this idea in a male perspective. The two functions of the woman in the film become unified to the male spectator, in the sense that the male viewer can identify with the male character in the film. The role of the man in the film in his heroic character transforms the woman into a spectacle, thus for a moment creating a highly sexualised moment “outside its own time and space”. Maybe creating a sense of wholeness within the male spectator, but in reality this image is already fragmented and will always be so. The notion of the male viewer identifying with another male is Lacan’s idea of heteromorphic identification. Mulvey mentions that the “cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking” a fascination with likeness and recognition with outer body parts and the relationship between them and its environment. This relays Lacan’s mirror stage theory, at the stage when a child for the first time recognises its own image in the mirror, which is crucial for the creation of its ego. A major concept of this is that the ego then imitates misrecognition, the stage when once the ideal ego image has been formed; the real reflected image is the source of alienation for the subject.

In conclusion we can see a significant amount of Lacanian mirror image ideology in Mulveys’ critique of film. Although Mulvey seems to emphasise relationship with one’s self during the mirror stage, she uses this concept as her main focus point throughout her critique. With Lacan’s key concepts on his mirror image theory discussed, it becomes apparent how Mulvey has incorporated his ideas. For example, her notion of the screen being the mirror, which in Lacan’s theory would be the reflection of the subject or infant. The idea of the ‘whole’ and ‘fragmented’ body also appears in Mulvey’s critique. The idea of the film being a tool in which spectators battle their own ego and constantly ponder with their own view of their self image the ‘I’ the reality image and the false inner image that is striven for in ones life. “Innenwelt and the Umwelt” is the term Lacan uses to describe this. The idea of the role of an actress in films also uses ideology from Lacan’s theory, and how the spectator reacts to the erotic significance of the actress whilst a relationship is formed with the male character in the film. Thus creating an idea of heteromorphic identification and its interaction with the battle with ones ego. Homeomorphic identification on the other hand, is the subject’s identification with its self, when for the first time sees its reflection and identifies the image as “me”. As we can see Mulvey uses Lacan’s image quite extensively in order to describe the relationship between psychology and film.


J. Lacan. ‘The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience’ 1977, Ecrites: A selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Routledge, 1977) 1-7.
L. Mulvey, ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, screen 16.3 (autumn 1975) 6-18. 

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The David’s of Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo.

How did materials, sculptural traditions and political contexts shape each artists work? To what extent did the positioning of sculptures affect their meanings and even allow them to be appropriated? What particular challenges did the figure of David offer sculptures and what accounts for their different responses to them?

When we think of the most famous statue in the world, we are most likely to recall the figure of David. Large figure sculpture was an important element in renaissance art and played a key role in the growth of artistic culture in renaissance Florence. However, with three different artists having sculpted three different variations of David, it is interesting as to why within the renaissance period; they would result in being so visually contrasting. Here I will be answering the question as to why the three artists, Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo, created such different perceptions of David, and what was it that may have encouraged these differences.  Looking at the sculptures from an artistic viewpoint, I will be questioning how materials, sculptural traditions within Florence, and the positioning of the sculptures may have given rise to challenges for the artists, and what it was that created the differentiation between the three of them. Moreover, I shall be analysing the political situations of renaissance Florence, what were people’s reactions to the statues and how this may have affected the artist’s choices as well as the end products.
Firstly, it is important to consider the importance of large figure sculpture in renaissance Florence and how the ideas for these sculptures emerged.  The substantial use of sculpture throughout Florence is a result of artistic tradition throughout the culture movement; the renaissance.  The Medici family, who was granted the greater part of European commerce for their success in new business methods, after Florence’s economy had been severely hit by the Black death of 1348[1], donated a large portion of their profit to public projects, most importantly towards improvement of the arts.  The seven guilds were created to run Florence, they consisted of the trades and professions considered most important, all having a strong social and political standing.  So how was sculpture used by patrons in this sense? Sculpture was commissioned largely by the guilds and political parties, which would accompany and aesthetically maintain the architecture of city. This leads us onto why the three statues of David were commissioned, why they were so important to Florence and finally how the artist’s executions of the three different pieces differ with reference to materials, sculptural traditions and political context. 

In order to make comparisons, we must look at each piece of work carefully in chronological order and in correspondence to its artist and their methods. Why a sculpture of David in renaissance Florence? David represented the Florentine republic. Donatello’s bronzed David was the first to be sculpted, with work starting in the 1430s when the piece was commissioned by wealthy patron Cosimo De Medici, ending in the 1460s ready to be installed in the court of the Palazzo Medici. Donatello had been known as being a sculptor of marble, but once he had become established, he started working in bronze which applies a different method than the subtraction of marble; bronze is a modelling type of material. The piece is made from a technique known as bronze casting which in renaissance time needed much equipment, expertise and money. It has been noted that it was the first artistic piece in which catalysed the emergence of renaissance art in Italy. So how did Donatello execute this commission artistically speaking? The key idea surrounding this piece is heroism. Donatello created the David in a true renaissance style of triumph, pride and elegance. As we know and see in David’s numerous depictions, he was to kill Goliath the giant using a sling and stone. In this particular statue, Donatello created the moment after the killing had taken place. It is interesting that the story suggests such masculinity and strength, but when we look at the statue we can’t help but feel a sense of ambiguity towards its representation. This notion is reinforced in the way that the young David is shown in a feminine cotrapposto, predominant S curved pose, whilst the contrast is created by David holding goliaths sword, creating an aura of physicality. In sculptural tradition, a statue as ambiguous and flamboyant as this had not been seen before. After all Donatello’s David is considered the statue in Florence, which created much controversy for the following political reasons. During the renaissance period, at least at the beginning, homosexuality was illegal and therefore considered a crime. So why did the statue create such controversy in regards to political context and previous classical tradition? Visually, the statue is flamboyant, stylistic, and rather decoratively accessorized; all attributes which were considered being reflective of an effeminate statue, it was open to question therefore the sexuality of Donatello its creator.  The statue is smooth, sleek and slender promoting a rather feminine feel towards it. David is also wearing an elaborately designed hat covering his long wavy hair which could well be a shepherd boy hat, as the bible describes David as a simple shepherd boy; along with knee high boots. Whether it was a conscious decision of Donatello’s to make the piece so feminine, or whether he was overtaken with the idea of creating something so decorative and elaborate that the end result was in case rather ambiguous, is an interesting question to raise when at a time of such political values were put in place. The piece accentuates a female anatomical pose with its positioning otherwise known as lordosis, which provides a tilt to the pelvis and creates a groove in the lower back creating a larger accumulation of fat around the abdomen; also his legs are much wider than those of a male nude. The piece reminds us of the womanly hourglass shape, created by accentuating the hips and pelvis. The inclusion of the hat, boots and sword seem to accentuate the nakedness of the statue, as well as the heroism and youth of David. Bearing this in mind, the statues nakedness and exposition of the genital area was indeed also seen as controversial as no one had seen an artwork including a naked man since the times of classical antiquity, maybe this was the breakthrough, a chance to rebel against tradition; which is what this statue and in essence what the renaissance provided. It is as if this statue was in rivalry with the antiques.  There is enough evidence from antiquity that this David was made as an adaption from studies of  iconographical works seen throughout antiquity,  because is it true that in Christian purity iconography we do not see firstly nude bronze statues, but also the sword and additional aesthetic detailing? In political terms the piece has been described as being commissioned by the Medici in order to “To cloak their dynastic ambitions under the ideal of republican rule”[2] as well as being a clear reference towards tyrannicide. With the Medici’s control over Florence being threatened , in 1458 Cosimo devised changes that would weaken the traditional republic governmental structuring, which meant that the citizens voting system was supervised by armed military ensuring the families consolidation of power would be carried out. This of course was successful in that the Medici’s ruled for a further eight years. In order to then make themselves seem less tyranny led, having the statue of David in an open space in their courtyard serves as a political strategy in conveying the family as patriotic leaders who were proud of the Florence they had help pioneer through the use of art. 
The next Sculpture of David we will be analysing is by Verrocchio. Of all the three sculptures we will be looking at, it is Donatello and Verrocchio’s pieces in which we can visually see a strong connection artistically speaking.  Verrocchio’s David was also commissioned by the Medici, Lorenzo and Giuliano, when work began in 1473 taking 2 years to complete. The statue is bronze like Donatello’s David and exaggerates the use of cotrapposto, but we can see a striking difference between the levels of modesty Verrocchio has given his statue in comparison to Donatello’s nude. I think Verrocchio’s approach to portraying a young David in this sculpture was to make him represent the epitome of heroism. We are given the clear indication as to the time frame in which we are seeing David; a severed head belonging to Goliath indicates the killing of Goliath has already taken place. Obviously the piece is an accentuation of Donatello’s David, which is most striking in the placement of the sword and raised arm with the hand placed upon the hip. Donatello’s David seems to be inferior in the ideal of a hero when compared to Verrocchio’s; this becomes evident by looking at the expression on Verrocchio’s David alone. Verrocchio has portrayed David as a strong, confident warrior, all dependants of a masculine anatomy which is portrayed through the use of prominent chest muscles, which are covered with a decorative but not overly elaborate breast plate, his arm and leg muscles seem to still be tense, maybe from the action that had occurred, this notion is brought to life by the prominent veins and tort muscle definition. The bronzing method used to make the piece compliments this idea also, making the outline of the body create life like formations, the light and shade gives the statue the essence of actual space and magnificent grandeur.

Michelangelo’s David 1501-1504[3], is one of the world’s most recognisable pieces of sculpture, considered a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and one of Michelangelo’s most celebrated works. It captures David in a pose dissimilar to the statues of Donatello and Verrocchio. The main difference is in the material used by Michelangelo, the piece is made from strong Carrara marble, as opposed to the bronze of both previous states looked at. Michelangelo’s depiction of David is not one of victory or combat, but merely a representation of David’s calm contemplation towards the killing of Goliath, displaying strength of the human form.  On Michelangelo’s return from Rome in 1501, he found himself in Florence beginning the statue of David which he saw as a symbol of Republican government.  So how does this last piece compare and contrast towards the earlier David’s of Verrocchio and Donatello we have seen? To begin with Michelangelo’s depiction of David is the most iconic, in the sense of spirituality and energy. The giant marble piece has a relic appeal about it, and without any weapons or armory protection this shows the strength. The facial expression displays the brave, noble charisma of a victorious mortal hero. The figure is shown stepping forward but captured in a moment in time as if standing still, whereas the previous two statues are stylised poses.  We can see Michelangelo’s “Neo-platonic myth”[4] approach towards his sculpture very much present in his David, often referred to as one of the great works of the high renaissance. The piece played an important political role within Florence in the form of its site position within the city. The majority of Florentine artists made up a committee and were the group to decide the setting of David; the Piazza della Signoria was the site of the civic government of Florence, with the warning stare headed towards Rome as a reminder of the Medici’s control over the city.

Looking at the three different statues of David and how the three different artists chose to portray  him in different ways, it is interesting to see why each artist chose to do this and how their designs were interlinked with Florence’s political issues at the time. I think the artists were heavily influenced by the Medici’s control and demands for a republican representative, in which case was David himself. However with three different statues being commissioned, the artists were bound to create them with reference towards the previous David’s created prior to their execution. We can see this was evident in the styles and general positioning of the statues. One main differing element is the materials used, Donatello’s statue was the first bronze male nude since antiquity, he created the field within renaissance sculpture as many bronze works followed, namely the David of Verrocchio which is very distinctive of Donatello’s work. This was a break with tradition, which saw a new tradition in sculpture and fundamentally the sculpture of the renaissance. With sculpture becoming more established with the artists, Michelangelo sculpted the David which is most reminiscent of the male anatomy. With Michelangelo basing his creation on drawings from real bodies and anatomical studies the result also saw the tradition of life-drawing and detailing of proportion rise. The artwork cannot be seen as ever creating difficulties for the artists whilst designing and sculpting, but the challenges I would say lied within the public’s perception of them, after they were unveiled. Living in the times of the Medici rule would of course mean that statues of the likes of these were sure to create some controversy. However, all three statues are celebrated amongst art historians and general art admirers for their role within Florence and as a catalyst for aesthetic creation of work and admiration in the Renaissance.

Avery.C, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, John Murray Ltd. London, 1970.
Greenhalgh.M, Donatello and his sources, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, London, 1982.
R.J.M Olson, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, 1992- reprinted 1997.

S.B. McHam, Donatello’s Bronze “David” and “Judith” as metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence, Source: The art Bulletin, Vol. 83, No.1 (March 2001), pp.32-47. College Art Association. Accessed: 04/05/2010.

Image References:

[1]  Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, page 37.
[2] S.B. McHam, Donatello’s Bronze “David” and “Judith” as metaphors of Medici Rule in Florence.
[3] Avery.C, Florentine Renaissance Sculpture, John Murray Ltd. London, page 178.
[4] R.J.M Olson, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London, page 157. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Artist on Twitter – @KTeeartist Urban Art – Acrylics

I remember following @KTeeartist on twitter and the vibrant red avatar she had, It was only after a few days that I learnt two imperative things, 1. She was not Jeff Salmon; in fact she was a lady artist, and 2. She was a talented artist whose art was as awesome as her long list of films she had worked on!

Yes, @KTeeartist has a 10 year history of working as a prop maker in the film industry, with big names like Harry Potter, Bonds and Captain America to name a few on the list. Yes, @KTeeartist’s creativity has been used in blockbuster films; next time you watch them, be sure to tell your friends! With already a colourful background in art, @KTeeartist decided around 6 months ago, that she would become a full time artist and follow her dream of doing what she loves, in having the freedom in which to do so.

@KTeeartist has a set of paintings on her website, where a selection have been shown in a January 2011 group show at Brick Lane Gallery in London.  I began to get a flavour of @KTeeartist art, the main thoughts I had were that her Urban subject was extremely accessible, an attribute which is very rare in contemporary art today;  an intriguing mixture of reality and irony with regards to subject matter. Technique and interpretation go hand in hand, the way in which “Aimee” is painted; the angle and sudden accented introduction of paint halfway across the canvas gives the idea of the subject emerging from the canvas, coming into our space. For me, this is also a metaphor for the paintings subjective meaning, not purely pictorial. These painting are asking something of us, as a viewer. We see isolated subjects, focal points of the canvas, we as human beings look to judge what has been given to us to look at.  @KTeeartist provides titles with her works, and with a title such as “Innocent Hoodie”, the brilliant mechanism this sets up is that we are forced to take back and re-evaluate any preconceived notions about the image presented and its social meaning within an urban setting.  Would we still have these feelings about the piece if @KTeeartist hadn’t provided us with the title? Maybe, then again, maybe not?

The paintings play with our innate, internal ideas we have, be it about war, politics, our sociology and even our morals. The art is interactive, and as I said before, this compliments its accessibility to the everyday art viewer, which is important when painting such subjects.  We can certainly feel that bold statements are being made, and this is amplified by the use of bold contrasting tones, emanating from a calmer, quieter background colour.
The power of TV and twitter brought @KTeeartist’s attention to the self proclaimed “Demi-God of Four Rooms” Jeff Salmon.  After talking to @KTeeartist about her art, Jeff had 4 of @KTeeartist’s paintings installed in his London Gallery “Decoratum”.  Four Rooms was due for another series and @KTeeartist put the idea to Jeff about having his portrait in his room. “I suggested my idea of a portrait of him for his room, he loved the idea!”  I can certainly see why a portrait of Jeff was a good idea, for me the image is powerful, bold and its deep red surface emanates a quality of danger somehow. Its composition, colour and technique remind me of the iconic, universal “Che Guevara” image. This then serves as a simulacrum, which cleverly at the same time abolishes any prior trend, creating a whole new meaning for itself as an image. Jeff is a successful dealer, a maverick himself, and is coming into contact with old and new narratives constantly; this idea compliments this simulacrum idea nicely.  I liked how my interpretation seemed to be accurate, after seeing Jeff’s approach to dealing in the show! Dice, gambling= risk. “The one you see in the show is a print of the original; the original that hangs in his office is almost 2 meters high!” Yes, a very powerful portrait.

“My personal feelings on politics/war are quite strong so when I first saw a Banksy in 2003 I distinctively remember thinking, Yes! Speak your mind!” I love this. @KTeeartist is using an identifiable style in which to not only question our world, but to be outspoken and this is important for an artist’s point of view and of course the viewer. For what greater act is there, than as an artist creating a subject for debate in which people can question, reflect and most imperatively learn about such rich subjects that society is facing today ? And also, indeed what this may hold for our future generations and the sacrifices people have and will continue to make? The pieces suggest action, especially the soldier piece. The actions taken by others, people’s actions securing other peoples futures, futures being placed in other people’s hands, we are invited to rethink our actions, what will become of it all?

In summary, for me @KTeeartist subjects are a call for understanding, an awareness of what is happening. Her work arouses stirring feelings of poignancy. With all things considered, she is a significantly crucial talent in art who needs to be followed!

@KTeeartist is currently working on finishing her pieces for her first solo exhibition which is set to open at the Decoratum Gallery, Church Street, London this year.  With a new set up to her exhibit and promising bright colour, serving up some serious imagery, why wouldn’t you go and check it out! I know I shall be. You can catch her painting of Jeff in his room on Four Rooms channel 4 Wednesdays at 8pm.

Check out @KTeeartist’s website for all imagery and twitter for exhibition details.
and go Follow! - @KTeeartist