This narrative is about me as “the Other”. The “Other” is what does not fit in the culturally driven norm, that which is excluded from or subordinate to it. This is an inquiry into my self-image and its relationships and conflicts with the norm, the expected, acceptable, learned personality.
The roots of the norms and boundaries I am challenging are in the culture in the wider sense, even in civilisation, but the specific way they affect me, is of course influenced by my personal history, including family expectations and cultural norms of my nation.
In order to see oneself without the preset models and to be able to accept parts of oneself that are rejected by dominant norms, one needs to deconstruct oneself. Like Anniina Suominen Guyas (Re-constructing Self within the family: Re-building the Family Album) stated, the “loss of the “learned” helped me to start interpreting these fragments”. And they are just fragments, as getting away from the myth, the given story leaves one with broken images.
Getting rid of limitation involves destruction and loss. Destruction is sudden, necessary and natural breaking out from oppressing boundaries of the norm. Loss is a more gradual process where the existing unfit borders fade away, bit by bit.
This fragmentary nature of my self-image often manifests itself in my work as blurred figures, or combination of several overlaid images. It represents the conflict within myself, unwillingness to identify with just one rigid image of myself.
I also have a notion of transformation, as if shedding the mask, or the public self-image. What can be found underneath that is a surprise and also a secret, even to myself. I am attempting to become more aware of those parts of me that are different from the “script”, the norms given by culture, and finding a voice for “the Other” in me. It appears in my art as an animal, a child, a male, etc., somebody/something different from adult female that I am supposed to be. It is also important for me to communicate how it feels not to belong. It may feel like being lost, floating in space without any connections or comfort. But it can also feel like a relief, freedom from the constricting rules.
It is also, of course, about protest, defiance. And that is empowering. So it is not always about being lost and disconnected, longing to go back to a safe and familiar world. And it can also feel very peaceful. It is the end of the struggle, the conflict between parts of me and the expectations from others. And maybe, if I will shed enough, there will be nothing there and I will disappear in a puff of smoke.
My aim is to question the limits and challenge the norms, not to re-establish the boundaries. It’s not about creating a new solid unchangeable image once and for all, it’s about accepting that you can’t have one. It is a journey towards accepting the fragmentary nature of my self-image and learning to live with this new freedom.
I have in the past tried to find a new culture, the norm that can accept me and that I can accept. And there have been moments when I felt I had found it. I think the clearer and more regimented the norm, the more I feel alienated by it.
I don’t think that I have lost my tribe, or somehow deviated from the social space where I belong. I have no proof that there was ever more than momentary, fragmentary belonging. As a 10 year old, I was annoyed when I was towed back to the civilization after a holiday on a small uninhabited island. It meant losing my freedom and going back to the other people’s rules and pretending to be one of them.
I do not exist entirely outside the borders of cultural norms, and I’m not sure if anybody can. According to Leisha Jones (Women and Abjection: Margins of Difference, Bodies of Art”, Visual Culture And Gender, Vol.2, 2007), “Beings, whose lives are defined by their societies as deviant, may move in and out of certain social spaces as sometimes subjects.” There is a natural desire to belong, to have a tribe. That longing is sometimes recognisable in my work.
I think that it is characteristic to our time which demands us to question and reinvent ourselves more than ever before. We cannot go back and accept the norms and meanings that maybe worked fine several generations ago.
Which does not mean that norms are not useful. They are good for shortcuts in communication and preventing chaos in social situations, as long as one doesn’t believe that they are compulsory and governing every aspect of life, as in Gabriel García Márquez’ novel “Love In The Time of Cholera” : “Life in the world… was nothing more than a system of atavistic contracts, banal ceremonies, preordained words, with which people entertained each other in society in order not to commit murder.”
I am aware that these images create their own stories. Even if they start out as a negation of existing myths, saying what I am not, every image contributes to new ones. They are more personal and less culturally determined maybe, but they are still myths and will, in turn, be invalidated.
So I need to constantly change and reinvent myself in order to prevent becoming a myth, I need to keep discovering the reality of myself. It is fascinating and, I have a feeling, a never-ending process. Life has a tendency to prove me wrong every time I think I have found out who I am.
It is not always a solitary process; in fact, there have always been creatures who do not conform to the norm and they have helped me to learn hidden things about myself. I try not to assume who might have something to teach me. Insights come from unexpected sources and I try and be open to them. It’s not only other creatures either. I recognise myself in natural elements, symbolic images and dreams. And whether I want it or not, they creep into my work and therefore become public. I am acting them out, and communicating them to others through my art.
In Broken Images
He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images. He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images,
Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.
Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.
When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.
He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.
He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.