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The Body Eclectic:Viewing Bodily Modification in David Nebreda David Houston JONES

We say "to develop a photograph"; but what the chemical action develops is undevelopable, an essence (of a wound), what cannot be transformed but only repeated under the instances of insistence (the insistent gaze).
--Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

<1> David Nebreda's work presents current thinking on body/performance art with a dilemma. In stretching social prescriptions of the (re)presentable body, it exemplifies a pervasive anxiety concerning bodily modification and the politics of looking, and demands a new theorisation of the body in photographic representation. Autoportraits (2000) depicts a series of visibly emaciated bodies on which wounds are inflicted by knives, cords and flames [1]. The photographs document the strict schedules of "discipline" to which the bodies are subjected, and sometimes represent the very moment at which practices of bodily modification are executed. It is this subject-matter which threatens the domain of artistic representation with the "unspeakable": once-unthinkable images are afforded the lavish production values of art publisher Léo Scheer, and Nebreda's work is exhibited repeatedly in Paris in 1999 and 2000 [2]. Nebreda, then, joins that very small group of practitioners who have chosen to make their own physical suffering a key element of a project of visual representation, and the even smaller contingent for whom self-mutilation takes place in the course of that representation [3].
<2> Despite the strain which they appear to place upon conventions of representability, viewing and experience, however, Nebreda's images bear a promise of reification. The bodies appear to merge into a single body, and that body, it seems, is that of David Nebreda, an identification apparently consecrated in the work's title. Nebreda is seen both as the author of the work and as the single biographical subject which appears within it, as though the identification of physical resemblance between the bodies depicted were a guarantee of a single self present in multiple images and in the texts which accompany them. Inscribed within Nebreda's project is a vital need to examine such an identification in view of the problematic representability of the bodily practices of Autoportraits: the uncertain relationship of the physical "act" and its "medium" is a prime concern in the argument which follows. The "subject" of Autoportraits is (at least) twofold, slipping between the practices of modification to which the body is subjected and the photography of that modification. Viewing gestures from the latter to the former: in the light of the all-too transparent evidence of bodily damage and pain, we enquire into the conditions and development of the photographed body. "How?" and "why?" are essential modalities of viewing Autoportraits. In practice, they invoke a promise of biographical reification which proves to be drastically undercut.


Figure 1

<3> This brutally explicit book bears an exceptional promise of revelation: the frank and uncompromising treatment of wounding suggests privileged insight into the body of "experience". Images like that depicting Nebreda's burnt torso, along with the hand holding the cigarette-end with which he has been burnt, have an apparently documentary quality. The caption is brusquely matter-of-fact: "Two days later, he burns his torso again" (figure 1 -- Nebreda 58). The category of "how" is progressively saturated: we encounter a long series of close-up depictions of the wounded body, as well as more impressionistic mobilisations of bodily material and collages of the instruments of wounding. Images like this one are imbued with a participatory logic: in such extreme close-up, it appears, we have peculiar access to the body which undergoes the processes of burning and cutting and, by implication, the single subject which we take to be associated with both the photographed body and the body of "experience". While the "reality" of the bodily practices is progressively brought to the fore, however, the accompanying "why", the underlying scheme which would provide access to the realm of experience, is peculiarly frustrated.

<4> In figure 1, the image appears to function almost as an explanatory gloss on both bodily practices and representation. The content of the image is almost too transparent: here is the incontrovertible evidence of wounding, along with the cigarette which caused the wound. The cigarette acts metonymically, standing both for the wounds which dominate the expanse of the image and for the "narrative" or sequential scheme of the whole of the book. If Autoportraits can be said to have a theme, it must surely be that of bodily mutilation and self-inflicted damage: the photographs document a project of "discipline" and "order", as it is described in the texts by Nebreda which accompany the images: "the order is followed" (Nebreda 162); "follow the order" (Nebreda 169). The disciplinary scheme is expressed in captions and in the texts, often in the form of an imperative which issues from the figure of the "Mother", or directly from God.

Figure 2

<5> Detailed analysis of the photographs, however, instead of resulting in deeper knowledge of such a biographical subject, produces serious interpretative difficulties. The declarative gesture of the cigarette, almost stating, in the guise of a crime scene photograph, "here is what happened", proves less complete and less transparent than at first appears. The association of instrument with wound is belied by the knife-tracks seen in figure 1: while the linkage of the cigarette to the burn-marks is "real" enough, the instrument-wound homology is complicated by the unexplained knife wounds within the image. The explicative, causal narrative which the photograph seems to portray is internally disrupted and raises important questions concerning the time of experience relative to the time of representation. The self-conscious foregrounding of the instruments of mutilation reaches a climax in the image entitled "Materials used for burns to the hands, the chest and the side" (figure 2 -- Nebreda 100). The depiction here of cigarette-ends, a bottle of 96-proof alcohol, electrical flexes and a toaster achieves a rare moment of isolation from the relentless narrative of repetition which Autoportraits pursues. While the vast majority of the book is devoted to acts of mutilation which have just been completed, or which are in the process of being carried out, here the paraphernalia of torture is removed from the context of the "act" and placed on a sheet with an explanatory notice, as though to make up a museum exhibit. The effect is to create a domain of the past and, possibly, posthumous: the clinical, exhibit-like presentation hints at an unspeakable episode of history which must be commemorated but whose violence is too terrible to depict directly. Although such a substitutive mode of representation is familiar enough from, for example, museums dealing with twentieth-century history, its effect here is to return attention to the "nature" of the objects as substitutes. We know that, in the earlier image, the coupling of wound with cigarette invokes the cigarette's absent complement, that is, the knife: each stands for the other. The "materials used . . . " image, meanwhile, introduces a very important uncertainty into Autoportraits concerning the representability of the suffering body. While the vast majority of the images are devoted to the representation of that body, "materials used . . . " constitutes a space in which the body does not figure, and raises the possibility that the contemplation of the images of mutilation is not equivalent to, and does not enable access to, the experience of that mutilation.

<6> One of the keys to this disabling of equivalence is the role of time. The time of experience bears down upon the time of representation: instead of atrocious acts which took place ten years or a generation ago, we are confronted with blades covered in fresh blood. In addition to this uncomfortably recent past, however, Nebreda's project is concerned with two other "moments": the unsituated, remote time of the museum-type image in "materials used . . . " and, finally, with the time of experience itself. While we would expect this moment to be outside the scope of most artistic projects, one of the most shocking features of Autoportraits is its integration of the time of experience. A number of the photographs depict experiences of bodily modification and pain which happen as the photograph is being taken. Key examples include "The open door", depicting three burning sticks held between Nebreda's legs (Nebreda 138), "Hands -- one behind his back, the other on fire" (Nebreda 115), a long-exposure shot in which one hand is held in a flame, and "mother's line" [4], in which wires penetrating the skin are pulled hard towards the camera during exposure. The execution of mutilation is coterminous with the execution of representation.

<7> Kate Ince emphasises the centrality of what Genette calls the "durée de procès" to performance and body art: she takes the work of French performance artist Orlan as a key example of the precedence of "process" over "persistence" in the staging of the body. (Genette 73, quoted in Ince 100-01.) There are indeed important correspondences between the work of Orlan and Nebreda in this context: Orlan's situation of spectacle in the operating theatre and the temporal situation of that spectacle as equivalent to the duration of the surgery being performed upon her body anticipates Nebreda's techniques in Autoportraits. There is a wide-reaching tendency in recent practice to seek out ways of performing physicality outside traditional conventions of performance time and of the body's pre-existing "nature". Nebreda's work, however, differs significantly from that of Orlan in that bodily modification not only involves pain, but that that pain becomes the determining modality of spectatorship. While Orlan's operations in "The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan", for example, may involve physical pain, the experience of pain and its insistence in spectatorship are secondary to that of the physical transformation of the body, the presentation of the operated-upon body as a visual spectacle, and the further textual and visual interactions which Orlan's project involves. This is not to say, of course, that pain is the object of Nebreda's project, but that it significantly informs its reception.

<8> The comparison points up the deeply disorientating aesthetic of Autoportraits: the conflation of time of experience and time of representation is extremely rare when the plane of experience involves the infliction and reception of physical pain. Physical suffering imposes a taboo upon visual representation which very few discourses, artistic or otherwise, dare flout. Rare exceptions include war footage, televised executions, hospital and disaster documentaries and snuff movies. Televised boxing ranks as a distant relation, with its formalised etiquette, limited violence and prescribed duration. Nebreda's work, meanwhile, puts the socio-ethical boundaries of these discourses under a critical strain. Documentaries demand a clear sense of ethical purpose, while executions are staged as the culmination of a judicial process; this almost unique example of a socially sanctioned viewing of suffering is also the example par excellence of socially sanctioned killing. The dangerous entertainment-value of boxing is policed by its rigorously prescribed form, while snuff movies are unambiguously designated as socially unspeakable forms of representation [5].

<9> The experience-representation collision thus shocks viewers' preconceptions concerning the social "place" of representations of violence. At the same time, however, it has direct implications for the capacity of the body to function as a secure, verifiable object of representation. As well as for their promise of "authenticity" (the coincidence of instrument and wound makes faking extremely difficult), the "simultaneous" images are remarkable for their emphasis on flux and process. Due to their rarity in Autoportraits (and elsewhere) and to the contamination of the mode of representation with the dreadful matter which it conveys, the images of simultaneity open up a pivotal debate on representation and repetition. As viewing proceeds, one has to ask just what the relentless explicitness of Autoportraits reveals: the ceaseless variations on the theme of the mutilated body tend, rather than producing greater and greater explicitness and exposure, to disorient the viewer and to problematise and obscure the body as an object of the gaze. As the series of images progresses, the dominant effect is of repetition; rather than a negative judgement on Autoportraits, this is an important feature of the numbing mode of viewing which the project produces, derailing the apprehension of the body through a sense of pornographic monotony. The foregrounding of bodily material upon which practices of cutting and burning have been performed produces a "punch-drunk" mode of spectatorship like that in, for instance, slasher films, destabilising the sense that there is a representable "body" at all. Repetition, then, does not reinforce but paradoxically undermines the representational project.

<10> Nebreda pursues a large-scale critique of the iterability of the bodily image and of the essentialist view of the body as a unitary presence. In this his work has resonances with the Foucauldian repositioning of physicality and, in particular, sex, as discursive constructions rather than "natural" biological states. In view of the exacerbatory logic of Autoportraits, one is in fact increasingly obliged to view the body in this way: "there is no reference to a pure body which is not at the same time a further formation of that body" (Butler 10). The progressive defamiliarisation of the body in Nebreda's work strips it of precisely the cultural accretions which are Butler's target in Bodies that Matter: rather than the register of prior representations by which the body becomes socially recognisable, the principal subject of Autoportraits is, in fact, matter. Such a stark conclusion represents a considerable departure from the strategies and contents which Autoportraits is concerned to advertise, questioning the prospect of a referential biographical subject which can be revisited in text and image alike.

Psychobiography and Viewing the Schizoid Order

<11> From its title onwards, Autoportraits bears the promise of personal revelation: of intimate disclosures from the biography of the subject designated "David Nebreda". In the course of Autoportraits, however, the division between the realms of experience (including the practices of bodily modification) and of representation (the photographic enterprise by which the images are conveyed to the viewer) becomes crucially ambiguous. The relationship is problematised by psychoanalytic discourse, both as it is applied, clinically, to Nebreda's subjectivity and, more generally, as a means of framing theoretical debates concerning spectatorship and the body as spectacle [6]. Whatever the arguments concerning David Nebreda's own life-history, there are more important questions to be posed regarding the ways in which the objects of the gaze are constructed relative to socially valorised narratives of psychic development. The problematic of representation, experience and self-image in Autoportraits therefore has to be considered in relation to those discourses and in relation to the problematic status of the body as object within them.

<12> In Autoportraits, as we have seen, experience and representation are at the centre of an enigma. Although the instances of bodily modification are sometimes synchronised and conflated with the instance of their depiction, elsewhere Nebreda has clearly stated that the bodily practices in question pre-date the photographic enterprise, and are not dependent upon it: "There has always been self-harm [. . .] I would like to specify that these wounds are not made with the aim of taking a photograph. The goal of self-harm is not photography" (Nebreda, quoted in Millet 52). In this interview with Catherine Millet, Nebreda makes a series of terse comments which bear out the difficult relationship of experience and representation that emerges from Autoportraits itself. Although he emphasises that the practices seen in Autoportraits do not arise in order to serve the needs of the artistic project, he refers to "a subtle form of self-harm" (52; emphasis added) in the period preceding the photographic projects of the 1980s and 1990s: "subtle in that it did not involve bleeding".

<13> Lived experience and representation, then, intertwine in a complex manner. While personal behaviour may be modified by the evolving photographic project, photography, it transpires, may play a still more critical role within the realm of experience. In Autoportraits, Nebreda refers to the interdiction which he has placed upon looking in the mirror. For ten years, we read, he has avoided mirror-images: "the only reference point I have for my own image is that which continues to be given to me by the photographic double" (183). Whatever the ambitions of Autoportraits concerning spectatorship, photography is the principal means by which self-image is constituted in the first place. The claim is corroborated in the Millet interview, in which the rejection of the mirror is situated in a specific period:
Yes, I observed and studied the stranger who was appearing in it [the mirror]. This was the period of the first series of colour photos. And from then on, when this hole opened up in my head, I decided that I would never again look in the mirror [. . .] When I say that I have not looked in the mirror since then, I assert that the only reference points which I have for my own image are those provided by the photographic double (51-2).

Not only is the final clause an almost exact quotation of Nebreda's earlier statement in Autoportraits, the reference to the crisis which occurs at the time of Nebreda's first series of colour photographs also ties in very closely with the account given in the book. The colour photographs, we learn, were taken between May 1989 and October 1990, a period of intense photographic activity and of an acute preoccupation with death. The period's end is marked by the experience which Nebreda refers to as "the invasion of his brain" (177). In both Autoportraits and the Art Press interview, Nebreda refers to himself alternately in the first and third-person; this, together with the apprehension of himself as "alien", or as non-existent, "the one who is not" (177), and the succession of distinct personality phases, seems to offer the possibility of an all-too convenient explanation of Autoportraits in psycho-biographical terms.

<14> The apparent biographical "fact" lurking within Autoportraits is that of Nebreda's diagnosis as schizophrenic. The diagnosis receives several mentions in the text: as "his pathology as a schizophrenic" (176), "the fact of schizophrenia" (185) and "the classification of schizophrenic" (185). Whatever the clinical reality so designated, it would be unjustifiably reductive, in the present context, to assimilate the effects and meanings of Autoportraits to the clinical understanding of schizophrenia. Whatever the reasons for diagnosing a given subject as schizophrenic, the same diagnosis cannot be uncritically applied to the artistic or other representational practices undertaken by that subject. While the aim of clinical practices is to produce diagnosis and treatment through the classification and analysis of a series of signs or symptoms, the task of cultural analysis is precisely to assess the cultural meanings of a set of signifying practices. To pre-emptively disable the cultural understanding of work such as Nebreda's under the sign of the psycho-biographical catch-all of "schizophrenia" would be to exercise a peculiarly gross form of biographical abstraction.

<15> This is precisely the mode of response which certain spectators nevertheless make to Orlan's work, and which Parveen Adams satirises in her book The Emptiness of the Image: "Is she mad?". As Adams notes, the September-December issue of the French Revue scientifique et culturelle de santé mentale (1991) was devoted not to Orlan's work but to the assessment of her sanity (Adams 143). For all that the domain of "art" has expanded to accommodate discourses which would once have been condemned to social invisibility, a crude, normative form of psychobiography continues to accompany works like those of Orlan and Nebreda. Instead of pursuing such biographical reduction, I now want to look at the discursive and formalistic role which the idea of schizophrenia plays in Nebreda's own project and to assess the impact of work like Autoportraits on other social discourses. While the experiential realities which lie at the origin of Autoportraits are beyond the reach of cultural critique, Nebreda's texts and images are remarkable for their (often explicit) reference to schizophrenia, and their mobilisation of ideas derived from it.


Figure 3

<16> Not only is Nebreda's diagnosis as schizophrenic decipherable in Autoportraits, it is periodically foregrounded in the course of the project. An important example is the untitled image in which four sheets, pasted onto a black background, surround Nebreda's naked body, shot in half-profile [figure 3 -- 119]. The psycho-biographical underpinning of the project is self-consciously performed in the text which appears on the sheets: "David Nebreda de Nicolás: born 1st August 1952; chronic paranoid schizophrenia; he follows the order; today 19th October 1997. D.N.N. He does it; with his excrement. Against vertigo, nothing can be said" (119). The text appears to make the baldest of psycho-biographical statements, associating the legalistic reference to name and date of birth with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. On reflection, however, it reads like a mock psychiatric profile, disrupting the clinical register with the reference to "vertigo" and enforcing the appalling realisation that the notice is written in Nebreda's own excrement. Rather than a statement of facts, the image pursues a reflexive engagement with its own constitution while performing a highly ambiguous version of the discourse of psychiatric classification: does the "order" which the subject is described as following refer to the disciplinary project of bodily modification, to the (dis)order of schizophrenia itself, to the "order" of psychoanalytic discourse or the "order' of representation?

<17> The disruptive potential of images like these, in which "schizophrenia" is explicitly staged as a content while being simultaneously deconstructed, is compounded in formal terms. Just as the image both "is" and "is not" a psychiatric classification, its status as image becomes pivotally uncertain. While part of its impact is undoubtedly visual, that impact is complicated by the brutal repetition of bodily images. Autoportraits presents a relentless stream of shots of damaged bodily material with no sequential logic: no progressive narrative of wounding can be traced, and even the represented body's recognisability is threatened by the increasing presence of slashes, bruises and burns as the dominant visual forms. Here, meanwhile, the formal identity of the image is internally disrupted by the incorporation of text, just as the body is destabilised as an object due to the role which its own material plays in the composition of the text (providing the ink with which it is written). The resulting mode of spectatorship recalls that described by Parveen Adams faced with Orlan's Omnipresence, in which the everyday apprehension of the body as a situated and properly defined object is replaced by the encounter with a horrific, undefinable "something": "This something is the emptying out of the place of the object as the object gaze detaches from the Other. A gap is opened up in Orlan [. . .] We find ourselves unhinged in a space that refuses to organise an inside and an outside [. . .] the image comes apart from itself" (156).

<18> Nebreda's work radically disturbs the viewing of the body, and replaces organic unity with an endless spectacle of undifferentiated matter. That spectacle, organised around a disorientation like that described by Adams, sharply recalls the notion of the schizoid "distancing" of the body from the ego (as the body becomes "just another" object) or, equally, the "paranoid-schizoid" phase in early psychic development in Kleinian psychoanalytic theory (Klein 1975, 1946; Segal) [7]. For Klein, this phase involves the division of the mother's body, in the child's psyche, into a "good" breast and a "bad" breast; the positive feelings directed at the one vie with the violently negative feelings aimed at the other. The "paranoid-schizoid" phase eventually gives way to the "depressive" phase, in which the child learns that "good" and "bad" are aspects of the same object and becomes reconciled to ambivalence. Hugely influential, the Kleinian model may be related to later models of early development like Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection, in which the child's struggle to establish psychic identity is staged alongside the attempt at physical separation from the mother. Moments at which consciousness of bodily boundaries becomes acute and yet remains inadequately conceptualised constitute the sensation of abjection: "one of those violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable' (Kristeva 1982 1). Abjection, for Kristeva, concerns the inadequate awareness of bodily boundaries on the part of the child (or the "borderline" psychotic), and the ambiguous status which objects take on as a result. As in Adams's comment on Orlan, a "gap" is opened up. But this is not simply an absence in space: it is a gap within the space we expect to be filled by the subject, an impossible gap within the subject. In abjection, inside, outside and even organic unity itself all lose their meaning.

<19> Such moments in psychoanalytic theory provide a means of understanding the mode of spectatorship in which we engage with Orlan's Omnipresence or Nebreda's Autoportraits. As Orlan's ear is lifted away from her head, we lose track of "the" body and, by implication, of our own bodies, overcome with the vertigo which Nebreda relates to the idea of schizophrenia: "against vertigo, nothing can be said." But psychoanalysis also provides a vital interpretative tool in assessing the rather desperate social mechanism whereby Orlan and Nebreda are classified as "mad", unspeakable, socially inadmissible. Many of the spectators of Omnipresence to whom Adams refers "would denounce the scene as cruel and horrible"; as she goes on, "if this were all, they would be right" (156). But this is not all: Nebreda, like Orlan, creates a critical turbulence within normative discourses of the body, representation and the aesthetic.

<20> Lynda Nead, in her insightful study Art, Obscenity and Sexuality, refers to a well-known case in which one of the icons of Western art, the Venus de Milo, is subjected to, and even constituted in terms of, physical damage. In assessing the relationship of hegemonic art-historical discourse to socially "aberrant" contemporary artistic practices, she refers to Peter Fuller's argument that, when seen in terms of Kleinian theory, the power of the Venus for modern Western audiences is due to, rather than in spite of, the statue's mutilation: the damaged statue "evokes in its receptive viewers the affects attaching to their most primitive phantasies about savaging the mother's body, and the consequent reparative processes" (Fuller 124, quoted in Nead 79). In Kleinian terms, the "depressive" stage involves the overwhelming desire to repair or recover what has been damaged in the earlier "paranoid-schizoid" phase. The mutilated statue stands both, according to Fuller, for paranoid-schizoid violence and the later reparative impulse; it is an ideal site for the projection of phantasies of both kinds.

<21> Nead powerfully relates the Venus de Milo to the contemporary practitioner Mary Duffy and to her project Cutting the Ties that Bind (1987), arguing that Duffy rejects social prescriptions concerning aesthetically "appropriate" objects. The resemblance of Duffy's photographs to the Venus, I suggest, is of two kinds: the first, highly stylised, and the second, explicit and direct. The first photographs show a naked woman's body (Duffy's) shrouded at the shoulders in a white cloth; while the breasts and stomach are revealed, the cloth occludes shoulders and arms. The reference to the Venus de Milo is clear: the addition of the cloth refers to the damaged state of the statue. The later photographs, however, shatter the body of suppositions with which the spectator has so far been working: we see a similar image of the naked body, shot from the front, but without the cloth. The absence of the cloth reveals that Duffy, in fact, has no arms. Duffy's presentation of her body enforces resemblance with the Venus de Milo in a way which we are singularly ill-equipped to deal with, disabling the register of prejudices by which we establish the bodily norms which inform viewing. Duffy herself comments on the destabilisation in viewing relations which she sees in Cutting the Ties that Bind: "I wanted to hold up a mirror to all those people who had stripped me bare previously . . . the general public with their naked stares, and more especially, the medical profession" (Duffy 15, quoted in Nead 78).

<22> Duffy offends the principle, in Western modes of viewing, that the nude should reflect a certain preconceived, normative bodily image: in refusing to do so, Duffy's work creates a spectatorial confusion which is rivalled only by practitioners such as Jo Spence, Hannah Wilke, Orlan or Nebreda. Spence and Wilke both shock viewing assumptions through the explicit photographic presentation of their own bodies while suffering from cancer. Spence points up the violence of the objectifying gaze in "Exiled", in which the word "MONSTER" is written across her post-operative breast. Wilke, meanwhile, renders the disjunction between the normative body and the body of illness especially accute due to the dialogue created between her last work, Intra-Venus (1992-3) and earlier projects in which she (subversively) presents her youthful, healthy body to the gaze. In the So Help Me Hannah series (1978-84), "Portrait of the Artist with her Mother, Selma Butter" presents Wilke and her mother, then suffering from breast cancer, both topless, as facing panels of a diptych (See Jones 152-93, Nead 80-81, Spence). As Amelia Jones argues, Wilke (like Spence) demonstrates the dual policing of images of women by medical and aesthetic discourses:

On literal as well as metaphorical and conceptual levels, Intra-Venus deftly interweaves the medicalised /objectified body of illness (with its "intravenous" invasions) with the sexualised / objectified woman's body (signified as "Venus", the quintessential sexual object of Renaissance to modern painting) (Jones 187).

Venus, as Nead argues, is the symbol par excellence of the high-art nude in its "containment and regulation of the female body" (Nead 6). Rather than a "natural" image of a woman's body, it constitutes an elaborate discursive regulation of that body, simultaneously creating the obscene or pornographic as its obverse. While Nead's arguments focus on the status of the female nude, it is clear that the very strikingly non-normative body-images of Autoportraits must play a role in this debate [8]

<23> Much of the initial impact of Nebreda's project derives from the obviously incongruous bodily images which it presents: Autoportraits couples the glossy format of the livre d'artiste with screamingly un-"presentable" bodies. As well as presenting the very opposite of what we "know" to be the conventional subjects of representation, however, Autoportraits enquires into, and contests, the basis of that convention. The body of representation in Autoportraits may be seen as a response to, as much as a symptom of, art-historical and psychoanalytic discourse. Nebreda explicitly claims that interdictions on personal behaviour arise directly from cultural taboos, and the "recourse to culturally occluded or forbidden elements" may be seen as a means of responding to cultural norms [9]. "Psychobiography", in Nebreda's work, might correspondingly be read as a means of writing through the figure of the schizoid, rather than the classificatory system by means of which Nebreda's writing and images are seen as symptomatic of schizophrenia.

<24> Not only does Nebreda explicitly thematise his own diagnosis as schizophrenic, but associates the bodily practices depicted throughout with schizophrenia. "The psychiatric hospital Notre Dame de la Paix" depicts Nebreda in a hospital bed, a drip attached to one arm (84). In a rare moment of narrative sequentiality, the following image depicts Nebreda dressed in a suit, sitting on a chair; the caption reads "Last night in hospital" (85). The mini-narrative contrasts the pain of internment (Nebreda's face is contorted with pain in the first image) with the promise of freedom (Nebreda gazes longingly into the top right-hand side of the image; his face and chest are lit with a soft light). While the two hospital images should function as a relief from the unremitting brutality of Autoportraits, they succeed only in leaving an impression of desperate foreignness. They are alien to the "order" of the world evoked in the rest of Autoportraits, even if that is a world of constant suffering and pain.

<25> The alien regime of the psychiatric hospital is symbolised by Nebreda's dark suit: elsewhere an emblem of the apparently inevitable order and routines of daily life, here it looks uncomfortably like an institutional uniform. The endless permutations of the damaged body which characterise Autoportraits, by contrast, are predicated on nakedness (complete or partial), a nakedness which posits flesh, or the unreadable, dislocated, unsignifying matter which flesh becomes, as the subject of the project. Flesh is unequivocally present, but its relentless, forensic objectification serves to cancel that presence: we are barely aware that we are looking at a body at all. The highly disorientating effect may be read in two ways, firstly in terms of individual psychological states and secondly in terms of social discourse. The endless recycling and reconstitution of the body may be seen, at a personal level, as a desperate attempt to recover psychic unity like that described in Didier Anzieu's Le moi-peau: "Inflicting a real envelope of suffering on oneself can be an attempt to restore the skin's containing function [. . .] I suffer therefore I am [. . .] It is through suffering that the body acquires its status as a real object" (Anzieu 1989 201).

<26> One might, however, see Autoportraits in terms of resistance to the dominant social discourses of the constitution and representation of the body and of psychic identity. Since the images of Autoportraits effectively destroy our sense of the unitary body, they may, finally, represent a condition other than that of the corps propre, of the body of an Oedipalised subject. Like the schizoid, such a state represents a position which is simply outside of hegemonic social discourses of the self: while social discourses of viewing and representation necessarily consider the body as a socialised unit, here that socialisation is replaced by a position entirely outside of its dictates. Autoportraits is difficult to view because it presents a body that we have no psychological means of "dealing with"; conversely, it issues a challenge to aesthetic discourse, reconstituting the damaged, self-damaging body as matter to be dealt with in visual representation.

<27> The schizoid apparently heralds a return to the real; but while the references to schizophrenia in Autoportraits appear to invoke the psychiatric condition of that name, they may actually be concerned with the questioning of social order and of the social regulation of representation. Even the matter-of-fact statement at the book's opening, "This book charts the history of a schizophrenic process" (9) is crucially poised, apparently referring to the individual named David Nebreda, but remaining applicable to art-historical discourses themselves. The schizoid is apparently the key to the biographical, but operates rather as an imaginary figure which hovers at the edge of Nebreda's project, promising a return to biographical certainty while endlessly eluding that promise. Nebreda's references to schizophrenia bear an insistence on following order -- the last words in the book are "conforme a orden" -- yet the project's impact is surely iconoclastic rather than consecratory. If an "order" is followed, it is one which operates precisely by disrupting other orders and systems. The violence of Nebreda's project is not only that of spectatorial disorientation, although that is one of its most powerful consequences. The unspeakable matter of Autoportraits is conveyed to the viewer through a fantasmatic subject named "David Nebreda", creating a promise of biographical reference which is never realised. The idea of schizophrenia, instead of the satisfactory classification of that subject within psychoanalytic paradigms, produces a dislocation of the mechanisms of viewing and a challenge to the social discourses in which they are accommodated.

Bu makale ilk olarak Reconstruction 5.1 (Winter 2005) (http://reconstruction.eserver.org/) sayısında yayımlanmış olup, yazarının ve Reconstruction dergisinin onayı ile yayımlanmıştır. Her hakkı saklıdır.

Ziyaretçi Sayısı:1000740

Barındırma: AdaNET


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