“Changing being took a while.”
– A Man of the People (1995),
Ursula K. Le Guin
“Demonic Symmetry” (2019-2023) is a series of self-portraits based on digital reconstitution of selfies and photographs. All images used here with permission from i0 xen0.
“No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.” – Antonin Artaud
“[Hanna Segal] claims that the capacity to mourn is essential for creativity, the implication being that if her patients are unable to create, it’s because they are unable to mourn.” also noting that “Kristeva argues along related lines when she hypothesizes that as long as you’re stuck in melancholia, there might be seeds of creativity sprouting within you, but you remain incapable of symbolization; it’s only when you’re able to enter the process of mourning that you’re able to create.” – Mari Ruti, in conversation with Amy Allen in the co-authored [Critical Theory between Klein and Lacan]
There is a genre within selfie self-portraiture that is peculiar to binary gender transition and emphasizes the degree of change from the before (the assigned gender) to the after (the euphoric becoming). In Daniel M. Lavery’s telling, praise and highlighting the former forms is a way of asserting: “I wasn’t fired, I quit”. This defiant rupture, the quitting, is the literally-getting-out-of-hell.
This was exorcism: possessed, I was creating self-portraits to reconstitute my own self-perception.
For 3 years, at the time of this writing, my bathroom had, in lieu of a mirror, this flyer from Wu Tsang’s solo exhibition at Gropius Bau, Berlin, “There is no non-violent way to look at somebody.”
I could tell the exorcism was working when the shapes started to gain a kind of coherence; and I think this happened along with practice of the capacity to mourn.
Mourn what? Much of the grief and loss of transsexuality is the grief and loss spilled by other people: someone who loves you in mourning the version of you they wished you were. Someone else has not truly mourned the loss of their own potential self, because they prevented themselves from doing something they craved, and watching you do it is unbearable to them. There is so much violence directed at transsexual bodies, and it shakes the air around you even when you yourself are safe. The overwhelmed lack the capacity to mourn their losses.
Other people’s grief spills and piles onto the already complex, private landscape of the one who is molting, which entails its own kind of grief. That grief can be unspeakable, because in this process of molting, there is much demand for performing certainty.
Right now, in your mind: the scene from Terminator 2 where, T-1000 (made of “polymimetic alloy”) has been frozen and exploded into many pieces which, upon thawing, crawl back together.
In Demonic Symmetry, I use repetition and mirroring to collapse or obscure body parts, and to insinuate new ones. In many of my favorite edits, there is a suggestion of 2 (sometimes 3) distinct characters; but is a repetition without multiplicity, a repetition of a copy, a “they?” Conversely, if the same body, or even the same individual image, can be used to produce wildly different forms, can that be anything other than a “they?”
The “who would win?” meme variant featuring as the two opponents two versions of the same face, mirrored, emphasizing the human of complete facial symmetry. Here, “he” becomes “they.”
If you call me “she” to my bearded face, does that make it a non-binary pronoun?