Self-Obliteration?

When I think back over the processes that have been undertaken throughout this PaR PhD and the experiences that have affected the development of this research project it becomes apparent to me that masculinity, or even masculine identity, is very difficult to define. 

It is of course possible to see the premature ending of the second performance of Spitting Distance (2013) and the redirection of the making process in Talking about Keith (2014) as demonstrations of failed masculinity.  That being that even normative masculinity couldn’t get me through the experiences of abjection in the work.  Yet at the same time this assumes that other gendered identities might be able to undertake experiences of abjection in a way that I couldn’t, simply because I am a man that prescribes to certain aspects to masculinity, either consciously or otherwise.  This notion is absurd when considering the social construction of gender itself. 

Considering the point that masculine identity cannot be cleanly amputated from identity more generally, my reluctance to resolve my experiences of abjection by stopping the abject suggests that I experienced a fear of losing myself, but not necessarily my masculine self.    At the same time though I am also aware that patriarchal constructions require clear and definable characteristics, behaviours and traits from men.  As such the need for a coherent self, one that is not ambiguous or messy, is vital to the notion of masculinity, and hence to deliberately lose one’s self is to offer a challenge to those normative masculine values.

It is in the acts of stopping and redirection then that I recognise the emergence of a normative masculinity in myself, a need to keep clean and proper as a way of preserving the coherence of self. This is in despite of finding alternative ways to challenge normativity without reinscribing it physically in the work, as those artists who operate within muscular masculinity do. 

The problem that I am facing as I work towards the end of my research journey then is not to with the strategies that have been created, rather it is to do with how far I am willing to push those strategies.  As such in order to challenge normative representations of masculinity I feel like I have to walk away form my notion of self because it is so deeply intertwined with my understanding of masculinity.  Instead of looking through the door and seeing the powers of horror, the fragmentation and destruction of self, I have to walk through that door and experience it. 

The only term that I can really find, that is useful to describe what I need to do, is obliteration.  This is because the violence of this word captures the level of destruction needed to not simply make evident the fragmentation of self, but instead to blow open those fragments and seep into them.  Yet my concern is that I am not sure how I might achieve this self-obliteration, how it might feel, and the complexities of why it is important.  As such my approach is to consider two works that directly refer to self-obliteration.   The first is a performance to video directed by Yayoi Kusama called Self-Obliteration (1968) and the second is a series of three performances by Ron Athey entitled Self-Obliteration Series.

The questions that I will be asking in the analysis of these works are:

1.    What constitutes a self-obliteration?

2.    What strategies have been used to achieve self-obliteration?

3.    How does self-obliteration feel from the position of spectating these works?