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Catherine Opie



Cathy Lebowitz interviews Josefina Ayerza


To resume again...

Jacques Lacan's Anxiety (II)

The Names-of-the-Father

The Formulas of

On Giorgio Agamben's

The Fundamental Perversion

as Reader of Hegel


Catherine Opie

Opie image


Cathy Lebowitz: How does this image evoke the concept of Names-of-the-Father?

Josefina Ayerza: Mother and baby child, while being fed at the breast evoke the Names-of-the-Father if only because of the absence of the father together with a strong presence of the father relative to the paternal metaphor - to the proper name.

CL: I see the absence of the father here. Maybe the name of the father has not been imprinted and the intimacy of mother and son is not interrupted. What is coming into the situation here is the eye of the camera, the artist. Since this is a self portrait, the artist is on both sides - the one who looks and the one looked at.

JA: The eye of the artist on both sides - the one who looks and the one looked at - literally reproduces the structure of the gaze... for the case crosswise, in that both, the one who looks and the one looked at see... like in Paul Valéry's poem about The Young Parca, the eye of the artist sees itself seeing itself.

CL: Why do you think the artist has chosen this very intimate moment to show to her audience?

JA: With Jacques Lacan intimacy ex-sists, that is, it has a representation outside or it doesn't exist at all. He even has a word for it, "extimacy." If there is transgression in the event of giving intimacy a name, with Catherine Opie it is giving intimacy an image - a self-portrait. A very personal image, it is not a painting - the virgin mother and child fed at the breast we are likely to encounter - but a photograph. The sole fact of it being a photograph makes for transgression to reach further. I think this is her leitmotiv: transgression.

CL: Is the photo of the woman nursing that you think is transgressive? Or is it the photo of this woman, whose appearance does not conform to the madonna and child tradition?

JA: I think both. The image of a woman nursing a child is not in itself transgressive, but the photograph is. Again, the fact that the photograph is not conforming to the madonna and child tradition - the tattoo is an unusual detail, also the mother's nakedness, the tan in her arms, from the elbow down - brings about the transgressive as well...

CL: Yes, at first I didn't see the necessity of invoking the madonna and child, but she does seem to be intentionally playing with that trope. The rich red backdrop, the formality of the composition and her posture and gaze. Especially compared to the other photographs of the little boy Harper and Joanna, Betsy and Olivia in the house.

JA: She could be a Virgin, you know, today there's many ways for a woman to become pregnant without going through sexual intercourse. What else could the red rich backdrop imply? And do we have a Holy ghost here? With Lacan the Holy spirit stands for the entry of the signifier into the world. And this is a phallic signifier and the cause of the desire - we enter another life beyond the biological one.

CL: I don't understand. You enter another life beyond the biological one? And what could the signifier be?

JA: You enter the paternal symbolic Law: the mother's desire is screened through the paternal Law. There are two levels here. Whether directly through sexual intercourse or in a laboratory tube, in the biological, to make a woman pregnant, you need the sperm. The signifier corresponds instead with the world of words, of Law. The Holy spirit, a dove, makes the Virgin pregnant - from where a concept was born - this world is beyond the biological life.

CL: Is there a Holy ghost signifier here?

JA: As a signifier the Holy ghost stands for the overflow of meaning, or the potentiality of meaning that eludes every determinate signification. A phallic signifier, here we could identify the Holy ghost with phallic jouissance as the symbolization /normalization of this pre-symbolic excessive (M) Other's jouissance.

Art: Catherine Opie
Joanna, Betsy & Olivia, New York - C-print, 1998
Harper - C-print, 2004

courtesy of Regen Projects, Los Angeles.

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