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    April 2007    

PORTRAITS - The Trialogue of Identity, Image, and Imagination.

Exhibition and Symposium

Opening: Friday, April 27th at 7 p.m | End: August 19th

Portraits - Brochure & Invitation (pdf)

The symposium on the subject will start on April 27th at 5 p.m

Concept and moderation: Prof. Dr. Eike Gebhardt

with Dr. Michael Zakim, Tel Aviv University; Dr. Christina von Braun, Humboldt University Berlin; Dr. Gehad Mazarweh, Freiburg

Portraits are probably humanity's oldest answer to the question "Who are we?" - a question demonstrably posed and asked by all known cultures. They are testimony not only to the image and idea of the particular characters portrayed; they are also attempts to come to grips with the very notion of individual identity itself - in contrast to a collective identity, a collective representation, i.e. man/woman as the embodiment of general cultural characteristics, such as in the stylized images of heroes as the embodiment of the respective values and ideals of a culture.

Man looking at himself: No longer does he/she take himself for granted, as one with nature or a cosmic order: He or she stands alone - and hence has to determine and define the nature of his/her relation to the rest of the world, the rest of society, and even to God(s). It is the attempt to see yourself from an outside perspective. Myths and icons personified our self image - prior to the idea of a "self": people create themselves in object(ive) form, and thus can enter a dialogue with themselves, so to speak. "Know thyself" - Socrates required - and thus advised we learn to step outside ourselves in order to see ourselves objectively.

Of course, we know there is no objectivity. But there is always an alternative to what seems natural, self-evident to us. That alternative is "the other" - and in a sense the portrait-artist has to be his or her own outsider; he/she has to alienate himself from himself. By the same token, and in the same process, he or she learns a virtue at the root of all social life: Empathy - the capacity to slip into the head or heart or soul or simply the imagination of someone else: In this manner, we begin to understand others - and ourselves. Alienation, including self-alienation, is the origin of understanding: As long as we take something, anything, for granted, we are likely not to understand it - like animals, we just blindly obey to what seems natural to us.

In this sense, it seems fair to argue that portraits are, yes, projections. Portraits of Gods are, yes, anthropomorphisms - that's why they look so damn human to us. (Some religions were keenly aware of the risk that people would eventually discover Gods were their own creation, and thus prohibited any representation of God in any form.) By the same token, we lose our holistic personality once we discover that what we are, or think we are, is only a reflection of our actions in the eyes of others: Cumulatively, we form our self-image from the reactions of other people - psychologists like the term "looking glass self", coined by George Herbert Mead. None is without a social context, even if it be just a virtual, a fictional one, existing only in our head. We don't just look at others, other look at us - and we interpret the way they look. As we develop, we can anticipate and manipulate that process, to a degree at least. In a sense, we are doing that all the time, slipping outside of ourselves and looking back at ourselves. Terms like "self-deception", self-love", self-hate etc. testify to an ongoing process of self-objectification which noon can escape. Strictly speaking: Who laves or hate whom? Who deceives whom in this formulation? Are we, of necessity, split personalities? The painter and the painting? The creator and the creation? Are we a self-generating species. Thanks to our unique capacity to see ourselves in object form?

It is probably no exaggeration to say that the portrait is the most radical embodiment of perspective. For this reason, we want to present the subject in an interdisciplinary manner. If the subject is, at the same time, the object (as recent brain research suggests), then it makes little sense to present only the subjective (e.g. aesthetic) or, vice versa, the objective (supposedly scientific) side. Not only were the arts once considered a form of cognition, they were even more merciless than the sciences themselves: For not only did the look at reality in order to show what objective reality is like; they had to go beyond mere reflection of a status quo: They wanted to show not only how the world is but also how it could be otherwise ... And they were to create persuasive scenarios where such ideas could be trial-run, so to speak. At the same time, though, even the arts and the artists operate with ideas, topics, and concepts that grew out of their particular culture - and we should inquire into, and expose the origins of these notions. For if our ideas are the products of particular historical conditions, they are clearly not timelessly valid; if (like those anthromorphisms) they were made by people, they can be changed by people.

The exhibition will explore the Portrait as a cultural icon or the Self as an experimental site.

This photography and video exhibition deals with the portrait and its representation as a collection of cultural associations examining simultaneously the photography as a medium of self-evidence.

Foucault's statement that we should perceive the self as an art work in creation became a normal phenomenon and not an exceptional one. It seems that Man is not satisfied anymore in "finding himself" but insists on creating and designing himself. Thus, the global village functions as an experimental farm.

As Sloterdijk claims, the late modern Man is occupied in numerous experiments in himself. There are multiple sub-cultures that allow and permit various experiments in the self, which are legitimized in the urban life.

The desire to dominate and own yourself, the feeling that you have chosen to create yourself becomes more and more prominent in the urban modern culture.

Instead of changing the world we have to re-invent ourselves through subjective practices or as Slavoj Zizek writes in his book The Puppet and the Dwarf – The Perverse Core of Christianity (2003): "the withdrawal into privacy means today the adaptation of formulas of private authenticity which are distributed by the cultural industry nowadays… the only way of getting out of the cables of the alien objectivization is by inventing a new collectivity… the final result of the subjectivization that went through globalization is not that the 'objective reality' disappears, but that our subjectivity itself disappears…"

Does subjectivity indeed disappear? Or does it still exist? What is between its visibility and its ways of appearance?


Irene Andessner | Anisa Ashkar | Tim Deussen | Uri Gershuni | April Gertler | Nabila Irshaid | Simcha Shirman.

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Participating creators

Anisa Ashkar
Uri Gershuni
Simcha Shirman
April Gertler
Irene Andessner
Nabila Irshaid
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