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An Aesthetic Understanding of the Abject Art: focused on the later works of Cindy Sherman

  • The Journal of Aesthetics and Science of Art
  • Abbr : JASA
  • 2008, 27(), pp.125-158
  • Publisher : 한국미학예술학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Other Arts and Kinesiology

Chung Sukyung 1

1서울대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

The abject art is a kind of art which is not beautiful, but ugly and disgusting. But the abject art is regarded as the most important avant-garde art of the 1980s. Analyzing Cindy Sherman’s photo works in terms of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalysis will explain why and how that happened. Her early works, <Untitled Film Still>s were partially welcomed by the Feminist theorists for their potentials to break the stereo-types of women prevalent in the patriarchic society. They were expected to disturb the representational schema by revealing the gaze and upsetting the status of the male subject. But in fact, <Untitled Film Still>s remained as the mere collection of the imaginary identifications of Cindy Sherman rather than the arena of subject building. But her later works, the abject arts evidently handle the matter of subject building in a radical way. They show us traumatic scenes of damaged bodies, especially women bodies and scenes of disgusting secretions and rotten materials smelling death. But they not only make us unpleasant but also lure us in an unexplainable way. Jacques Lacan explains it with the notion of the object a and the lamella. According to * Ph. D. candidate and lecturer of Seoul National University Lacan, the female body, esp. mother’s body represents the original fullness of existence, and the secretions represents the remnants of the symbolic castration which forbids the unification with the mother in the name of the father. So both indicate the unachievable state of wholeness. In the longing to achieve it, the subject cannot but to stick to the sex and the abject. And the lacked subject takes the jouissance, the pleasure in pain in the sex and the abject. Sherman’s abject arts make use of this point. They show the sex and the abject, but in an uncanny and grotesque way that the subjects cannot make any imaginary unified identification. Through this, Sherman tried to break through the fantasies imposed to the women. Sheman’s later works thus can be called the sublimation of the abject. Lacan asserted that the sublimation is to elevate an ordinary thing to the status of the real, the Thing. It depends on the switch of the status and meaning of an object. When the symbolic cannot catch the wholeness of an object, the lack and the object a as the real reveal and the object changes into the Thing. Thus sublimation happens where the symbolic and the visual codes work badly as in the later works of Cindy Sherman.

Citation status

* References for papers published after 2022 are currently being built.