The Theatre of the Self

The Theatre of the Self  is an art project about writing our stories and writing the self for good mental health. 

From the age of 14, I wrote almost daily in a diary. I took all my diaries, read them and then burned the bits I didn’t want to keep. I considered this a performance of self-production. The project illuminates the processes of  creation and perception of self, a theatre that we are all daily engaged in. The project reflects multiple themes from my arts practice around the construction of gendered subjectivities, the integration of our stories, narrative re-structuring and re-constructions of fluid selfhood. 

Thanks to Cultivator and Arts Council funding the Theatre of the Self publishing project is coming soon. A box set of 5 small colour-coded books that are simultaneously art, documentation, and interactive mental health diaries will be published by the local Headland Printers by the end of 2020. 


Now Here – a shed in a Cornish meadow

The original ‘performance’ took place in a quiet meadow in Cornwall in 2017: 

Project score: 30 diaries (1977-2007), 30 days (not consecutive), Each day read a diary, save something, burn the rest., Documented on instagram with three photos; one photo of diary, one photo reading the diary, one photo of burning diary. 

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 about truth, writing and objects, and ‘what to retain, what to dump, how to hold onto what memory insists on relinquishing, 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’, [1] yet the diary can never be a completely ‘immediated transcription of reality since it is constructed…and is a highly coded form of signification’. .[2]. 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’.

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.

Drawing our attention to both mourning and melancholia as generative opportunities for remembrance and new departures, it was truly sad  watching the diaries slowly turning to ash (after I had kept bits I wanted) 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”.

It was a cathartic process and a performance of ‘unmaking,’ that held  possibilities for ‘making’ -and 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’ [3] that has the potential to change and transform our lives, our sense of self and potentially deal with trauma and mental illness.

Read more about the project on the Women In Art website

Delpha Hudson- more about Theatre of the self

[1] Hassan, Writing and Reality, a study of Modern British Diary Fiction,Greenwood Press, 1993, p.34

[2] Hassan, Writing and Reality, a study of Modern British Diary Fiction,Greenwood Press, 1993, p.34

[3] 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