Nicole Ottiger


This practice-based PhD thesis offers a deep exploration of representing the self, through the critical examination of three examples of my experimental studies; titled Video Ergo Sum (2010-11), From Perception of Art to Art Making (2010-11) and Feeling of a Presence (2015), and artworks produced in connection; Visual Space has No Owner (2015), Shooting Stars (2015-17) and What constitutes the Self (2018). The written thesis includes an appendix, which details other experiments and artworks that were part of the process. This research is on one side informed by my experiences as an artist-in-lab in the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience (LNCO), at the Brain Mind Institute (BMI), EPFL Lausanne (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne), where brain mechanisms of body perception, body awareness and self-consciousness are being targeted and researched. On the other side, my method of art practice and artworks that reflect my thinking about the phenomena of the self and what the self represents today are presented in this thesis. When rendering a self-portrait — an intimate representation of the own personal self — persistent questions include: What is the self? What is I/me? What is conscious? How can self-consciousness be portrayed? What is the body in space? It is no longer appropriate to concentrate on the traditional definition of self-portraiture. I use technology to further my perspectives on the ‘self’. This research documents my findings: With the word selfie — a new terminology since the existence of smartphones — we are confronted with a new phenomenon which controversially is linked to decay, decadence as well as live communication and a representing of the ‘here’ in situated space. I created a personal, subjective evidence of studying the ‘self’ from an artistic position, which I linked with theory (from neuroscience, psychology and philosophy) and contemporary art, and discussed in comparison with the challenge of how to represent/depict my own self as imagery in art. Though self-portraiture is not a new genre in art — the question is whether in every movement, and in today’s posthumanism era, the representation of the self needs to be re-positioned? The examples discussed in the thesis present an interrogation of how technology: digitality and virtuality influenced the artist’s perspective and thinking about what the ‘self’ constitutes, or not (unfeeling to be). The relationship between the artist and material/digitality, — as forms of material reality is visible in the documentation and reflection of the three experimental studies and also seen, visibly in the ‘shift’ of materiality chosen in the subsequent artworks created. I faced issues of one’s own powerlessness because art, unlike scientific laboratory experiments, cannot be verified, and thus phenomenologically investigated how the artist uses intuition and sense impressions. The research documents and confirms that I have developed and used a strategy of The Becoming of Unbecoming — based on theories of Deleuze and Bergson, put forward by Grosz (2005). In my art creating processes, there were specific moments or durations where a difference, a form of knowledge emerged or actualized, whereby I felt stripped of a certainty of ‘self’, but also opening up other possibilities of sense of self. This thesis argues that the artist as subject, predominantly using the technique of drawing as a recording tool and intelligence of seeing, and object (human body and mind, perceiving, experiencing and feeling sensations within specific constraints) in experiments made in the neuroscientific lab, as well as artworks created in the studio within the time-frame of this research (2010-2018) is a practice and method of critical thinking, drawing from methods of slow philosophy (Boulous Walker 2017) and forms of uncognitive knowledge and unthought, the power of cognitive nonconscious (Hayles 2017) in the production of research, demonstrating a knowledge linked to the precarious visualities of contemporary art and visual culture. This thesis shows and reflects on ‘type(s) of knowledge’ acquired in art-based, experimental research at the interface of art and neuroscience, and artworks made within the process. I argue that a richness of inherent knowledge comes from using art as visual methodology, in which new artistic subjectivities come about, derived from shifts in the sense of self – in the re-localisations and re-positioning of the self and perception thereof. Changed perspectives are always possible. The research results directly inform practice and contribute to the debates on interdisciplinary ‘thinking’ in art, art-science collaboration and add new potentials for neuro-aesthetics. I raise awareness for the interconnected, changing relations between perception and self-representation, and evolving ways of thinking/showing knowledge in art.

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