Theatre of the Self, by Delpha Hudson
‘The act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for woman far more than a chapter in cultural history; it is an act of survival.”
I’ve been working as an artist for 20 years. I work in a range of media including performance, video, painting and sculpture. I make work to re-negotiate the ways in which we perceive women, their lives and their lived experience. Much of my practice works with time, history and fluid representations of self. Studio works use bitumen paint and found objects to re-image stereotypes of women and mothers, exploring material metaphors that enable new thinking and empathy for our selves, and others. Research and writing are very much part of my practice and I am currently writing Acts of Survival, a book about performance and art.
Theatre of the Self is a major ongoing project about historical reality, perceived subjectivity and selfhood that was performed between 10th April – 10th July 2017. The score was as follows:
30 diaries (1977-2007)
30 days (not consecutive)
Each day read a diary, save something, burn the rest.
Document on social media with 3 images; the diary, reading the diary, burning the diary
From the age of 14, I wrote a daily diary or journal, recording my experiences, thoughts and emotions, as they were then. The diaries potentially capture a unique image of what I actually am, instead of what I think I am. Many of the memories I have forgotten or changed, as I write and re-write the story of myself, as we all do, almost daily.
In this performance project I produced myself ‘as an object in the work, (revealing) the practices of self-constitution, recognition and reflection’(1) This practice of self-production illuminates the creation and perception of self, a theatre that we are all daily engaged in. The diaries were mine to destroy but burning books – especially diaries – is an emotive and provocative act. Yet the project was more about the process of reading, re-writing the self than destruction.
We tell ourselves stories about ourselves, flexibly and fluidly telling our own truths. Would confronting ‘truth’ in diaries, change who I think I am? The process threw up other fictions in re-performing identity, and its constant re-creation. Editing the self in this way, selecting material and memories, is part of ‘knowing as recollecting’. The self is transformed via echo and feedback, resonance and echo. In Phenomenal woman: feminist metaphysics and the patterns of identity, Christine Battersby writes of the female, fluid self, in whose shifting complex identities,
‘self-emerges [in] a relational dynamic between past, present and future’.(p.204)
Culture conceives of diaries as revealing the true self, ‘as it spontaneously records the immediacy of the living moment ‘ in what Derrida calls ‘pervasive metaphysics of presence ‘– (Derrida in Hassan, 1993), underpinning often patriarchal Western modes of thinking the self. The process of reading the diaries and destroying them became not just a way of dealing with stuff (what to keep, what to destroy) and my relationship with past traumas (yes it was a cathartic process) but of intentionally revealing cultural structures and confines of gendered visibility and experience.
Alexandra M. Kokoli, draws our attention to both mourning and melancholia as generative opportunities for remembrance and new departures. It was very sad to re-visit parts of my past, and there was something truly melancholic about watching the diaries slowly turning to ash (I resisted collecting it and displaying in vials like Susan Hiller), yet also something strangely triumphant. It is potentially a new departure for me to stop obsessing about the past. The destruction of my diaries un-tethered me, from a need to see my history in sequential order and offered the potential to liberate myself from old ties of guilt, and as they say “move on”.
The performance of ‘unmaking,’ becomes a metaphor for ‘making’; holding possibilities for transformational selves, multiplying possibilities for complex female identities. It is part of an artistic endeavour to find visual and conceptual means to break stereotypes of mothers and women, and to de-construct and de-code seemingly truthful, un-expurgated versions of self, and perform others in the ultimate hope of engendering empathy and understanding for women who survive trauma.
Diary entry April 20th 2006:
‘My work is me. How I survive, and to smile to greet another day. How I come to terms. How my experiences of self and more-than-self (motherhood) can be soothed by acceptance of ambivalence in everything; the beauty and strange ugliness that is experience’.
This project encompasses disparate concerns in my arts practice including historicity time and memory, our relationship with objects, fragmentation and destruction as metaphors for renewal, performing female subjectivity and writing the body as well as re-presenting the fluidity of gendered self (selves) as a metaphysical and political act.
Theatre of the Self is not a finalizable project. The diaries have been burnt but the remains, residues and ideas continue to inform my practice and I am currently devising interactive film, sound and installation that have the potential to draw larger audiences into debates about changing the way in which women are represented and represent themselves.
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(1) Foucault (1984:63) quoted in ed Du gay, Evans and Redman, Identity a reader, p.26.