SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE, PLACED IN A FICTIONAL CONTEXT
AS A TOOL FOR EMANCIPATION
As far back as I remember, I have felt the need to process life, to contextualize it in order to remember it differently, to be able to change the emotion accordingly. In a sense it was my first attempt at shaping reality. The process that I researched through numerous experiments, during my Master’s program is very much related to this inner need; that is: how to place subjective experience in a fictional context as a tool for emancipation. The outcome of this research is the development of what one could call the Methodology of Autobiographing.
DEFINITION OF SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE
Any authentic memory I have I call a subjective experience. From my point of view asubjective experience is the quality of conscious experience by which we have the sensation or mental impression that events are happening to us as experiencing “selves.” That is to say, when we experience something in consciousness, we have the feeling that there is a self “inside” us that is having the experience.
The method I developed consists of a number of ingredients that I will make accessible to you. The ingredients of this method, later to be called tools, were developed over the execution of a series of experiments and visual tests. The outcome of the experiments dictated the execution of other experiments. I will describe here the set of tools I developed as separate things in time for you to understand it better. But of course, when I developed this method and did the experiments it wasn’t so straightforward or chronological; it was much more entangled.
GATHERING INCIDENTS & WRITING THEM DOWN
As I argue above, all incidents you gather will be subjective experiences, because you ‘color’ them with your emotions. The time that has passed and how you relate to the person you had the incident with, also determines how you will write it down. It is important to understand that nothing you will write is objective or true and that that is ok – or even more so, that is it very essential to write fiction.
I BECOMES SHE
The form I chose to write down my recollections was a film script. But it didn’t quite work to write down my history. On several levels and at several moments I got stuck with the script because it could not be concluded and because of the confrontational effect it had on me. I tried to gain distance because the character, which was still me, couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t freely write new scenes with her. Letting her die at the end for example, was impossible because, after all, I am still alive…
To be able to control the content and shape the narrative into a story line with a beginning, middle and an end, you need to be able to have the freedom to make editorial choices based on the strength or fluidity of the script. You want your audience to relate to it, therefore you want to make a story that is convincing and soaks up attention. So I had to find a way to create distance between the script and myself.
I had to let go of the obsession that it had to be about me. Detaching myself was a very emotional process, which grew upon me only gradually and not without paying the price, in the form of a relapse into drug abuse. I changed ‘I’, the protagonist that equaled me, the maker, into She and gave her a name: Angel.
ACTRESS BECOMES DIRECTOR
In the script I was gone, but apparently I still had to be involved and created a next experiment; The Performance film Broken; designed to cast myself for the role as Angel.
It is difficult, not to say impossible, to act the role of a protagonist in a script when the protagonist is you and the script is a part of your life. I can conclude here that I did a wonderful job, but I was not playing Angel, I was reliving myself from years back. I used on the set, with the same issues and same pain returning and it still wasn’t film. In order to create a character, I can only be the writer/ director of this film. After several experiments I realized that in order for the shot material to be a film ‘I’, the protagonist had to become a She, and I, the human, had to be the director. You can see the performance film here:
When I give a memory, a subjective experience, a form, I have created a story and the experiencing self becomes a character. I have now changed roles from the experiencing self to the director of the screenplay. I call this tool creating Cinematic Distance. This cinematic distance is what allows me to craft fiction from personal memory. It gives me control over the subject matter and allows me to look at the created material with an artistic eye – the advantage being that I have many more tools and skills to look at an artwork than I have emotional skills for dealing with daily life.
DEFINING THE ESSENCE
After the performance film ‘Broken’ my goal was to make material that exceeds autobiography and performance. I wanted to make fiction. But how to make fiction when the ingredients are still my memories? In order to do so, I have to define the essence of my character. What is my fascination with myself, my ego? What part needs to be in a movie? What is the essence of the story and her character? And knowing this is it possible to set Angel free from the boundaries of the truth of the autobiographical?
The constructed self is filtering each moment and coloring every memory into a subjective experience. The insight that the reason for my fascination to make fiction out of my autobiography, is the inner world of the constructed selves and not the chronology of the events, gave me the freedom to write scenes. Understanding that the response of the inner selves directs the scenes, it does not matter what my character does, I have defined the essence of her behavior. The essence of Gwen decides the emotional coloring of the character and the course of the scene. It is as if I can write the future for Gwen through the character of Angel. It is as if the fiction takes me back into the real.
The process of mediation, the filtering of the ‘auto’, the writing and rewriting, the different art- experiments I have performed during the Master’s programme are what I call the distillation process. The distillation is the transformation of the human story into fiction. The shaping process that exceeds the relation to the real. The art that transcends, that stands on its own, that needs no explanation, which forms a bridge relating the viewer to me and my experiences.
The film is what connects me to the viewer. I can relate to the film and the audience can relate to the film. The film stands in the middle and we both, as artist and viewer and as human beings, benefit from what it tries to tell. With this artistic control or freedom, I can distillate the pure essence from memories which then become mere archival material. The archive becomes the source of my (future ) scripts.
CONTENT BECOMES METHOD
I have as many scenes as I have memories in which the self-constructed self is active all the time. The scenes are all subjective experiences from the self at a certain moment in time, with a certain color. They are all content. By approaching all these memories as archive on which I apply my experiments, my content has become my method. I am not showing you the emotions of the traumatic experiences, I‘m showing you a transformation process in constructed frames, photography or film.
To free from any controlling influence
To free from restraint, control, or the power of another; especially: to free from bondage
What I mean by emancipation is to be free of the bondage of self, even more specific: of the self-constructed self. The idea of who I am, the value that I give myself, the position of myself in the world.. The self- constructed self is the one that comments on everything, is always there, judges situations, archives situations with a certain value. It is also the self that critiques, attacks and controls the physical self. The self that has perfectionistic demands on appearance and prestige. It is also the self that when completely drained by her own demands and convictions, numbs the mind with drugs and alcohol. Now the brain carries memory, the body carries memory, the space I’m in at the moment carries memory as did all the spaces I occupied before. They are all autobiographic, subjective experiences and my archive of raw material.
The emancipation is the breaking out of the memory into a fictive real context and from the fiction back into the real. The need to process this archive is the emancipatory part, since the effect is to be free of the bondage of self. The how is the graphing part of autobiographing: the need to mediate it, to give it form so that an audience can recognize it. To create resonance between the viewer and me so I can find consolation.
The effect of my research was very unexpected: I found a way to belong to society through resonance. The fact that what I show invites my audience to look inward and perhaps resonates with their gut feelings, has a mirroring effect. Of course I am aware that I have no control over the nature of the audience’ response, still the film might give them an insight in their inner selves.
Maybe it opens up a new frame, a new way of looking at the world, maybe there is something that resonates with them. This idea makes me feel heard. The message I want to share, as a tool of emancipation is not to be a victim but to be free from the bondage of self.
With this notion of resonance my fiction goes back into reality. In this sense I use the medium of film to connect to society, something that I am not good at as a real person. The inconsolable longing to be a part of a family or to share my emotions, I have now received through resonance.
Through resonance I exist.