Tag Archives: identity

Statement of current practice

The last piece of written work needed to go in this week too – a critical evaluation of all of our reflection over the course of the MA. It really hits home that this is all nearly over now, and time to move onwards and upwards hopefully! We were asked to put forward a statement of our current practice – a design principle or artists’ statement for us as we move on. This was a rather pleasant task to write I thought. So here we are:

Artists’ statement:

My work explores our concepts of self, by looking for our encounters with ourselves as we travel through life, where we can glimpse some fragment of truth about who we are. By unravelling our sense of self as strands of multiple co-existing identities, we can see how these strands are built from places which become part of us through our lives. Shadows of real and imagined places embed themselves into the self, an interconnection of experience, memory and fiction. These shadows haunt us as we pass through the spaces of the world, generating belonging, displacement, familiarity or isolation. My practice is based upon exploring these shadows, searching for a sense of belonging which cannot be found. When so much of our individual experiences of people and places are filtered through our cultural psychology, what happens when you have no place you feel is home?

At its root, my work is a conversation between language and memory. These are the tools which facilitate the relationship between our internal and external worlds – the bridge between the physical world and our world of personal experience. Language allows us to communicate with each other, to talk to ourselves, and to identify ourselves. I engage with the language of poetry as a way to access the communication of our inner self, both as a raw, immediate art form in itself, as well as exploring the possibilities of the visual poem through the materiality of ink, paper and fibres.

Many of the processes I use in my work are based on the creation of structure through transformation, layering and repetition. My interests are now aligned to my methods: using a material which is conceptually elegant to make a constructed material which encapsulates both its own inherent narrative as well as my own. I have combined the use of this material language with a working process which allows the fibres space to demonstrate their properties. Installation as an immersive experience is a natural expression of a concept based around ideas of personal place.

Turning towards the show

Time is running short and I need to start formulating a plan for the final show. There is still a little time to test – and the faster we have a plan, the faster we can begin testing each element.

Let’s begin with a re-statement of my final project proposal:

I am investigating the concept of self by examining the subjective reality we construct as we experience the world. By unravelling our sense of self as strands of multiple co-exisiting identities, I am looking at how these strands are built from places which become part of us through our lives. Shadows of real and imagined places embed themselves into the self, an interconnection of experience, memory and fiction. These shadows haunt us as we pass through the spaces of the world, generates belonging, displacement, familiarity or isolation.

My project is based upon the process of weaving, as it echoes my ideas of universality and locality: a single cloth constructed from countless individual strands. Within the fibres, I am seeking an expression of the complexity of our existence. Fragments of past, present and future co-existing for a fleeting moment, never to reform.  I am interested in bringing in my poetry and asemic calligraphy work into my fibre work – combining the the abstract and conceptual influences with the physical, viscerality of making. As of yet, I don’t know how I’m doing this…but let’s see if I can update this paragraph in a few months time!

To experimentation then….

Well, I started by going back to weaving paper yarns, and looking to see if I could incorporate marks onto the woven cloth. This piece was tested by painting the warp with my calligraphy ink.


Then I followed this will another experiment using raw silk yarn and playing a little with the tension of the loom, seeing what changes in texture this would make by itself, without needing to paint over any marks in ink:


So far the paper is winning!

Humanistic phenomenology

Interestingly, I spent four months on my research paper entirely focussing on phenomenology in philosophy and never came across the parallel ideas of phenomenology within psychology.

Looking more into Carl Rogers’ theories, I feel like I am hovering over the core of what my MA proposal is really about. I have only just made the connection that I started my own working career as a phenomenologist, albeit in physics, but as a researcher using the observation of experiences to guide our understanding of the workings of the world. This too is at the heart of phenomenology in both philosophy (getting back to Heidegger) and in psychology: our existence is a subjective construction – the ‘reality’ we observe is really a “private world of experience….the phenomenal field” ([1], Rogers, 1951/1977)

First some background: Unlike Freud, who teaches that our basic instincts are sexual and aggressive, Rogers had an inherently positive view of humanity. His theory, is built on a single ‘force of life’ he calls the actualising tendency, which is a fundamental motivation toward positive growth. From [3]:

Rogers disagreed sharply with major emphases of Freudian theory: its depiction of humans as controlled by unconscious forces; its assertion that personality is determined, in a fixed manner, by experiences early in life; its associated belief that adult psychological experience is a repeating of the repressed conflicts of the past. Rogers’s view emphasized conscious perceptions of the present rather than merely unconscious residues of the past, interpersonal experiences encountered across the course of life rather than merely parental relations in childhood, and peoples capacity to grow toward psychological maturity rather than merely their tendency to repeat childhood conflicts.

A few points in summary of his theory [2, 3]:

  • We value positive self-regard (self-esteem, self-worth or a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up.  Without this, we feel small and helpless, and can fail to become all that we can be.
  • However, society can lead us astray with conditions of worth, when others only give us what we need when we show we are ‘worthy’, rather than just because we need it. (e.g. a dessert if we finish our greens, or love and affection if and only if we behave)
  • These conditions are very powerful and we can adapt ourselves determined not by our inherent self-actualising tendency, but by society. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualising our potentials. Since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not we find ourselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem. This conditional positive regard leads us to deny parts of ourselves that elicit rejection.
  • The aspect of your being that is founded in the actualizing tendency and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the real self.  It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become.
  • Where we receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard, we develop instead an image of the self which is out of reach.

Rogers posits that people seek self consistency and a sense of congruence between their sense of self and their everyday experience. He believed anxiety is the result of discrepancy between experience and the perception of the self. Once this happens, the person will be motivated to defend the self; he or she will engage in defensive processes against the loss of a consistent, integrated sense of self.

Rogers describes a range of characteristics of what makes a fully-functioning person. These are in short a person who is: Open to experience, living each moment as it comes, trusting their feelings, not worried about disapproval, nonconforming, with deep feelings, rich and an expressive emotional life. One of the points struck a chord with me, this quote taken from ref [2]

2. Existential living.  This is living in the here-and-now.  Rogers, as a part of getting in touch with reality, insists that we not live in the past or the future — the one is gone, and the other isn’t anything at all, yet!  The present is the only reality we have.  Mind you, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember and learn from our past.  Neither does it mean we shouldn’t plan or even day-dream about the future.  Just recognize these things for what they are:  memories and dreams, which we are experiencing here in the present.

This idea of experiencing the present moment is a key concept of the humanistic approach. Humanistic phenomenology emphasises the individual’s subjective experience of his or her world – in other words, his or her phenomenological experience. Quoting from [3]

  • The space of perceptions that makes up our experience is a subjective construction.
  • The individual constructs this inner world experience, and the construction reflects not only the outer world of reality but also the inner world of personal needs, goals, and beliefs.
  • Similar ideas can be traced back at least as far as the Allegory of the Cave by Plato, who depicted persons as perceiving mere shadows of reality, being unable to glimpse the objective world world of existence

These ideas, of an existential, subjective reality are going to be the basis upon which I build my project. I would like to investigate how we can map our sense of self by understanding the reality we have constructed – by looking at its manifestation in our sense of place, and places we identify with – these places being themselves a subjective experience of the world. Our ‘places of identity’ (for lack of a better term) are constructed from an overlay of real and imagined places, fiction, memory and promise.



[1] http://www.personalityresearch.org/courses/B15/notes/phenomenology.html
[2] http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/rogers.html
[3] https://quizlet.com/21110437/personality-theories-chapter-5-a-phenomenological-theory-carl-rogerss-person-centered-theory-of-personality-flash-cards/

The nature of identity

Self and self-concept

The self is sense of something which is ‘about me’. It is the subject of one’s own experience (perception, emotions, thoughts). In phenomenology, the self is conceived as what is experienced – and there can be no act of experiencing without an ‘experiencer’, this being the self. The self can therefore be understood a construction, intrinsic of the fact that we experience phenomena. The self can also be considered as a reflexive perception of oneself, (including the person who thinks, the subject of thinking and the awareness of doing so), meaning the self is an object of consciousness.

The earliest formulation of the self in modern psychology forms the distinction between the self as I, the subjective knower, and the self as Me, the object that is known. The self, I is a dynamic, responsive process which defines the structure of neural pathways according to the totality of past and present environments. Physiologically, the self can be considered in two ways: a) memory structure, so the Me exists outside of particular contexts; b) cognitive capacity, so what constitutes Me is created inside of, and embedded within, moment-to­-moment situations.

Self-concept is the product this responsive process: concepts or beliefs that an individual has upon  themselves as an emotion, spiritual, and social being. The self-concept is the idea of ‘who I am’ or anything you say about yourself. This can be described as what comes to mind when one thinks of oneself, one’s theory of one’s personality, and what one believes is true of oneself. People also know themselves in other ways: self-images, feelings, images drawn from the other senses, a sense of what they sound like, what they feel like tactically, or a sense of their bodies in motion.


Identities are distinct parts of the self-concept, the internalised meanings and expectations associated with the particular belief, or a way of making sense of some aspect of the self-concept. Identities are the traits and characteristics, social relations, roles, and social group memberships that define who one is. Identities can be focused on the past (what used to be true), the present (what is true of one now), or the future (the person one expects or wishes to become, the person one feels obligated to try to become, or the person one fears one may become).

People can think of themselves in different ways. An individualistic perspective focuses on how one is separate and different from others, looking at the self up close and from inside the mind’s eye. However, people can also consider how they are similar and connected via relationships (sometimes called a collectivistic perspective) such as how they might look from the outside, in the eyes of others. These different perspectives are often propagated through particular cultural expectations.

The term ‘identity’ is often used in two linked senses, social identity and personal identity. Social identity refers to social categories or role definitions: a set of persons marked by a label or distinguished by conception, qualities, beliefs, and expressions. This could include national or cultural identity. Personal identity usually refers to certain properties to which a person feels a special sense of attachment or ownership. Someone’s personal identity in this sense consists of those features she takes to define them as a person or make them the person they are. One’s personal identity is contingent and changeable: different properties could have belonged to to the way one defines oneself as a person, and what properties these are can change over time.

Weinreich gives the definition:

A person’s identity is defined as the totality of one’s self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future

A sense of self: how identity is maintained 

The sense of self is the way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs and purpose within the world. The nature of the sense of self is constantly changing.

Carl Rogers 3 components to a sense of self:

  • Self-esteem: what we think about ourselves. Rogers believed feelings of self-worth developed in early childhood and were formed from the interaction of the child with the mother and father.
  • Self-image: How we see ourselves, which is important to good psychological health. Self-image includes the influence of our body image on inner personality. At a simple level, we might perceive ourselves as a good or bad person, beautiful or ugly. Self-image has an effect on how a person thinks, feels and behaves in the world.
  • Ideal self: The person who we would like to be. It consists of our goals and ambitions in life, and is dynamic – i.e. forever changing. The ideal self in childhood is not the ideal self in our teens or late twenties etc.

Rogers believed that everyone exists in a constantly changing world of experiences that they are at the centre of, constantly reacting to stimuli within this subjective reality. A person reacts to changes in their subjective reality (or phenomenal field), which includes external objects and people as well as internal thoughts and emotions.Over time, a person develops a self-concept based on the feedback from this field of reality.

Looking back to my research of Jeff Malpas’ Philosophical Topography, we are reminded of the link between this subjective reality and our phenomenological experience. From my essay: “J. Malpas defines reality as an interconnection of objective spaces (defined in reference to objects in physical space) and subjective spaces (defined from a ‘local’ perspective dependent upon the subject). Place should be considered as not just a physical location, nor just a subjective concept, but is “that on which the notion of subjectivity is founded” (1999, p35). As subjectivity is at the heart of any concept of a sense of self, place becomes integral to the very possibility and structure of existence”.

Subjective reality 

Rogers believed that all behaviour is motivated by self-actualising tendencies, which drive a person to achieve at their highest level. As a result of their interactions with the environment and others, an individual forms a self-concept (an organised, fluid, conceptual pattern of concepts and values related to the self).

Rogers divided the self into the ideal self and the real self. The ideal self is the person that you would like to be; the real self is the person you actually are. Rogers focused on the idea that we need to achieve consistency between these two selves. We experience congruence when our thoughts about our real self and ideal self are very similar—in other words, when our self-concept is accurate. High congruence leads to a greater sense of self-worth and a healthy, productive life. Conversely, when there is a great discrepancy between our ideal and actual selves, we experience a state Rogers called incongruence, which can lead to maladjustment.


[1] Maxine Borowsky Junge, Identity and Art Therapy: Personal and Professional Perspectives

[2] Boundless. “Rogers’ Humanistic Theory of Personality.” Boundless Psychology. Boundless, 20 Aug. 2015. Retrieved 18 Jan. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/personality-16/humanistic-perspectives-on-personality-78/rogers-humanistic-theory-of-personality-308-12843/

[3] http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self

Artists working with experiences of place

The map experiments I have been doing brought me to look back at one of my favourite / most inspirational quilt artists, who also works with ideas around place – in particular cityscapes. I took the opportunity to look into any other people working in this sort of area.

Eszter Bornemisza

Eszter is a Hungarian fibre and textile artist, who like me had a former life as a scientific PhD researcher. Her artist’s statement picks up a number the features of place that I am working with:

My starting points are ideas that reflect our relations to traces and settlements of past cultures: the layers of existence. City plans appear as motives, signs, traces, ruins, the silt of the past. As the urban structure develops, widens, thickens, clots and creates subsystems in history, the cities that live within us undergo an endless and continuous evolution. The exploration that appears in most of my works also determines my working process: on the one hand research of civilisation history and on the other hand experiment to find the right techniques for my expressions.



I have loved Eszter’s work since the first time I saw her display at a quilt show. I could look to incorporate more of the actual materials of place and people (newspapers or things related to identity perhaps – family photographs? old letters?)


Yu-Wen Wu

Yu-Wen Wu describes herself as an interdisciplinary artist and has a range of fascinating work through drawing, installation to video. I like the way she uses abstraction, but still has the traces of the data it is built upon. A couple of her most relevant works are below.

In the broader context her work explores systems–its universal connectedness, interdependency and the persistence of change. She distills the transitory and migratory nature of our natural and built environments. Her investigations incorporate the visual language of data transforming them into abstract narratives


“Random Walks is both process and metaphor for the larger “random” paths of life. Here is structure and serendipity reflecting journeys and transitions. Throughout the years walks have been mapped in the language of informational notations with albums, video footage and drawing installations. They are manifestations of outward and inward journeys, rhythm and embodied topography.”

yww2“Mapping the Stars is part of a larger project based on constellations, constellation maps, and musical notations. Since ancient times constellations narrated the deeds of heroes and villains. They became a part of religious beliefs and at times influenced the decisions of nations.
The series Mapping the Stars is based on the charts of ancient Chinese star maps. The musical elements are from the score of Chopin’s Nocturne.”

Gail Biederman

Of the artists I found, Gail’s work most formally links identity and place. Her work is an exploration through mapping, which looks at identity and relationships as well as the physical terrain. I also noticed the way she describes mapping as both the material and process – exactly as I hope for my project to do.

Mapping is both a form my work inhabits and a strategy through which it evolves. As I work, the messiness of real life mixes with abstract information. The autobiographical and the geographical fuse, and the border between interior and exterior dissolves. Reconstructing places, personal experiences, and memories, my pieces become visual diaries, encoded narratives, even a type of portraiture. More than just a record of physical trips and places, these works symbolize passage and transition and plot the uniquely personal directions that our lives have taken. They translate an impersonal diagram of routes into an examination of identity and the ways one can define oneself in comparison to another.

Gail’s material choice is often more playful and occasionally uses soft textiles such as felt. She suggests that this offers a striking counterpoint to the conceptual aspects of the work. Some of her other works function clearly as psychogeographic maps or journals, some layering images of various places, networks, diagrams, and architectural plans to evoke the complexity of travel.



MA Proposal v3: Mapping Identity

I have resisted getting sucked into writing and not doing things, so my project proposal remains untouched since November. In my head however, I have started to re-frame what I am looking at, and how I want to address my research question. My research question is still looking at the interconnection between our sense of self and sense of place. I want to make work which acts a reflector – asking us how we encounter ourselves in the places in which we are. Can we unravel our own journey through life to get a better understanding of ourselves?


The key aspects I want to bring into my making process is locality – from my research I saw how you can generate place through action and agency (through dwelling or movement). I stated before that I wanted to use a process and materials which embody a sense of locality – I need to look deeper into all of the meanings locality can have. Locality can mean much more than just ‘from a particular place’ when you consider that in your mind you make your own place within yourself. This is how our identities can act as a map of ourselves


What my project is not…

My work is not about space, it is not about our experience of space nor how the human body interacts as we move through it. Places are not the same as ‘spaces’; places are saturated with a human narrative: our experiences made manifest though material demonstrations of human practices, marking these places out from other purely abstracted spaces. Neither is my work about life in very specific places or cultures (like capturing the vibrancy of a local community) or about discussions on biological and cultural identities (feminist politics, race, religion, migration and so on).

Mapping Identity 

People define themselves through the filter of their experiences. How people navigate through their surroundings can shape their identity and create psychological associations with places. There is always a familiar ground on which we begin which branches out through our lives into different places, each following its own path. These paths create our different responses and the different facets of ourselves. They interact with the paths of others and with the very fabric of the world itself as we pass through it. We each exist as the root, with the different paths all being part of us and our sense of self. If we look at once at all of the branches from which our lives are made, we see a map of ourselves (=identity). You create your own map. Look at it, you understand it, because it is you, it is your story.

I am going to continue experimentation with the ideas around ‘mapping’ and the connections between identity and place. All maps are a mixture of objective truth and subjective representation –  an edge – as such are an ideal place to generate work from.


As well as my material experiments which I will continue for now, I also have a new, grand idea about testing a new art process – using my psychogeographic rambling as a way to change the projection of the map. By changing the frame of reference we begin to see things we would not otherwise have seen. More on this later!

Mapping identity

Mulling in the post-Christmas haze this week, and having found some quiet time at my drawing table I decided to do some more experiments with ink and water and my stream of consciousness poetry.

I am still looking to my MA project inspiration for the backdrop for the work (in context if not yet in process/material), so ideas around questioning identity and place, a sense of anachronism, loss and isolation. Overlaying different versions of ourselves again and again as each moment creates a new sense of self – infinitesimal changes which mean we are never the same again.