PS<->D – Margot Waddell

 

 

The title chosen for this arresting body of work is as taut, condensed and suggestive as the images themselves.  In post-Kleinian psychoanalytic thought, specifically that of Wilfred Bion, PS<->D denotes the constantly operating forward thrust and regressive pull of two very distinctive states of mind, or attitudes to life and to the world – what Melanie Klein called the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive positions.  The former, more primitive, state is characterised by extreme defences against the pain of emotional experience; the latter by the capacity to suffer, in the sense of being able to undergo, that experience – to bear disillusionment, imperfection, guilt, separation and lost ideals in the, perhaps only momentary, achievement of a forever unquiet mind.

The two-way arrow indicates that a person’s mental and emotional development is rooted in these ever-oscillating states of the psychic conflict, the conflict between, as George Eliot put it, ‘taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves’ and recognising, rather, that others have ‘an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference’ (Middlemarch).

For in the face of such powerful images the viewer is invited to reach within, to engage with another’s internal struggle, both that of the artist and of the subject.  Something of the power of these images resides in a sense of the immense emotional work that has been undergone in the course of their making, emotional work that is intrinsic to the creative process whereby the artist both frames and contains the fleeting resolution, at whatever age or stage, of those internal struggles of quotidian human existence.  The image ‘holds’ the mental state much as the psychoanalyst, or indeed the intuitive parent, ‘holds’ inchoate meanings and communications, be they of patient or baby.

Perhaps the respective fields have more in common than may immediately appear.

The art object, like the mind, can function at once as receptor, generator and transformer of raw emotionality into feeling states, which acquire meaning where none had been.  This occurs, in part, through a process of close observation overtime.  For these are not snatched or impulsively captured images, they are evidence of a capacity, on the part of artist and subject, and like the psychoanalyst at once to think clearly and to feel deeply; to carry on observing, ‘to stare at the facts until they speak to you’ as Freud was enjoined by Charcot; to manage uncertainty; to endure the necessary and inevitable interchange between transparency and opacity.  Such an interchange is fundamental to the psychoanalytic endeavour and is so finely captured here in the changing focus of the images and the shifting perspectives contingent on the viewers’ position – their mental and emotional position, but also, literally, their physical position – whether close up or at a distance from the image itself.  All these aspects of contemporary psychoanalytic thinking are intrinsic to Lisa Barnard’s work.  The green house, so simple in form yet so complex in suggestion, beautifully evokes the simultaneity of these different perspectives – what Bion called ‘binocular vision’ – the psychoanalyst’s mind being trained to see things from the inside and from the outside at one and the same time.

Perhaps this takes us to the heart of the matter: that the language of the inner world lends itself not so much to prose as to poetry and the fact that the inexpressibility of that inner world, essentially one of dream furniture, lends itself, rather, to music and to art media – that is, to those media which enable and communicate the meaning of emotional experience, such meaning or meanings defying any ordinary verbal articulation.  Analytically and developmentally, the emergence of such meaning is embedded in a particular quality of relationship – a mind meeting a mind.  In this body of work it is a mind’s eye meeting the mind’s eye of the artist engaged, in turn, in meeting the mind’s eye of the subject, closely observed over time.  The quality of relationship between the see-er and the seen betokens an internal process of ‘getting-to-know’ – precisely what Bion designated ‘K’, signifying what he regard as the inherent need, or desire for the kind of knowledge which links feeling with thinking and brings together experience of the internal and external worlds.  Yet he was quite clear, at the same time, about what was, in effect the Heisenberg principle, so beautifully put by Coleridge – that ‘the chameleon darkens in the shadow of he who bends over to ascertain its colours.’

It must be true that when it comes to the infinite complexities of the human mind, any and every medium is both approximate and limited, yet it is also true of the best expressions of any medium that those approximations and limitations are the very stuff of the medium itself.  And so in the intensely observed textures and the specificity of these ‘portraits’, whether of actual people (or of the objects evoked with similar humanity), what is conveyed is not only the known, but also the unknown and a sense of the unknowable. In their respective ways, they are, above all, images of interiority.  They offer a way into a moment, perhaps but a moment, of quiet resolution, the witnessing an inner metabolising, a settling and also a challenge to see with, as well as into, complex states of mind without a hint of intrusive voyeurism or conclusiveness.

In these images, the visual, the sensual, the emotional and the cerebral meet.  Most of all, as uncompromising statements, they distil something that is crucial to the relationship between art and the inner world: inextricability of form, process and content.  Unlike Freud, Bion believed that emotion was at the heart of the matter, that the capacity to develop depended, to return to the title of these works on the continuous reworking of the to-and-fro between primitive survival strategies and a capacity, however painful, to engage with experience and to make something of it.  Viewing these images invites reverie – as with poems, rather than passages of prose.  In Bion’s theory of thinking, it is precisely the mind’s capacity for what he terms ‘reverie’ which offers the kind of primary containment that is crucial to the inside story of a person’s mental and emotional development.  The images constitute a fine expression of what lies at the heart of Kleinian aesthetic theory, a way of understanding the creative process as being centrally to do with being able to bear separation, relinquishment, loss, and to lend symbolic and metaphorical expression to subjective states of mind which might otherwise have remained hidden.  The beauty, and possible tragedy, of the lived experience at times conveyed here render that experience both arresting and disturbing, while also offering evidence of chaos overcome – the images themselves expressing something both reflective and reparative.

The sense, in these images, of something being centred and settled and yet still inwardly in motion would seem to recapitulate that very process in the artist of the finding of symbolic form (D) in the face of internal chaos (PS).  Confronting and containing raw, senseless and fragmentary emotion is what psychoanalysis, at its best, can offer the patient.  The key to the creative process and to aesthetic pleasure is a kind of living with, or being inward with, another’s engagement with, and expression of, such internal struggles.  This body of work offers just such an experience.  In Dryden’s words it “moves the sleeping image of things towards the light”.

Margot Waddell PhD (Cantab), MACP, MBPAS, Consultant Child Psychotherapist, Adolescent Department, Editor,  Tavistock Clinic Book Series

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