• Once more with feeling: A reinvention of ‘hysteria’ using photography, performance, and autofiction

Young, Sharon, 2023, Thesis, Once more with feeling: A reinvention of ‘hysteria’ using photography, performance, and autofiction PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

I use photography, performance, and autofiction to interrogate and represent contemporary female experience in identification with the condition known as hysteria. I am interested in the hysteric’s relationship with truth-telling. Sigmund Freud says hysteria is rooted in repression of a thought or memory which may then return in the form of bodily symptoms. By embracing the psychoanalytical use of the term “hysteria,” this project seeks to understand what the hysteric has to say and asks: how can art practice be used to listen to hysteria today?

In my art practice, I tell the hysteric’s story “once more with feeling.” I produce narratives in image-text artworks, weaving together references to Breuer and Freud’s Studies in Hysteria (1895), Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), and other literary works, as well as personal experiences which I situate in fiction. In doing so, and by working in a fragmentary way using photographs, performances, film, and writing, my work slips constantly between fact and fiction. This slippage builds upon the ambiguity that characterises the hysteric’s speech and her reputation as an unreliable narrator.

I discuss artworks by Sharon Kivland, Louise Bourgeois, and Mary Kelly specifically in respect of their direct correspondence with hysteria and psychoanalysis and use of image-text relations. Like them, I open up a space between image and text in which my character asks what is her desire, and the viewer/reader may hear echoes of their own uncertainties. I look to Moyra Davey, Fiona Tan, and Mary Kelly as artists working with interdisciplinary practices and those who draw upon intertextuality. Photography, specifically its indexical relationship to the real, remains a core component of this project, but in its expanded use, in collaboration with other mediums, it forms a language of its own and goes beyond the image.

Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan posits the female hysteric as one who never ceases to ask the question “What is it to be a woman?” Utilising autofiction as a feminist art practice, I situate the question of hysteria alongside Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Liz Stanley, and Lauren Fournier’s key arguments that women must insert themselves into text and that by “writing woman” we begin to take back control of our own voices and bodies.

The now infamous black-and-white photographs of hysterics taken at the Salpêtrière hospital in the late nineteenth century have become synonymous with hysteria. Thus, hysteria tends to be relegated to an outdated theatre of suffering. Taking my lead from Freud, who turned away from the observation of symptoms to listen to what his female patients were telling him, I focus on my protagonist’s internal conflicts in an attempt to listen to what she has to say. Once More with Feeling generates an engagement with hysteria in contemporary times that represents the hysteric in ways which do not reduce her to the sensationalist spectacle of an idealised suffering. By foregrounding her desire it considers again the question ‘What does woman want?’

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W400 Drama
Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W640 Photography
Creative Arts and Design > W800 Imaginative Writing > W830 Prose Writing
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Uncontrolled Keywords: Hysteria; psychoanalysis; feminism; photography; writing
Date Deposited: 18 Jul 2023 13:51
Last Modified: 18 Jul 2023 13:56
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5464
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