Faux-collage

My walls were a bit naked so I tried to think about putting up some photographs of friends and family. And then, just as usual, I felt observed. So I decorated one wall with a faux-collage instead. (I say ‘faux’ because nothing is actually ‘collé‘ (glued, in French), merely pinned together; so it’s kept open for change, future reshuffling and infinite beginnings, it’s fragile – the wind ruffles it sometimes when the window’s open.)

I had found a photograph of Virginia Woolf in a newspaper clipping my family had set aside for me – that it’s from a French right-wing newspaper is an irony not lost on me. The caption, ‘Woolf ne fait plus peur‘, could be translated with ‘Not afraid of Woolf anymore’.

I love this picture. I put it at the very centre of the board that holds everything together. Not only because it is different from those that show Woolf as a melancholy, ethereal, fragile, beauty; pictures that have become almost transparent after decades of use. Here she is looking at the camera, at us, and we do not know whether she is pleased or not, what she thinks; she is not a myth or icon in this picture but a woman in her garden.

The legend is in brackets for a little while.

The other reason I love this picture is that Woolf’s slight reserve actually looks a bit intimidating, thereby denying the newspaper’s assertion: we are not afraid of Woolf anymore – or are we?

Like each and every woman, Virginia Woolf can still be scary, and the two stickers I put on the right of this photo are here to say that. The mere existence of a vulva-flower and a uterus-showing-its-middle-fingers-to-the-world stickers, is proof that women, their bodies, their minds and their voices are scary. There is a need to create and circulate these visuals, to show women’s vulvae – cis, trans, all vulvae – , an urgency to make manifest the absence of the vulva’s shapes in our cultural unconscious because women are still not free to be everything they are. There aren’t many pussies on our city walls, schools desks and public toilet doors. Dicks, on the other hand, are everywhere.

So, the phallus reigns still (of course, they’ll say that the phallus is not the penis but fuck metaphoricity) and it’s because the phallus still dominates that in front of almost 3,500 people practicing or interested in, psychoanalysis, Paul B. Preciado said that it is not possible to refer to Freud’s and to Lacan’s teachings as universal truths on the psyche and the subject anymore. It was at the symposium organised by the École de la Cause Freudienne (ECF) in September 2019. I kept the postcard-sized poster of the event and put it right next to the flowering vulva and a small sign that says ‘Treat Yourself’. Treat yourself at getting rid of the phallus, this master signifier par excellence, just once, just to see what happens, how it feels. The title of the symposium for that year was ‘Femmes en Psychanalyse’ (‘Women in (Psycho)Analysis’); a very different framing of the topic than that for another study day I attended last year called ‘Feminism & Psychoanalysis’. On one side, women are caught in the psychoanalytic discourse. On the other, there is a conversation between years of scholarship and activism in feminisms, and psychoanalysis: an actual conversation.

On the École de la Cause Freudienne poster you see a thin woman’s silhouette, sitting, in black, who’s covered in white, green and orange flowers. At the top of her head is a long-wide-leaved plant that hides her whole face. This is still Freud’s ‘dark continent’: no face, no action on her part, no future but that of being engulfed by greedy, flashy coloured, flowers until the end of time.

By contrast, the drawing underneath carves a face and neck out of a white background with bold black strokes. Neither a feminine nor a masculine face, it feels human, full of space and possibility. It looks back at you from the frame of the collage, it’s starkness standing out and beckoning.

I made this montage – yes, let’s call it that – during the pandemic last winter. Like everyone did, each in their own creative way, I tried to make something out of this difficult time. Working was hard, not working was frustrating, thinking about the future was scary. I realise now that many things I love are there alluded to, even invoked as in a prayer. I now see it as a charm or a spell. This might be as close to witchcraft I ever got. Maybe that’s why there’s a Halloween pumkin in there: between the reified women-shells of gatekeeping psychoanalysis and the stark anonymous face, there’s a sign that says the witch is not dead – she lurks and thrives in interstices, carving a laughing (Medusa-like?) face wherever she can.

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