We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time: Heteronyms, Personas and Contemporary Art.

Jeroen van Dooren

PhD Viva completed 2019-2020

Jeroen van Dooren

Jeroen van Dooren We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time: Heteronyms, Personas and Contemporary Art.

ABSTRACT

The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu (4th century BC) once had a dream. He dreamed he was a butterfly, flying around as butterflies do. He was conscious that he was a butterfly and not himself, a man. Upon awakening he questioned his existence. He was confused about whether he was the butterfly or whether the butterfly was him.

How does the adaptation of the literary concept of the heteronym from fictional writing to contemporary art practice affect the artist’s identity and resulting narratives? What does it mean to create and embody a fictional artist who is separate from the self, and how does this alter our perceptions of selfhood? We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time brings together the literary concept of the heteronym, contemporary art, fictional writing and considerations of the relationship between the self and other, originating from a personal experience of mental health issues relating to divided subjectivities. The research creates fictional worlds within contemporary art in order to offer a new perspective on practice-led enquiries into the relations between heteronyms, transparency, fiction and the presentations of the self in everyday life and art.

Dreaming my reality as I go along, different voices express my opinions through a practice of writing and art-making. In Fernando Pessoa I found my guide, my tutor from an earlier era. The schism between the rational and the absurd, the hiding and exposing of what is personal and what is public, has been integral to this research. Accompanied by Pessoa and his transparent approach of showing the separate existence of his heteronyms and his orthonym, I took his hand and walked alongside. This practice-led investigation does not intend to provide a specific method for the creation of a heteronym; however, it does offer an approach to understanding potential methods or perspectives for creating a heteronym or a separate self within contemporary art practice. Through the presentation of multiple artistic personas, the research investigates, through the process of making and fictional writing, the possibility of creating an aesthetic iteration of Pessoa’s heteronyms.

The use of the idea of heteronyms within this artistic research offers a way to investigate working from a multitude of different perspectives and personal narrations. It is also a form of depersonalisation and simulation, moving from the self to the other and back again. In doing so, this research understands how the heteronym can function within contemporary art. Autobiografictional characters are invented, their personas are assumed and artworks are produced according to their own separate voices and ways of being. Making work as the fictional personas, these characters come alive via performances, text and audio pieces. The fictional characters are not there as a tool for hiding or for masking but are used as an instrument to investigate character development and the potential for multiple artistic personas within contemporary art. How can a similar world, as Pessoa’s literary work, be created in contemporary art? 

We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time does not shy away from using pastiche, irony and absurdity to form the fictional artists contained within it. We Are Not Ourselves All of the Time and We Are Not All of Ourselves at Any Time is offering a practice-led enquiry into contemporary notions of subjectivity, performativity and the role of the contemporary artist. Through the generation and demonstration of these multiple selves and personas, this research offers a new way of thinking about the freedom and constraints of an aesthetics of the heteronym, where the world of contemporary art becomes a stage where heteronyms perform.

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