My name is Kai Kaljo
I’m an Estonian artist
My weight is 92 kilogrammes
I am 37 years age but still living with my mother
I am not married
I am working in Estonian Academy of Arts for 90 dollars per month
Most important thing in being an artist is freedom
I am very happy
Kai Kaljo, Loser, 19971
Liina Siib is an Estonian artist born in 1963. This essay will discuss her exhibition A Woman Takes Little Space which took place in the Estonian pavilion Palazzo Malipiero at the Venice Biennale 2011.2 The exhibition was a full-on installation of a household environment as a theatrical space, where one’s acts are determined by awareness of surrounding gaze and architecture3. In this installation, the artist is addressing people’s expectations to home as cozy or old-fashionably a heimlich place, and as a room of one’s own independence to use Virginia Woolf’s words. The exhibition raised questions around female subjectivity in personal space and time.
Liina Siib tackles issues of gender and national difference in workplaces, mildly ridiculing people who easily accept marginalization of women or national minorities. One of the central issues of the exhibition is prostitution. Siib’s prostitutes are publicly invisible ultimately objectified women who are not permitted to have an individual subjectivity in common consciousness. Prostitution has recently been a quite important issue in contemporary art in order to raise issues of gender subjectivity and sex as consumer-product. In this particular exhibition, Siib investigates the subjectivity of sex workers, their self-perception and desire. This essay tries to approach the exhibition by exploring artistic ethics of Liina Siib.
Bracha Ettinger is an Israeli-French psychoanalyst, artist and feminist theorist born in 1948. Ettinger incorporates all her practices in her theoretical work in order to develop an innovative approach to applied psychoanalysis, half-way between the artistic and therapeutic practices. She has developed a feminist theory from Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis that is concerning female subjectivity. Her main-concepts are based on the fact that everyone share an experience of being born from the womb (‘matrix‘ in Latin) of the m/Other.
Matrixial m/Other is both a mother and an unknown Other or in Ettingerian terms the non-I, – as I is the unknown Other, who is not an intruder but a partner-in-difference for the mother before birth. In a nutshell, matrix is a concept for a transforming borderspace of encounter of the co-emerging I and the neither fused nor rejected unknown non-I. Whereas Freud and Lacan were aware of their failure to comprehend female subjectivity, the matrixial approach makes it possible to perceive and to theorize from a feminist perspective the ethical links that connect the artist and his/her work to the audience.
For art theory, Ettinger provides us with psychoanalytical model of approaching art with-in an encounter-event through fascinance, self-fragilization and resistance towards one’s Ego, taking into account the condition of co-existing of I(s) and non-I(s) in the matrixial sphere. This matrixial encounter-event drives subjects through a metramorphosis to ethical transformation of both I and non-I, i.e. also the subjectivity of the artwork is influenced by the viewer. As this essay is arguing that Liina Siib is critically depicting phallic structures or their results, Ettinger provides a good theoretical framework to analyze Siib’s work from specifically feminine viewpoint.
Bracha Ettinger’s philosophy of matrix
The major concern Bracha Ettinger regards lies with potential meanings and pre-meaning sensations that hover at the very threshold of subjectivity. Bracha Ettinger like most theorists from French feminist tradition uses a self-made language in order to freely develop all the complexities of her thought beyond the ordinary language. Thus, before going deeply into Liina Siib’s work I will briefly map Ettinger’s terminology of matrixial borderspace and its connections with other philosophical thoughts in order to simplify understanding her ideas when analyzing Siib’s work.
According to Ettinger’s reading of Sigmund Freud, he taught that in order to defend the male child’s narcissism and allow the development of his Ego the womb must be denied. When Freud discovered womb phantasies in adults and the question ‘Where do babies come from?’ in children, he supported the womb denial as “developing these issues would have led to dangerous theoretical questioning some of the most general and basic psychoanalytic assumptions.”
The matrix threatens the phallic narcissism, but more importantly, it is a threat because it engenders a disturbing desire by-passing the phallus and desiring for jointness with a foreign and strange. The matrix channels the subject’s desire toward the beauty and the pain, the phantasy and the trauma of the Other, with no illusion of mastering it, to assimilate nor reject it. At the same time, there is no promise of peace and harmony but rather the matrix is profoundly fragilizing.
Ettinger’s matrix is a complex beyond-the-phallus apparatus, whose aesthetic-poïetic tool is metramorphosis. The matrixial sphere is a space of encounters and their trails: traces of my traumatic encounter with my non-I(s) mounted on unconscious lanes opened by originary Thing-encounters with the m/Other, and imprints of Thing-events of my non-I(s), transmitted to me. The matrixial stratum of subjectivization co-exists side by side with phallic stratum. Unlike phallic structure whicht has fixed binaries, matrixial deals with co-existence of multiplicity, and can thus be found from anywhere.
Knowledge of/from this sphere is transferred to subjectivity-as-encounter with-in and from jouissance, trauma and borderlinking itself. Encounter-event is a primordial term in Ettinger’s theory of subjectivization based on the birth-experience. It initially starts in late prenatal stage, when mother-to-be (the I) does not yet know the child (the non-I) but they share a certain matrixial borderspace until the child is born. With birthing, both mother and child share an experience of the same event but differently, which Ettinger calls difference-in-jointness.
The matrixial sphere is modeled upon intimate sharing in jouissance, trauma and phantasm in the feminine/pre-birth sphere, and the matrixial womb stands for a psychic capacity for shareability created in the borderlinking to a female body – a capacity for differentiation-in-co-emergence that occurs in the course of separation-in-jointness, where distance-in-proximity is continuously reattuned.
I matrixial bordersphere borderspacing is the transforming and differentiating of the I and non-I by opening the space – a distance-in-proximity – just to the edges before the dissolvence of their affective and mental links. While borderlinking is the transforming and differentiating of the I and non-I by bounding, e.g. in artworking, by series of reattunings in jointness along the same psychic string, and psychic strings spread further knowledge by diffracting threads metramorphosis are in process.
Matrixial objet a
Whereas in the phallic stratum, the gaze is the model of a “pure” objet a – cause of desire in the scopic field – a ‘nothing’, an absence resulted from symbolic ‘castration’ related to originary repression with no substitute. We look for the gaze, we are longing for it, desiring to be looked at by the gaze, but the gaze is hidden from us. According to Lacan’s late ‘theory of phantasy’ when the subject appears, the objet a disappears and when the objet a finds a way to penetrate its other side the signifying meaning disappears and goes into hiding; the symbolic Other is “knocked out” and with it the subject fades away. Instances of uncanny arise when something which ought to have remained hidden has come to light when hitherto imaginary appears before us in reality.Matrixial objet a is not-yet or not-any-more objects, they are a link a between things and objects.
In the matrixial stratum, related to plural, partial and shared unconscious desire (in both men and women) the objet a appears and yet the subject does not completely fade away since in the matrix, the emergence of meaning is related to shareability and to changes in distance in proximity (distance between I and non-I). As an unfocussed object, the matrixial object/objet a is never completely “on” nor “off” (object retains its connotation with presence and the term objet a its connotation with absence) – thanks to its shareability it is simultaneously on several different degrees between presence and absence.
Thus, the objet a is an object of desire in the sense that all part-objects – breast, gaze, voice, penis, touch, etc – are lacking at a certain stage or to a certain degree as a result of some kind of separation. The lack, then, can be caused by weaning or castration: an on/off experience, but in matrixial logic there is another way through reciprocal transformations, where the thing is never completely lost for all the different partners of the matrix.
The matrixial gaze is a subjective-objet a that emerges within a singular plurality and partiality within a singular borderspace with its borderlines and borderlinks, where subjectivizing encounter-event takes place in a matrixial stratum. The matrixial gaze is a touching gaze, it is never purely visual, and it enters and alters the screen of vision which by definition is im-pure and inseparable from other unconscious dimensions of the psyche, informed by different sources of sensibilities, and mainly, connected to and affected by the unconscious of the Other and the consciousness of the Cosmos. Through such encounter, the matrixial gaze creates ontogenetic inter-connectivity as a sub-symbolic meaning leading to the enigma of the meaning of shareability of trauma and phantasy and the co-response-ability with the unknown Other.
Hence, the matrix has both aesthetic and ethical implications, where in the matrix up to a certain extent there is an impossibility of not sharing trauma and phantasy. Ethical awareness for the effect of respect can derive directly from the proto-ethical affect of the awe that is connected to the aesthetical feel-knowing by a certain kind of specting – an un-armed way of seeing. Re-spect comes from repicere – to look back at – here the subject is in touch with the other’s vulnerability by self-fragilization. The matrixial gaze thrills us while fragmenting, multiplying, scattering and joining grains together, it turns us into what Ettinger calls wit(h)nesses: participatory witnesses to traumatic events of an-other at the price of fragilizing and fragmenting us. It threatens us with disintegration while allowing a metramorphosis – a participation in a drama wider than that of our-individual selves.
Where matrix is a locus of multi-directional process of change and exchange on the borderlines of perceptibility, metramorphosis is a creative principle, where relations-without-relating with the Other reflect and create differentiation-in-co-emergence and accompanied by shared diffused and minimal dis/pleasure matrixial affects of silent alertness, open an with-in/with-out space – matrixial borderspace. It is a subknowledge of which we receive a sense in visual arts through the invention or joining of a screen where an originary matrixial repression – a fading-in-transformation – is partially lifted to allow the originary matrixial transitive trauma some veiled visibility.
In other words, metramorphosis is a process of inter-psychic communication and transformation that transgresses the borders of the individual subject and takes place between several entities, e.g. I(s) and non-I(s) interlace their borderlinks in a process. It is an out-of-focus passageway composed of transgressed borderlinks and slippery borderlines becoming thresholds between known and unknown elements on the borders of presence and absence.
Self-fragilization and resistance
Matrixial system is in a way a metaphor for fragilization. Self-fragilizing is risky and also painful because you are reaching compassion-beyond-empathy, possibly unconsciously, and a com-passion that is often hard to tolerate on the individual level that seeks for mental security and needs to withdraw inside its habits. In the matrixial transubjective and transjective time-space-encounter there is no certainty of promise – yet this is a zone of occasion for seeing. In self-fragilization the subject encounters the other, and realizes its vulnerability while resisting its own tendency to turn the other into an object and to return to its own paranoid abjectivity and narcissistic passive-aggressivity. The only encouragement to support self-fragilization is that it is beauty what we open ourselves to and Beauty desires you when you self-relinquish yourself to the process.
In process of self-fragilization, the subject must forget its own Ego by resisting its tendency to manipulate, appropriate, control, abandon, and engage itself in active struggle against its own paranoia, if subject’s I and non-I are to continue co-emerging. For Ettinger, resistance is not attack, guilt, shame, regret for something, alternatively it is an ongoing re-working for trust. Resistance reaches an ethical level when com-passion becomes a value. When com-passion becomes a valuable perspective, such that the other can trust – not in “you” in terms of Ego but – that you keep it and desire to think-act from it, we can talk about communicaring.
A Woman Takes Little Space – Art and its ethical response-ability
Liina Siib has been working on generic questions of human existence never failing to acknowledge that the answers are always gender-related, spatial and culture-specific. Although Liina Siib started the project in 2006, the context for the exhibition emerged just a few months before the opening in 2011 when the Estonian pay-gap survey was published. The statistics showed that in Estonia, women have earned ca. 30% less money than men throughout the noughties, the difference between ethnic Estonian men and Russian-speaking Estonian women is approximately 40-44%.
The curious fact is, that only 4,4% of the gender pay-gap could explained with economic growth in male-dominated industries. The rest of the reasons for the pay-gap remained unexplained which also refers to high possibility of direct discrimination based on gender and nationality, since according to the statistics women are better educated and educated in the same areas as men. Liina Siib was struck by women who wrote in response to the pay-gap survey that girls are taught to be polite and take little space, while it is widely accepted that boys are disobedient and take up lot of space. Nonetheless, she started taking photos of women at work and public space, sometimes indeed taking little space before the survey was published and only the statistics had been available since 2006. As according to the statistics Russian women earn the least, she started taking photographs of Estonian Russian women at work.
A Woman Takes Little Space installation in Venice explores the theatricality of domestic life and social spaces created within the home by means of gaze and architecture, both of which are gender-related notions. For example, the best-known gendered space is the Frankfurt kitchen, which was scientifically constructed to be as compact as possible and also as small as possible, so that woman could prepare everything by herself for the family with minimal effort. In the installation, Siib’s photographs provide the audience with Lacanian undesirable uncanny screen by depicting women working in small spaces and juxtaposing them with women working at home, raising children, seemingly large space but still lacking personal space. There is an uncanny revelation of failure to emancipate here, in terms of gaining personal space unbound by differing social status.
The question of gaze and architecture arises also in the photo-series and video installation “A Room of One’s Own” (2011), which depicts women looking after their homes, where their space is open-plan kitchen connected with living room, thus, the woman has to look after both the food and after children playing in the living room. This woman does not have any privacy of her own since she is constantly controlled by her family’s gaze. The video of the installation depicts Russian women dancing somewhere in the wintery streets. This installation is also the end of the exhibition and could be interpreted as a transgressive act to the little space and gain it from outside.
As a whole A Woman Takes Little Space is addressing the issue that Russians, the unwanted remnants of the traumatic Soviet era, in Estonia are pushed to do the low-wage jobs that are physically demanding and have very low prestige: bakers, market-sellers, prostitutes, factory workers, etc. These groups’ status in the social structure is invisible, they are the Others of Estonian public sphere. (It is significant here that non-citizens who constitute ca. 7% of people living in Estonia, hold Estonian alien’s passport.) Thus, A Woman Takes Little Space is a well suited metaphor to speak about women’s condition in Estonia. But of course, the situation is similar world-wide with some exceptions in well-developed welfare Nordic countries, where cleaning-specialists get similar salary with entrepreneurs.
The women from A Woman Takes Little Space series are in the liminal space between acceptance and total marginalization as most of them are Estonian Russians who do not reproduce ethnic Estonians. By showing the ordinariness of the excluded, Siib achieves to encounter these people as fellow human beings. It is a subversive act of acknowledging that exclusions serve to affirm the system to which they do not conform, i.e. while the lack of statistics puts the liminal personae in a vulnerable and submissive position, it also endows them with the power to disturb the system. Liina Siib disturbs the system by voicing the submissed silence around prostitution and marginalization.
Despite political correctness of the art project’s aims, Siib’s artistic position can be taken very ambivalently: on the one hand, she is mocking the commonality of marginalized or silenced female subjectivity, on the other hand, she is also mocking the middle-class women’s subjectivity portraying their success as women as failure to emancipate. Overall, she is exposing that women’s personal space is subordinated in every level of the society, which is a victimizing positioning without affirmative action plan but might still have a potentiality to transform the viewers in metramorphic sense towards com-passion.
On the other hand, Siib is also addressing rather equivocal topics. Exemplary, the prostitution is in every way an extremely contradictory notion in society. On the one hand, prostitutes in Siib’s work perform to the expectancy of a perfect woman described in contemporary women’s magazines, they conform to all norms connected to sexiness: hairlessness, doll-like make-up, clothes that accent their legs and breasts, which should be the most arousing body parts of women, they wear high heels, long hair and nails. On the other hand, perfect woman in common consciousness has to be passive, unsexualized, i.e. a decent mother. And overall, according to the looks of the sex-workers depicted by Liina Siib, they are mostly overweight and do not fit woman ideal in any other way either. Thus, prostitutes are society’s psychoanalytic blindspot – an objet a – they are invisible, yet they exist as individuals.
In accordance with Siib’s choice not to focus on women’s marital status, when Ettinger is talking about women, she is not implying that women must be mothers or that the womb is an ‘organ’ whose ‘natural’ existence ‘makes’ a sexual difference, or that the woman as the owner of this organ (versus the man as the owner of that organ); or about womb as origin, as a passive receptivity or passive internal container. For Ettinger the matrixial feminine is not relative to the phallic masculine. It is not ruled by the phallic signifier of presence/absence or other similar binary oppositions. In the matrixial borderspace an originary feminine difference that doesn’t confront or fight the phallic difference is at stake.In Siib’s work, the man is presents only through voice and women’s tales, which gives room for the viewer to focus better on women.
While Bracha Ettinger has noted that art today is “moving from phantasm to trauma, and from a phallic structure to a matrixial sphere, [where] aesthetic concepts take new meanings and have to be rethought,” we will have a look at Liina Siib’s A Woman Takes Little Space as an examplary art-working of Ettinger’s notion of contemporary art. Before in-depth analysis of Siib we will have a further look into Ettinger’s terminology of art from matrixial perspective in phallocracy.
For Lacan, sexuality is the domain where art may be articulated, since we enter both art and sex via the same ‘hole’ in the Real (the sphere impossible to articulate), through which bodily experience, drive and jouissance are also presented to the subject. The matrixial exposure of the becoming-m/Other, on the other hand, is an openness to the uncognized world and to unknown but intimate others by a compassionate Eros that is not a sexual libido and nurtures different kind of love. By compassionate Eros a non-aggressive Thanatic drive is revealed in matrixial encounter-event with art: the non-life as the not yet emerged, the not yet becoming alive, is accessed and intended as in the transformation of a subject from prenatal condition to coming to the world.
An encounter-event becomes ‘image’ as it reaches appearance in art. The work of art we create or in which we take part as viewers is what metramorphoses us into part-objects and partial subjects in a matrix larger than our separate one-selves. To become artistic the aesthetic transgression of individual borderlines (that occurs in any case with or without our awareness or intention) calls for the awakening of a specific ethical attention and erotic extension. Since in the artwork the Imaginary and the Symbolic carry the value of a Real, the objects in it momentarily open up to metramorphosis by becoming transjects (from objects) and transubjects, since one enters art’s transformational potentiality through self-fragilization. Transubjective and transjective encounter-events take place by way of subjectivizing experiencing with an artobject or art-process. The artist is an agency of a feminine ‘world-without-me’ that inspirits a gaze.
In the matrixial aesthetic experience, relations-without-relating transform the unknown Other into a still unknown partial subject within an encounter. The non-I as a subject changes me while the I changes it (and both become larger). Through fascinance this experience may lead us to discover our part of shared response-ability in events whose source is not the I. This becoming aware of difference in jointness resisting one’s self is metramorphosis. Thus, art as a practice is aesthetics-in-action that produces proto-ethical moments by which the ethical sphere can, but not of necessity, be changed, which is the situation created in Liina Siib’s work when viewer arrives to understanding of her/his subjectivity in response to the non-I.
This aesthetical working-through bending towards the ethical with matrixial response-ability is called wit(h)nessing – the ethical working-through that entails the generosity expressed by compassionate hospitality. In aesthetical working-through the artist transforms time and space of an encounter-event into matrixial screen and gaze, and offers the other via com-passionate hospitality an occasion for fascinance.
Fascinance is an aesthetic affect that operates in the prolongation and delaying of the time of encounter-event and allows a working-through of matrixial differentiating-in-jointness and co-poïesis. It is also a transformational subjectivizing potentiality of a matrixial link (gaze or voice). While Lacanian fascinum relates to the arresting power of the phallic objet a, fascinance relates to the continual borderlinking and differentiating of a matrixial link a. Fascinance might turn into fascinum when castration, separation, weaning, or split abruptly intervenes. In short, the matrixial gaze of fascinance is an affective vibration: not an objet a but a link a with a subject.
Through art interlacing co-poïetic strings and threads create the ever-transforming transgressive metramorphic borderlinks in a relatively stable yet fluid jointness in severality, i.e. each psyche is a continuity of the psyche of the other in the matrixial borderspace. Via artwork, co-poïesis becomes a spiralic threshold, a possible transformative passage to the Other and we can participate in a scene of non-sexual seduction into life for all creativity and ethicality as its horizon and beyond.
In co-poïetic moments of exposure by self-relinquishment towards the other, the artist transforms the traumatic event into a subjectivizing potentiality in resonance with our limits. It could be argued that Liina Siib’s Averse Body (2007) is transforming viewer’s subjectivity as well as interviewee’s subjectivity by working through traces of the Other in me, which is also an aesthetic gesture where compassionate hospitality and generosity meets with fascinance. Co-poïetic differentiation-in-co-emergence is possible only with-in compassionate hospitality and with fascinance. The artist in the matrixial dimension is a wit(h)ness in com-passionate hospitality.
Com-passion involves transformational affects, major three of them are: fascinance (that precedes in parallel to fascinum and might counter-balance control and submission by its transformational value), primary compassion and primary awe. These affects are primordial accesses to the other and to the Cosmos. They offer a resistance to the objectifying paranoid self. Where fascinance meets primary compassion, com-passion leads to wit(h)nessing and wit(h)nessing is already also a com-passion, which anticipates compassionate hospitality. This cluster isn’t a closed circle but a spiralic opening to the Other and to the Cosmos.
A witnessing that finally emerges from wit(h)nessing in the matrixial sphere is different from what we would usually call witnessing. Namely, Ettinger calls wit(h)nessing a particular quality that psychic co-emergence depends upon the capacity and quality of witnessing of the non-I in jointness. It is a witnessing while sharing in the distribution and reabsorption of traces of the event and participating in trans-subjective transmission via unconscious strings and threads. The matrixial Eros that resonates and reattunes via sensitive and affective strings testifies to the qualities of a com-passionate co-emergence with those to whom you are remaining in both besideness and continuity. Wit(h)nessing requires your borderlinking and your participating in a time-space-encounter-event.
In that sense, art as transcryptum is the space of a potential future offered always in a certain now. “Offered” doesn’t mean that the chance is going to be taken, or that there can be a pre-scription concerning what would create it. Art offers an occurrence. You might not enter at all this time-space, or the artwork might not offer it to you. But also: if you enter, and if it offers, you will discover in you a potentiality for resistance that is only born in such a borderspace-bordertime to begin with.
If such resistance also develops from the proto-ethical into the ethical space that enters the public domain, it transgresses all prescribed political agenda and at the same time it can produce transformations in the existing political sphere. This is where art as a transport-station of trauma proposes a unique occasion, although as we also see from Siib’s work, without a promise of change as art per se is not controlling the viewer. Hence, a mature ethical attitude might not develop in the new occasion either. Thus, the artwork is only an occasion, a chance, an opened possibility and a reminder, sent from the actual or from the past.
Sharing and resistance that reach the subject’s level produce unexpected, surprising, transgressive assembling of I and non-I ― crossbreeding whose transgression of borderlines begets artifacts and therefore has the potential to produce the working of the art. Finally, if a non-I is affectively and transensically known by you through fascinance and in self-fragilization up to com-passion and primary compassion by viewing art, it can provide you with the occasion to become a wit(h)ness at other moments. Being a wit(h)ness is the biggest challenge of our time. Witnessing is not enough. It is important, but it is not enough. Wit(h)nessing opens you to the Eros for resistance.
Therefore, in the attempt to open up the foreclosure of a matrixial borderspace, an artist-healer must take the responsibility to become a concerned and compassionate open channel for both I and non-I. Traces from a memory of oblivion of such a field are impossible for access outside deep human compassionate connectivity which is love. Without wit(h)nessing, the openness to this unconscious level becomes very painful even dangerous event.
Why do men always look as they look when they look at me?
I say I would like to join the married class.
The man says ‘ yes my dear’ then makes another pass.
Femininity, my femininity.
Just seems to bring out basic masculinity.
There is only one thing they want that’s understood.
I tell them I shouldn’t, they tell me I should.
There must be other ways to make a man feel good.
All I do is simple stand there.
All at once I feel a hand there.
Begging for my femininity.
What’s the point of my femininity?
Donna Theodore, Femininity
“We are used to seeing a prostitute only as a body – without a name, face or feelings.”
Apartness (series of photographs, 2008) and Gimme Danger (video, 2010)
Liina Siib has a series of photographs called Apartness and a video Gimme Danger which portray a Russian speaking Estonian prostitute Liiza. She looks like any of the prostitutes interviewed in Averse Body according to how they describe themselves. Her legs, arms and armpits are perfectly hairless, she has well-plucked eye-brows, her scant clothing emphasizes her legs and bosom, make-up and cheap jewelry works as a mask. All-together, Liiza looks like a grotesque sex-fantasy from a cheap porn-movie. This look must be what is expected from a prostitute: a provokative appearance, that reflects on the social position of lawlessness and becoming an object or consumer product.
Agne Narušyte writes, that Liiza’s body arouses interest because we know it is used in ways some people would be ashamed of or even lose themselves. But Siib manages to depict Liiza without glorifying nor debasing her, rather letting the viewer to decide their subjectivity in accordance with the prostitute’s in a matrixial borderspace, where I becomes a partial-subject connected with the non-I through Encounter-Event, when we see her home and hear her thoughts. Probably the most uncanny part of portraits of Liiza is the ordinariness of her body, and thoughts about life.
In Gimme Danger we learn that in spite of being a prostitute, Liiza like most women, somewhat paradoxically shares a fear of getting raped on the streets in the dark, i.e. despite consciously wearing provoking clothing, she does feel insecure in public sphere, and also because of the myth that women are summoning sexual violence by wearing certain fashion. Through this knowledge we learn that to some extent prostitutes work by choice and are not sex-objects during their free time. An encounter-event with this work, thus, can make the viewer a wit(h)ness, when s/he manages to transform her/his subjectivity through becoming aware of Liiza’s subjectivity with-in difference-in-jointness.
Ettinger calls ‘Woman’ an interlaced subjectivity that is not confined to the contours of a one-body with its inside versus outside polarity. The matrixial feminine refers to the co-affecting, co-emerging difference-in-proximity of the pre-maternal/pre-natal conditions of human genesis which bequeaths a matrixial legacy to subjects whatever sex, gender or sexuality they later assume under the impact of phallic subjectivisation. For example, hysteria – the origin of phallocratic psychoanalysis –, does not exist in matrixial sphere, because it would be produced when the passage to the matrixial field is blocked and when a woman cannot ask herself what is her difference from another woman (not from men as Freud asked) and what is her desire au féminin.
Ettinger has developed her notion of feminine in opposition to marginalization of women by and in dialogue with Freud, Lacan and Levinas. For all three thinkers, feminine otherness is, to begin with, a blank hole in subjectivity. Although all three were looking for ways to bring her back from her site of total otherness, it was only towards the end of their teaching, and so only partially and almost too late. All three, then, conceptualize the ‘woman’ as a Radical Other, though for different reasons and from different points of departure.
Feminine’s role in matrixial ethics has derived from Levinas model of ethical subjectivization by facing the feminine Other. Ettinger proposes that “femininity /…/ transforms from within what it means to be a subject, for it is /…/ the ultimate measure of the ethical relationship: ‘it is that human possibility which consists in saying that the life of another human being is more important than my own.’” From that Ettinger has developed a concept of Matrixial Otherity: a partial alterity that infiltrates the I. Ettingerian feminine is the irreducible difference inside subjectivity: precisely what makes it human.
Unsocial Hours or where the bread comes from (2011, 10’40”) and A Woman Takes Little Space
Psychoanalysis has a long tradition of ignorance concerning the woman-to-woman, non-Oedipal relations. Taking that psychoanalysis is not separate from rest of the world, we can argue, that woman-to-woman relations that do not concern family is traditionally not discussed publicly and has not been comparatively important as man-woman, woman-man, mother-child relations in media and literature. Liina Siib has chosen to depict women at work, mostly alone (in the photoseries A Woman…) but sometimes also in relation to each-other or customers (in Unsocial Hours).
Interestingly, it could be argued that despite that the women are alone on the pictures/screen, there is a strong presence of a man. That is, Liina Siib has visually reversed the usual invisibility of women as objet(s) a with lacking men who somehow still subjectivize the women, since “appearance is a screen that hides the gaze, and the enigmatic powers of art are not competing with that screen, but with what is beyond it.” Moreover, both at the exhibition-installation but also in Unsocial Hours the man is present as a voice, which in Ettinger’s terms is one form of matrixial link a.
A Woman Takes Little Space series depicts women’s working places and ordinary women in everyday situations at home or on their way to work. If Bracha Ettinger’s theory opposes to subjectivizing woman through man, then this series of photographs is excluding men visually and focuses on women’s space with a comical twist of existentialist solitude, that in a phallic structure is a basis of subjectivity of strong individual, of One-ness. The series emphasizes on which women take little space and the viewer becomes aware of another level of her/his and the depicted non-I’s subjectivity through fascinance thanks to the encounter with an artwork.
Unsocial Hours is a video in two channels. First is filming night in bakery where two women are baking dozens of different types of pastry. These women are like machines baking in a factory scale. The second channel shows the Balti Jaam (Tallinn central train station) market, where this bakery has a stall. Siib has filmed Lilia’s work-place, the sells-ladies and the customers, who are mostly elderly Russian women or children. Both videos end with people eating pastries, first in a cafeteria, second in Estonian maternal hospital.
The night-work in bakery is a “non-time” as its value is so ephemeral: the buns are baked at night, consumed during the day and the circle starts again. Baker’s work is repetitive and physically demanding, which reflects also from the women’s movements: both smooth and mechanical, they are mentally quite detached from what they are doing. Lilia’s stall also exposes the absence of romanticism in low-wage unskilled job. Lilia indeed has a very pretty make-up that cheers up and attracts the customers, on the other hand, there is no hope of suddenly becoming very rich with this job.
When buying pastries from the stall, one normally does not think about its ordinariness. Siib’s video lacks obvious polemicizing of the situation, on the other hand, her use of news-like filming could give a hint of a certain tongue-in-cheek presentation of everyday life of Estonian Russians – the marginalized others. According to Ettinger, here
a passage to ethicality occurs at the level of a subject if s/he can withdraw from the social and the cultural without withdrawing from the matrixial tissue, enacting non-shaming and non-abandonment, and resisting paranoid tendencies of one’s own self. /…/ Here, resistance is re-specting the I and non-I in the passage to the level of the subject and to that of subjects/objects while still in transmissivity.
Thus, by becoming aware of the generally invisible sellers’ and bakers’ subjectivity, the viewer might overcome her/his prejudices, the marginalizing operators, via resistance and transform ethically.
Averse Body (2007, 45′)
The most intense work of the exhibition is a video-installation Averse Body, that consists of eleven interviews with prostitutes accompanied with photos of women drawing flowers. In order to provide distinct presence of the prostitutes who do not appear visually appear in the interviews, Liina Siib asked her interviewees to draw a picture of their favorite flower. This was the only way she could show them without disclosing them. The photos of drawing women reveal their hands, sometimes also figure and clothing. They all seem to be living in poverty and have notably sad hands for how much time they spend taking care of their bodies according to the interviews.
The visual of the video consists of taxi driving through Estonian capital Tallinn streets from brothel to brothel. For a life-long Tallinner all these routes are familiar, some of the places are known as brothels, some of them are not. Why is it that everybody knows about the brothels, that they are illegal and who goes there, but they still exist? Why and how do people accept sex work? As it is illegal, there is always a great chance that the women are treated badly in the already poor working conditions, so why don’t the neighbors nor police take action? Siib does not directly raise these questions in her work but these issues always surround the realm of sex-work, and they come to mind during the encounter-event with the artworking.
For the video, Siib introduces herself to prostitutes under a pseudonym Foxy Haze. She asks them about their sexual fantasies, about how they feel about their bodies, whether they want to change it somehow, how much time do they spend taking care of their bodies and which body-parts are most important for the men, if they are afraid of infections, whether they have experienced violence. Despite, that some prostitutes agree on that their bodies are consumer-products, the answers are very mundane and in a way demystify these figures of darkness. For example, there is lot of talking about weight – most of the prostitutes feel fat, the ones who are not fat, are very proud to be slim, which is a common attitude pushed on the society by media.
As my Russian is rusty I can not tell what kind of Russian all the prostitutes speak. However, the Estonian prostitutes have an extremely bad pronunciation that is extremely demonized characteristic in education school system. When I hear Estonian prostitutes speaking I feel embarrassed, personally offended, hurt because I am trained to. They speak like fooling flirtatious teenagers who speak a lot but tell nothing. While with Russian prostitutes I can well be affected by their voices – some are pleasant, some are intimidating or make me feel uneasy with their coarse voice, that usually develops after lot of drinking and smoking. The most awkward part of encountering Siib’s videos is that in the end the most sympathetic are the Russians who speak good Estonian.
In this video the the attention to encounter-event is through a voice – matrixial voice, that operates as a metramorphic link. As we do not see the interviewees, we have to imagine them, which is primordially subjective act that connects I(s) with non-I(s). Thus, the subjectivity-in-encounter is activated domineeringly through viewers attention and ability to focus. As Ettinger describes the role of a voice:
More effectively than the gaze even, the voice as a matrixial erotic antenna for psychic emission and reception testifies to the metramorphic processes of transformations in the unconscious cavity. The psychic voice-link opens in us a matrixial time-and-space of encounter where, as in a resonance-cavity, inside and outside vibrate together.
These are the levels, that I (author of this text) have become to acknowledge through the encounter-event and become a wit(h)ness via Siib’s art. I have become aware of my own prejudices, slightly nationalist attitude or consciousness, the fact that in a way I share a certain detachment based on nation with Estonian johns as encountering Estonian prostitutes makes me feel uneasy. I can not tell directly how has this work changed me, as I change the work just by encountering it with my I(s) that can connect with only certain non-I(s) of the work and will not connect with other non-I(s) that might connect with other people. As for I have been presented with something potentially traumatic: had I failed to admit that the artwork touches me deeply and hurtfully, boldly generalizing Ettinger’s concept, it could be said, my psychic subjectivity is not open for fragilization and there might be a psychosis involved.
Room Of One’s Own (2011). A conclusion
Video and photo installation Room of One’s Own (2011) is notably the only work at the exhibition focusing on women whose subjectivity is determined by marital status, motherhood and new-built homes. The installation works as a conclusion to rest of the show. In light of the photos of women in their homes and video of dancing women, the viewer will have another level to reflect upon on the question of female subjectivity in contemporary society as presented by Liina Siib.
The photos depict women in their new-built clean homes with open-plan kitchens, which ensure that a woman will be able to cook and clean while also looking after children while men are either at work or sitting in other rooms. While Elo-Hanna Seljamaa suggests, that Siib use of detachment as a means of showing respect for her models and securing their integrity, in the context of this exhibition, these photos depict rather directly and critically, the failure of success, i.e. despite achieving to get married, become a mother, have a home of one’s own, according to statistics women are still pushed to do most of the household chores, especially during the parental leave.
On the pictures, these women do not have a personal space, since what ever they do, they are being watched and controlled by the family similarly to candy-sellers at the market. The video, on the other hand, depicts Russian women dancing in the wintery streets. This video could be looked at as a transgression of the boundaries put on women. Since most of the narratives told in the exhibition are rather hopeless, dancing and singing is the change of scenery, coming to terms with the situation we are in, both the portrayed subjects and the viewers.
Ettinger, Bracha, with Pollock, Griselda Introduction, The Matrixial Gaze. Feminist Arts and Histories Network: Leeds. 1995.
Ettinger, Bracha, ‘Wit(h)nessing Trauma and the Matrixial Gaze: From Phantasm to Trauma, from Phallic Structure to Matrixial Sphere’, in parallax vol. 7, no. 4. Routledge. 2001. 89–114
Ettinger, Bracha, ‘Weaving a Woman Artist Within the Matrixial Encounter-Event’, in Theory Culture Society 2004. pp. 69-94.
Ettinger, Bracha, ‘Copoiesis’, in Ephemera framework 5(X). 2005. 703-713
Ettinger, Bracha, Fascinance and the Girl- to-m/Other Matrixial Feminine Difference’, in Psychoanalysis and the Image. Transdisciplinary Perspectives G.Pollock ed. Blackwell. 2006. pp.60-93
Ettinger, Bracha, Fragilization and Resistance. Juvenes: Tampere. 2009.
Irigaray,Luce, ‘Women’s discourse’, in Je, Tu, Nous. Routledge: New York&London. 1993. pp.22-30.
Levinas, Emmanuel, Time and the Other, in The Levinas Reader, ed. S.Hand, Basil Blackwell, Cambridge, 1989, pp. 38-58
Narušyte, Agne, ‘Women Take Little Space’ in Andreas Trossek ed. A Woman Takes Little Space, CCA, Estonia, 2011.
Pollock, Griselda, Mother Trouble, Mamsie
Seljamaa, Elo-Hanna, ‘Significant Margins, Seen by Liina Siib’ in Andreas Trossek ed. A Woman Takes Little Space, CCA, Estonia, 2011.
Counter Space, 2010. http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2010/counter_space/the_frankfurt_kitchen – viewed on April 17.
Estonian Pay-Gap Survey, 2011. http://www.sm.ee/fileadmin/meedia/Dokumendid/V2ljaanded/Publikatsioonid/2011/Gender_pay_gap_Estonia_analysis.pdf – viewed 25.04.2012
Ettinger, Bracha, Re- in/de- fuse. January 1999. http://www.othervoices.org/1.3/brachale/index.php – viewed 24.04.2012
Ettinger, Bracha, Becoming Human. IAI TV lecture with Griselda Pollock http://iai.tv/video/becoming-human – viewed 24.04.2012
Kaljo, Kai – Loser (1997, 1′) – http://vimeo.com/14214871 – viewed 23.04.2012
Siib, Liina portfolio http://cca.ee/webarchive/siib/est.html – viewed 23.04.2012
Viik, Kadi, ‘Gender Equality and Family Politics’ 2010. http://prezi.com/tpxbuxi9fq-b/sooline-vordoiguslikkus-ja-perepoliitika/ – viewed 22.04.2012
Zegher, de Catherine, Alma Matrix, 2010. http://www.fundaciotapies.org/site/spip.php?rubrique953 – viewed 23.04.2012.