Theatre of the Self

photo of me reading

photo of diary burningComing soon! Thanks to Cultivator and Arts Council funding Theatre of the Self will be published by local Headland Printers before Christmas, making available a box set of 5 small colour-coded books that are simultaneously art, documentation, and interactive mental health diaries.

The project reflects multiple themes found in my arts practice around the construction of gendered subjectivities with lots of additional material and research about the integration of our stories; body theory; narrative re-structuring; re-construction of self.

Project score:

30 diaries (1977-2007)

30 days (not consecutive)

Each day read a diary, save something, burn the rest.

Document with three photos; one photo of diary, one photo reading the diary, one photo of burning diary.  (Project documented on instagram: delpha_hudson)

Theatre of the Self is a project about historical narrativity, and selfhood. A performance of making and unmaking, the performance score was completed between 10th April – 10th July 2017.

I am ‘claim[ing] time and rehears[ing] whatever is necessary for [my] own sense of history, community and body’. (Catherine Grant, Oxford Art Journal 39:3, 2017, p.375)

From the age of 14, I wrote almost daily in my diary The writing potentially captures a unique image of what I actually am, instead of what I think I am. Many of the memories I have forgotten or changed, as I write and re-write the story of myself as we all do, almost daily. I claimed the right to produce myself ‘as an object in the work, [revealing] the practices of self-constitution, recognition and reflection’, (Foucault (1984:63) quoted in ed Du gay, Evans and Redman, Identity a reader, p.26). This practice of self-production illuminates the process of the creation and perception of self, a theatre that we are all daily engaged in.

We tell ourselves stories about ourselves, flexibly and fluidly telling our own truths. Would confronting ‘truth’ in diaries, change who I am or who I think I am? The process of the performance threw up other fictions in re-performing identity, and its constant re-creation. And destruction. Of course burning books is a seemingly political and perhaps overly dramatic act. It made the project an emotive and provocative way of thinking abouttruth, writing and objects, and ‘what to retain, what to dump, how to hold onto what memory insists onrelinquishing, how to deal with change.’ (John Berger)

The project is about creation of self not destruction. It explores the ways in which women have infinite potential to fluidly re-edit and re-write the narrative structures that contain and restrict them. Editing the self in this way, selecting material and memories, also has the potential to heal and deal with past trauma and mental illness.

Diaries are defined as writing that is in the first person, written at that moment, sequential, with no prescience as to the future. It is ‘a social practice which actively constitutes reality’, yet as Hassan argues in Writing and Reality, a study of Modern British Diary Fiction, the diary cannever be a completely ‘immediated transcription of reality since it isconstructed…and is a highly coded form of signification’. (Greenwood Press, 1993, p.34). In de-constructing and de-coding my own seemingly truthful, un-expurgated versions of myself, I am choosing to construct new realities, which are no less real, nor less ‘my self’. Culture conceives of diaries as revealing the true self, ‘as it spontaneously records the immediacy of the living moment ‘ in what Derrida calls ‘pervasive metaphysics of presence ‘– (Derrida in Hassan, 1993), that underpin Western ways of thinking the self. The process of reading the diaries and destroying them became not just a way of dealing with stuff (what to keep, what to destroy) and my relationship with past traumas (yes it was a cathartic process) but of intentionally revealing cultural structures that confine and delimit women’s visibility and experience.

In Towards a Performative Politics of Time in the Work of Monica Ross, Alexandra M. Kokoli, draws our attention to both mourning and melancholia as generative opportunities for remembrance and new departures. It was very sad to re-visit parts of my past, and there was something truly melancholic about watching the diaries slowly turning to ash (I resisted collecting it and displaying in vials like Susan Hiller), yet also something strangely triumphant. The destruction of my diaries un-tethered me, from a need to see my history in sequential order, and gave me the potential to liberate myself from old ties of guilt, and as they say “move on”.

Yet it was not intended to be merely cathartic, the process of the performance of ‘unmaking,’ becomes a metaphor for ‘making’; holding possibilities for transformational selves, multiplying possibilities for the self and complex female identities. It is part of an artistic endeavour to find visual and conceptual means to represent the

‘unfinalizable process by which a person becomes for the first time that which [s]he is’ (Della Pollock 1999, quoted in Battersby’s article ‘Representational strategies and the culture of birth, Women a cultural review, winter 2006/7 vol 17, no 3).

Inspiration and ideas from this project fuel and link disparate concerns, and media in my arts practice. Presenting domestic and caring experiences in humorous and ambivalent dismisses historical narratives and tropes of guilt and blame. Visual representations have the potential to change and transform trauma and mental illness.

Read more about the project 

Delpha Hudson- more about Theatre of the self