About the Project
A CROWDED IDENTITY
Hanif Janmohamed, February 2023
The Inner Selfie Project has its origins in a self-portrait I made in 2013. Cranial Cosmology, a backlit digital collage of medical scan, earth imaging, cartography and data visualization – its origins were an ongoing series called Brain Terrains, a quixotic exploration of the in-between world of human experience using medical and satellite imaging – whose origins lie in an earlier body of work called Cellular Landscapes, a scenographic approach to an imagined cellular life.
My own origins are similarly relational. As a child in Kenya, I was always so-and-so's son, an identity located somewhere in a constellation outside myself. Growing up, a patchwork of geographic, ethnic, cultural, racial, religious, social, and professional affinities provided a steady supply of possible identities – an embarrassment of choice. A multitude of selves that in turn opened up a rich interstitial experience in the shadows of identities to which I never belonged.
The qualities of this marginal experience feel like being in a Souk – a grand bazaar of negotiations, characterized by arguments and agreements, barter and bargaining. It's a transitional 'maybe' space. Like an unsettled settlement in an occupied territory, at times it's copacetic, sometimes it's an uneasy detente, at other times contested, and occasionally it's a celebratory multiplicity. Small wonder then, that I loved such liberal use of the word "forse" in Italy (and its counterpart "magari").
For me, this crowded marketplace feels like the true domain of the Self - an entity whose existence is woven together by a continuity of narrative threads, beliefs and behaviours – all somehow witnessed internally. I cannot claim to fully inhabit either a private being (which mostly runs itself) or a public context (which remains a little beyond my grasp), and so I remain cradled (and a little bewildered) in the meta-space of the confluence of the two – where I have become familiar with the porosity of defining boundaries.
IMPOSTOR SYNDROME - THERE'S NO ONE HOME
Two living bodies, improbable entities made of dust and liquid – a huge yet tiny planetary body (planemo) and a tiny yet huge human body (a menimo?) The intersection of the two gives rise to an experience of me, from which I generate a whispered sense of Self. I am curious about the recursions and repetitions of form that occur at scale between these two domains.
Technologically-mediated observation reveals what we cannot see for ourselves. Medical and satellite imaging scan these spaces that we each 'inhabit' as individuals and as a collective, and the micro/macro investigations surface a shared language of curiously similar patterns and forms at vastly different scales. It's a common visual lexicon of a fractal-like repetition. The explorations are also interesting in what they don't reveal.
Where is the Self? Does it not have a locus? We can lose parts from either domain and still maintain a sense of Self – lose a body part, or a close friendship, and we still remain mostly ourselves. Conversely, we can lose our sense of Self with both environments seemingly intact – Alzheimer's, dementia, schizophrenia, mental illness and other hijacks. Until we lose our heads, either literally or figuratively, the idea of Self can still be conjured.
An imagined entity then, perhaps? We might imagine the Self as one of Timothy Morton's hyperobjects, invisibly distributed across time and space. Or maybe the Self is simply a self-forming, temporal fiction - like a smoke ring. Actors strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage – no longer animals and miserable as gods, perhaps the Self is an emanation of uncertainty, living within time, neither a thing nor quite a nothing, formed by external forces and internal gravities.
CHARLATANS UNITE - THE SELF AS A PLACE OF AGREEMENTS
This road leads to inevitable questions about our contagious selfie culture and the relentless collective fixation with affirming our represented selves through a curious externalized, collective mirroring. We affirm ourselves by being seen, gaining more solidity through a collective agreement – we like to be liked. The more I'm liked the more I am. What is this communal cultural narcissism? What do we actually affirm? Perhaps we need to corroborate the private agreements we make about our identities, in the public arena, a fractal exercise in affirmation of what we project – we want to believe and so we do.
I enjoyed reading Jonardon Ganeri's - Inwardness and other wonderful philosophical, fictional and non-fictional works that reflect on the idea of a Self/No-Self while thinking about this public engagement initiative. X marks the spot – that curious intersection of inner and outer worlds that marks the crossing of a boundless, poetic, interstitial space.
The Inner Selfie project is a social experiment. It is an exploration of who we believe we are and the nature of the agreements we make with ourselves, without referencing the typical markers of identity. It takes participants on a voyage into this space of agreements with a series of prompts and an invitation to look within. It is a reflecting pool where quiet contemplation rules over an instantaneous representation.
The hybrid virtual and physical public project invites participants to share representations of themselves, through an exercise of self-reflection and creation. Online, the medical MRI is a metaphor for a scan through the soft tissues of narratives of the Self and acts as a container for a playful co-creation of patterns. colours and lines. In the Gallery, a physical maker space invites visitors to conjure self-representations through a haptic experience of making and constructing with found materials.
Both are manufactured manifestations of our evanescent sense of Self – like ourselves, infinite representations made with finite means. Inner Selfies offer all of us, both those who create them and those who view them, a reason to step back and question assumptions about identity, discover new expressions for our inner worlds, and renew connections with feelings, meanings, and questions about ourselves.
Hanif Janmohamed, February 2023
“The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and to respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousness. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence to which philosophers have so constantly resorted in their explanations of goodness. 'Good is a transcendent reality' means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. It is an empirical fact about human nature that this attempt cannot be entirely successful.”
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good
A parting link...
The fascination with our represented selves has a long history...
Shah Jahan on a Terrace,
Holding a Pendant Set with his Portrait.
"A miniature in a miniature, a painting made from a gem ... We behold the emperor beholding himself, contemplating his own magnificence."
What a Tiny Masterpiece Reveals About Power and Beauty
By Jason Farago. April 2, 2021. New York Times