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Un Magazine 11.1

Uncanny Self

Alex Cuffe

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Alex Cuffe, <em>Uncanny Self</em> 2016
digital image

We are looking. Seeing. Peering, through the two skin-wreathed holes in our skull.

Two holes situated slightly apart from each other, each containing an evolutionary feat.

Together they make our stereovision. They allow us to perceive depth, colour and form.

I am looking at a flat surface and it reflects depth. Within this depth, a body stands alone. Always peering out. Its transfixed gaze, mounted upon a neck and torso. Secured, captured, anchored. The more I look, the more uncanny it becomes. I move, it moves. We are alike, sisters. The mirrored confirmation of our self. I think about how universal this is, though no matter how universal, we will experience it alone. Each one of us relates uniquely to that feeling. Perhaps some don’t notice. A collective effort isn’t enough to forget the horror of this body. The first effort of our labour.

Engendered onto this body is an immensely entangled set of rules that govern interrelation with others. Before anything else begins, a code of conduct is placed upon it coercively. This induction is forced through a colonial, racist, capitalist, cis-centric, hetero-patriarchal structure that’s so comprehensive it is nearly invisible in its entirety. Underneath this weight, our meaty animated vessels are struggling with the values placed upon us. Our fleshy masses seemingly have to behave accordingly to these rules that unlawfully govern us.

These will not be our laws. Their rules teach us to look away.

But it is under these laws that we are gazed upon. Valued only for our image, our talent, our output. We feel we have to overcompensate just to merely exist at the expense of our wellbeing. We have to over-perform our identity to be acknowledged and respected. We have to be able to console you and self-soothe simultaneously. Our image, our health, our wellbeing, our intelligence are exploited. Our depression, our sorrow, our self-loathing, our loneliness, our suicidal ideation are less our own than they are an institutional mechanism designed to erase us. Giving over to these feelings gives weight to a method of institutional violence. The most radical act is defiance; it strengthens our self-worth, our confidence, our care for others — and ourselves.

Wilfully and with abandon, I design and embrace my own gaze. My independent self-autonomy will govern the way I am viewed. I look exactly how I look because of my politics. That is the labour of my gaze.

Our vessels hold us so tightly at times we can hardly breathe. But we will never look away. This is our labour.

In a hand is an object, coldly illuminating her face.

We manage to pout and stare back to the void held at arm’s length. The object absorbs space and flattens it. An image situated just slightly outside the perspective of this body.

Compressed, flat, binary data.

This is the moment we see it, ourselves outside of our self. The vessel is visible. Unrestricted by the constraints of a body and skull with that insipid, indignant mind. We self-define that image, leaning in, shifting our weight and taking control. Extracting the code of a hegemonic perspective of ourselves. I am yet to even exist according to this paradigm. I am fine with that. I am ready not to be born in your image.

It is with radical self-definition that we win you over. With our embodied horror we are able to distil radical self-love. Even when the game is rigged against the odds, we can take home some kind of loot. A reward for our bravery. At last count, a single gold sticker. Bless.

I take photos of myself when I cry to be reminded that I grieve. My tears are remembered. My pain is not just my own. That we feel and what we are is real enough to note as worthy. This is my great victory, even if it’s only rising from bed each day. I am here and every bit of grief is just as real as the body that holds it.

It is our labour to redefine this image, this aesthetic of our collective grief. My value is not reduced when combined with that sorrow. Our depression only makes me stronger. Retrospectively, our vulnerability is actually our strength. We are here to reclaim this condition.

Shapes start to change and distort until new. If you blur your eyes you become two.

Others find ways to mark our bodies, encoding us with meaning we can never possibly control. If you give in, it will govern you until your grave. At least there the worms won’t care.

You look away, the other way. You think this is not your space, your depth. Your performative supports are left on the counter with a note. It reads ‘gone to the shops x’ but you never come back.

I like to say that I am not an artist anymore: that I quit, at least for now. I came to the realisation that an art practice is less a job and more a relationship. So much of the artist’s labour is intangible and unseen. I realised that I was trapped in a painful cycle, like dating an abusive partner. A dynamic lacking in love or precaution, bleeding me mentally and financially, without the courtesy of a phone call or even a text. I think that my practice was for a time when I thought I deserved that kind of abuse. Sorry babe, but I am too busy for that.