Punking the Past: The Steampunk Aesthetic

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

Helena Esser studied Anglophone Literature and History at the University of Duisburg-Essen, from which she graduated with a BA thesis on retrofuturist feminism in steampunk literature and an MA thesis on female identity in WW1 memoirs. She is currently busy trying to coordinate her many research interests, which include steampunk subculture, cityscapes, cyborgs, and airship pirates, Ouida, WW1 history, Terry Pratchett, and cyberpunk. You can find her on Twitter @EsserHelena

What is steampunk?

In recent years, a peculiar phenomenon has flourished and populated our culture with steampunk novels, short stories, music, films, cosplays, festivals, sculptures, and fashion. Yet it seems both easy to identify and difficult to define: what is steampunk?

This is a question steampunks (and aspiring literary scholars working on the field) are asked constantly – and one that they often ask themselves. In 2007, Steampunk Magazine’s first issue was launched with this question as its leading…

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CFP: ‘Dream and Literary Creation in Women’s Writings in the 18th and 19th Centuries’

CFP: « ‘with shut eyes, but acute mental vision’: Dream and Literary Creation in Women’s Writings in the 18th and 19th Centuries »

International Conference, Clermont-Ferrand, 5-7 April 2018
Université Clermont-Auvergne – CELIS

In June 1816, in a house on the shores of Lake Geneva, a young girl of barely 19 had a dream which would turn out to be the source of one of the greatest contemporary myths of modern times. This pivotal dream has remained prominent thanks to the preface that Mary Shelley wrote for the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, in which she describes a vivid, integrally visionary experience: “I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together […].” In a lesser-known dream, a year earlier, Shelley brings her premature, unnamed first-born back to life: “Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby” (19th March 1815).
Dreams in Frankenstein are at the heart of the writing process but they also constitute the diegetic substance of the narrative. Victor’s nightmare, which follows the opening of the Creature’s “dull yellow eye” (Volume I, chapter 4), is difficult to overlook in any critical consideration of the importance of dreams in the novel. To mark the bicentenary of Frankenstein’s publication in 1818, this conference will re-examine the previously-recognised oneiric facets of the novel and develop fresh perspectives on dreams and dreaming in Mary Shelley’s fiction. Proposals with a special focus on those three dreams, as well as on other works by Mary Shelley in which dreams are often premonitory (Valperga, Matilda, “The Dream” for example), are particularly welcome. Discussion may also extend to analyses of day-dreaming which Mary Shelley also refers to in her preface when she distinguishes between her youthful fancies, “all [her] own”, and her fiction, destined to be read by others.
In addition, the oneiric character of Frankenstein is particularly relevant in any reappraisal of the textuality of dreams and their link to women’s creativity and creation as a whole. Accounts of real dreams in diaries and letters may interrogate the paradox of the invasion of Self by a radically Other force (“My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me”, wrote Mary Shelley), when the passive dreamer turns into a waking creative subject. Ontological alterity may be considered as being located at the core of such processes. Is there a specifically female understanding or expression of this encounter with the Other within? Literary dreams, whose putative oneiric nature needs further clarification, oscillate between narrative dexterity and the expression of possibly subconscious scenarios. How significant is a character’s dream? Is it radically inconsistent and heterogeneous? We therefore also invite papers on these, and other, connections between dream and fiction in novels written by Shelley and other female novelists.
Thus, the central issue of authorial intention in novels (or in poetry or plays if relevant), published from the end of the 17th century to the late 19th century, is the line of enquiry which this conference hopes to pursue. How is Mary Shelley’s creative outlook and experience mirrored in the writing of her contemporaries’ (Frances Burney’s or Ann Radcliffe’s for example), or in that of female authors who came before or after her (Jane Barker and the Brontë sisters for example)? Approaches developed by Margaret Anne Doody (“Deserts, Ruins and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel”, 1977), Ronald Thomas (Dreams of Authority, 1990, on the Gothic and nineteenth-century novels) or Julia Epstein on Burney (The Iron Pen, 1989) may be particularly pertinent here.

Papers may be given in English (preferably) or in French.
Please send your proposals to Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar and Anne Rouhette at dreamconference2018@gmail.com before 30th September 2017.

Scientific committee:
Caroline Bertonèche, Université de Grenoble
Lilla Maria Crisafulli, University of Bologna
Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar, Université Clermont-Auvergne
Anne Rouhette, Université Clermont-Auvergne
Victor Sage, University of East Anglia
Jean Viviès, Université d’Aix-Marseille

Colloque international, Clermont-Ferrand, 5-7 avril 2018

Université Clermont-Auvergne – CELIS

« Rêve et création littéraire dans Frankenstein et le roman féminin aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles »


En juin 1816, dans une maison au bord du lac Léman, une jeune fille qui n’avait pas encore 19 ans fit un rêve qui donna naissance à l’un des plus grands mythes contemporains et à un texte majeur du romantisme britannique. Ce rêve qui inspira Frankenstein est resté célèbre grâce à la préface que Mary Shelley rédige pour l’édition de 1831, dans laquelle elle décrit une expérience proprement visionnaire : « I saw – with shut eyes, but acute mental vision, – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together […]. » On oublie cependant parfois que ce rêve faisait suite à un autre rêve de réanimation datant del’année précédente, alors que la future romancière venait de perdre son premier enfant, une petite fille née prématurément qui ne reçut pas de nom : « Dreamt that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake and find no baby » (19 mars 1815).

Du rêve – ou des rêves – présidant à l’écriture, le roman glisse vers le récit de rêve. Impossible en effet de considérer l’importance du rêve pour Frankenstein sans évoquer le cauchemar de Victor juste après l’éveil de sa Créature (volume I, chapitre IV), qui reste l’une des scènes les plus commentées de l’œuvre. Alors que 2018 marquera le bicentenaire de la publication de Frankenstein, ce colloque vise, dans un premier temps, à retourner aux origines oniriques du roman et à explorer les déclinaisons de la thématique du rêve chez Mary Shelley. Toutes les propositions visant à examiner sous un angle nouveau ces trois rêves seront les bienvenues, ainsi que celles qui porteront sur toute l’œuvre de la romancière, où le rêve joue souvent un rôle prémonitoire (Valperga, Matilda, « The Dream »…). On pourra élargir le propos à la rêverie que Mary Shelley aborde également dans sa préface lorsqu’elle distingue les rêves éveillés de sa jeunesse, « all [her] own », et ses écrits, destinés à être lus par d’autres.

Roman rêvé, roman du rêve, Frankenstein offre un point de départ privilégié pour l’exploration du rêve dans la créativité et la création au féminin. Dans un deuxième temps, nous souhaiterions étudier les rapports entre rêve et écriture chez les romancières britanniques, particulièrement la contradiction fondamentale selon laquelle une expérience vécue comme subie et venant d’ailleurs (« My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me », écrit par exemple Mary Shelley) devient le point de départ de l’écriture, alors que la rêveuse passive se transforme en sujet créateur. C’est ici le rapport à une altérité ontologique qui se joue, cette prise en compte de l’autre en soi dont on se demandera si elle a quelque chose de spécifiquement féminin. On s’intéressera aussi bien aux rêves authentiques évoqués dans les écrits personnels qu’aux rêves diégétiques, dont le statut véritablement onirique reste d’ailleurs à préciser. Entre signe de maîtrise narrative et libre expression d’un contenu en partie inconscient, le récit de rêve conduit à questionner l’ensemble de la structure romanesque dans laquelle il est inséré : participe-t-il d’un accès au sens du récit ou bien relève-t-il in fine d’une hétérogénéité radicale ?

Se pose alors la question de l’autorité, que l’on pourra analyser en prolongement de travaux comme ceux de Margaret Anne Doody (“Deserts, Ruins and Troubled Waters: Female Dreams in Fiction and the Development of the Gothic Novel”, 1977) et de Ronald Thomas (Dreams of Authority, 1990) sur le roman gothique et sur le XIXe siècle, ou de Julia Epstein dont l’important ouvrage sur Burney, The Iron Pen (1989), emprunte son titre au cauchemar qui assaille l’héroïne de Camilla. Nous aimerions placer l’expérience créatrice de Mary Shelley en résonnance avec celles de ses contemporaines, comme Frances Burney ou Ann Radcliffe, mais aussi des auteures qui l’ont précédée ou suivie (Jane Barker ou les sœurs Brontë, par exemple), depuis la fin du XVIIe siècle jusqu’à la fin du XIXe, voire au-delà si cela se révèle pertinent. Le roman sera le genre privilégié, mais la poésie et le théâtre pourront être abordés si les textes et les auteures choisis offrent des pistes d’analyse intéressantes.

Langues de travail : anglais (de préférence) et français.

Merci d’adresser vos propositions à Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar et à Anne Rouhette à l’adresse suivante : dreamconference2018@gmail.com, avant le 30 septembre 2017.

Comité scientifique :

Caroline Bertonèche, Université de Grenoble

Lilla Maria Crisafulli, Università di Bologna

Isabelle Hervouet-Farrar, Université Clermont-Auvergne

Anne Rouhette, Université Clermont-Auvergne

Victor Sage, University of East Anglia

Jean Viviès, Université d’Aix-Marseille

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CFP: Irish Prisons

International Conference 26th-27th October 2017

Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast

Call for papers

Irish Prisons: Perspectives on the History and Representation of Irish Forms of Containment

The carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observation, has been the greatest support in modern society of the normalizing power.’ (M Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, p. 304)

Today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the West.’ (G Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, p. 181)

[F]or the prisoners of Northern Ireland, the extreme experience of interrogation and torture, and their corollary, the abusive deprivation of the prison block, could be converted through their deliberate assumption of ‘the body in pain’ into a means, temporary and resistant, of life in common, a way of living that even from the most extreme conditions could shape an alternative collective ethic.” (David Lloyd, Irish Culture and Colonial Modernity 1800-2000: The Transformation of the Oral Space, p. 196)

Confirmed keynote speakers:

  • Ronit Lentin, Associate Professor of Sociology, Trinity College Dublin

  • Lucky Khambule, South African citizen living in Direct Provision (MASI)

  • Cathal McLaughlin, Professor at the School of Arts, English and Languages, Queen’s University Belfast

This multidisciplinary conference, to be held in the Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, aims to bring together, in a building with a loaded history, researchers working on the history and representation of Irish prisons and practitioners working on the ground. The conference will take place outside of the academy, in the hope that it will attract both researchers and people involved in various associations, and foster discussion on the specificities of, as James M Smith puts it, Ireland’s ‘Architecture of Containment’.

In light of the history of the gaol, it seems obvious that a reflection on the place of prisons in the North of Ireland during the Troubles should be included, in particular the prison protests of the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s, including the hunger strikes, but also perhaps on the experiences/representations of prisoners during the 1980s and 1990s up to and after the Good Friday Agreement. Papers are therefore invited on the history and the representation of the prisons, and what happens after prison, by prisoners themselves and by others (artists, writers, documentary-makers etc).

Beyond the Troubles, the conference organizers are eager to encourage reflection on prisons in other parts of Ireland in any historical period. As James M Smith points out, ‘In its concrete form, Ireland’s architecture of containment encompassed an array of interdependent institutions […]. In its more abstract form this architecture comprised both the legislation that inscribed these issues and the numerous official and public discourses that resisted admitting to the existence and function of their affiliated institutions’ (2). Smith is specifically referring to Ireland’s Magdalen laundries, but his remarks here are also valid for the multifarious forms of containment which Ireland has developed, notably from the 19th century onwards. Papers are therefore invited on the politics, architecture, history and sociology of Industrial schools, Mother and Baby homes, Magdalen Laundries, and, more recently, Direct Provision. The prisms through which these issues might be broached could include legal, sociological, archeological, architectural, literary, artistic, historical, philosophical, and political approaches, but the organizers are also eager to invite papers on gender/queer perspectives and from representatives of associations working on the ground with those who are currently, or those who have been, inmates or victims of any of these institutions.

Abstracts of approximately 250 words, accompanied by a short bio-biblio, should be sent to Fiona McCann (mccannfiona@gmail.com) and Nathalie Sebbane (nathalie.sebbane@gmail.com) before April 20th. Responses will be given by the end of April, and a selection of papers will subsequently be published in a collective volume.

This conference will be funded by the Institut Universitaire de France and the research laboratory CECILLE at the Université de Lille SHS.

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CFP – Picturing the Reader: Reading and Representation in the Long Nineteenth Century – Liverpool, 7 September

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

A one-day interdisciplinary conference

LiverpoolHopeUniversity, UK,

7 September 2017

Keynote speaker: Professor Mary Hammond, University of Southampton

Woman reading, c. 1890, courtesy of National Media Museum Woman reading, c. 1890, courtesy of National                                         Media Museum

The long nineteenth century saw a prolific increase in the number of books being produced and read, and consequently in the number of visual and textual discourses about reading. This conference will examine a range of visual and textual iconographies of readers produced during this period and map the ways in which visual and textual representations of readers were linked and mutually influential. Whilst nineteenth-century Britain is a key focus, the event extends to include the British empire in order to explore how representations and understandings of reading differed geographically and were inflected by specific locales. Scholars are invited from…

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CFP: ‘Curiosity and Desire in Fin-de-Siècle Art and Literature’

CFP: ‘Curiosity and Desire in Fin-de-Siècle Art and Literature’
11-12 may 2018
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library,
University of California, Los Angeles
“Curiosity, and the desire of beauty, have each their place in art, as in all true criticism. When one’s curiosity is deficient, when one is not eager enough for new impressions and new pleasures, one is liable to value mere academical properties too highly, to be satisfied with worn-out or conventional types.”
Walter Pater
“What is termed Sin is an essential element of progress. Without it the world would stagnate, or grow old, or become colourless. By its curiosity Sin increases the experience of the race. Through its intensified assertion of individualism it saves us from monotony of type. In its rejection of the current notions about morality, it is one with the higher ethics.”
Oscar Wilde
Victorian theorists of aesthetics such as Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde saw curiosity and desire working in tandem in the creation of beauty. And while these two quotations reflect the dissidence across interpretations of aestheticism at the time, they are united in their emphasis on passionate engagement and creativity as necessary elements of academic scholarship itself. We wish to capture this spirited energy by bringing together scholars from around the world to explore the ways in which the fusion of curiosity and desire permeated the art and literature of the British fin de siècle.
This two-day conference is jointly organized by the International Walter Pater Society and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, world-renowned for its holdings of rare and manuscript materials from the period, notably Oscar Wilde, George Egerton, Alfred Douglas, Charles
Ricketts, Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, and the fine presses of the fin de siècle. The conference will include workshops in which groups of scholars will carry on exploratory discussions that relate to the Clark’s extensive fin-de siècle collections.
We welcome proposals for either conference papers or workshop contributions.
Conference papers will be twenty minutes in length and should address the conference theme in relation to works by Pater, Wilde, or other figures from this period. We encourage interdisciplinary approaches, linking literature to the visual arts, music, performance, or science, as well as exploring the international dimension of the British fin de siècle. Topics may include, but are not limited to:
· Critical methods and the critics’ desires
· Desire and the senses
· Scientific and literary curiosity
· Tastes and taxonomies
· Empiricism and its discontents
· Textual and material objects
· The bizarre and the grotesque
· Curiosity and the archive
· The collection and the fetish
· Ekphrastic practice
· Different desires
Workshop contributions will consist of pre-circulated papers (circa 2,000 words), which speakers will introduce in five-minute presentations on the day. They should address one of the following three themes:
· Aestheticism, curiosity, and desire
· British aestheticism and French culture
· The aesthetic book: fin-de-siècle printing and publishing
Proposals (300 words) for either papers or workshop contributions should be sent to IWPSClark2018@gmail.com no later than 1 October 2017. Conference Organizers: Joseph Bristow, Dennis Denisoff, Stefano Evangelista, and Charlotte Ribeyrol. The conference is cosponsored by the International Walter Pater Society, the UCLA Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies, and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.
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CFP – Dickens Day – 14th October 2017, Senate House, London

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates


Saturday 14th October 2017, Senate House, London

Dickens and Fantasy


Dickens Day 2017 will be considering Dickens and Fantasy. Fantasy pervades Dickens’s writing, from the goblins who stole a sexton in his first novel, Pickwick Papers, to the use of fairy tales in Edwin Drood, his last. His deeply held commitment to ‘fancy’, a word from the same root as ‘fantasy’, and the influence of the One Thousand and One Nights on his work is well known. Dickens also loved theatrical fantasies, such as pantomime with its ‘gaslight fairies’ as he called them in Household Words. Dickens often linked scientific and technological developments to fancy and fantasy and delighted in juxtaposing the fantastic and the mundane.

Dickens peopled his work with fantasists of all sorts, from Mr Dick, Josiah Bounderby and Harold Skimpole to Pleasant Riderhood’s fantasies of sailors and breadfruit and Louisa Gradgrind’s…

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CFP: Self-portraits in costumes: multiple identities at play

Self-portraits in costumes: multiple identities at play

24 novembre 2017

Campus de l’Ecole des Beaux Arts de Nantes Métropole

Projet co-organisé par Valérie Morisson (Université de Bourgogne – TIL), Julie Morère (Université de Nantes – CRINI), Emmanuelle Cherel (Beaux Arts Nantes – CRENAU)

En collaboration avec Laurent Mellet (Université de Toulouse – CAS ARTLab)


L’autoportrait est souvent bien plus qu’une représentation de soi dépassant le « sujet artiste » représenté pour aborder d’autres questions plus vastes. De la même manière, l’autoportrait en costume (en peinture, photo, vidéo), dans lequel moi devient autre, peut soit préserver l’artiste d’une exposition/exhibition de soi, ou le mener vers des je/ux traduisant autre chose qu’une fantaisie ludique dans ces auto-mises-en-scène : à la frontière de la satire et du carnavalesque, il peut masquer ou camoufler le sujet pour diverses raisons, posant la question de l’intégrité du corps, de l’individualité et de l’authenticité. Cette journée d’étude internationale propose d’étudier plus en détail les diverses stratégies de déguisement, nombreuses dans la création contemporaine.


Autoportraits en costumes : jeux d’identités multiples

L’autoportrait semble pouvoir être une confession sincère (comme le suggère Philippe Le Jeune dans Le Pacte autobiographique, Seuil, coll. « Poétique », 1975) ou bien une stratégie de dissimulation. Il s’agit bien souvent d’une représentation de soi  dépassant le « sujet artiste » représenté pour aborder d’autres questions plus vastes. De la même manière, l’autoportrait en costume, ou déguisé (en peinture, photo, vidéo), dans lequel moi devient autre, peut soit préserver l’artiste d’une exposition/exhibition de soi, ou le mener vers des je/ux parfois dangereux. C’est un genre ou un mode complexe que cette conférence entreprend de mieux cerner. En peinture, le costume bénéficie d’un intérêt nouveau : dans Fabric of Vision : Dress and Drapery in Painting (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), Anne Holander souligne que le vêtement est aussi important aux yeux du peintre que tout autre élément de la composition. Cela est d’autant plus vrai du costume ou déguisement dans l’auto-portrait. Dans certaines compositions classiques, plusieurs peintres ont joué à dissimuler une image d’eux-mêmes en costume. En effet, Véronèse, vêtu de blanc, apparaît dans Les Noces de Cana, 1562 tandis que Rembrandt se pare d’un vêtement oriental dans un très célèbre autoportrait, L’Artiste en costume oriental (1631). L’autoportrait doit être considéré autant comme un dispositif expérientiel privé, voire intime, d’exploration de soi que comme une mise en scène de soi destinée à être exposée publiquement, questionnant le statut social et politique de l’artiste, de l’individu, de sa communauté. Le port d’un costume introduit une complexité ou un artifice supplémentaire dans ce double processus, puisqu’il peut être simplement ludique, ou bien plus troublant. Or, malgré l’abondance d’autoportraits en costume, cette complexité n’a que très peu été explorée.

Etant donné que l’autoportrait est une découverte de soi progressive, à laquelle beaucoup d’artistes se confrontent intimement, et qui suppose un dispositif souvent expérimental, il se prête à des jeux d’éclairages, de poses, et de vêture. Se costumer, se maquiller, se grimer, se travestir pour s’explorer, prendre l’identité d’un autre ou modifier son corps, relève soit d’une démarche documentaire soit d’une mise en scène fictionnelle et s’adosse à différents modes autobiographiques. L’artiste peut en effet se déguiser pour habiter différentes époques, aires géographiques, ou identités et le costume être utilisé comme signe visible de normes sociales et codes vestimentaires. Mais l’autoportrait en costume opère aussi dans le monde de la fantaisie et du fantasme, affranchissant le sujet de toute contrainte. L’accoutrement est à appréhender dans toute sa matérialité, notamment lorsqu’il est réalisé de manière artisanale, voire bricolé à partir de fragments, rebuts ou vestiges, le procédé de réalisation du vêtement étant alors à considérer comme œuvre, cette dernière se faisant performative. Dans certains autoportraits, le costume envahit le corps, l’ensevelit, le suffoque, point extrême du camouflage et de la dissimulation, mise à mort d’un individu singulier, sans visage.

Assurément, le costume (le vêtement, les accessoires, le maquillage) est bien plus qu’un signe qui traduit une appartenance sociale ou ethnique : revêtu, il suppose un acte performatif par lequel l’artiste absorbe une identité, incarne l’Autre au point de se fondre dans la persona. Par le truchement d’une identité recomposée, voire empruntée, l’artiste déjoue toutes les attentes associées à l’autoportrait. Si l’autoportrait en costume induit souvent une narrativité, cette dernière est fictionnelle, irréelle, fantasmatique, voire virtuelle. Ce mode nous conduit conséquemment souvent aux portes de l’imaginaire, un imaginaire où le corps est le lieu de l’expérience d’une altérité complexe.

L’autoportrait en costume s’avère dans de nombreux cas subversif et critique. S’appuyant sur les codes vestimentaires qui trahissent les valeurs d’une société, ces autoportraits peuvent déconstruire les stéréotypes et le discours normatif sur le corps et l’identité (sociale, sexuelle, ethnique). L’exotisme du costume ou déguisement renvoie le spectateur à l’artificialité (inévitable peut-être) de l’autoportrait et à son théâtralisme. Face à une inauthenticité délibérée et à l’artifice plus ou moins marqué du dispositif, le spectateur est fréquemment débouté. Néanmoins, quand l’autoportrait déguisé revisite des formes anciennes en s’appuyant sur l’inter-iconicité, le spectateur devient complice du pastiche, de la parodie, ou de la satire. Les artistes contemporains qui empruntent au postmodernisme ses stratégies satiriques proposent des représentations d’eux-mêmes interrogeant l’intégrité, l’individualité, l’autonomie du sujet mais aussi de l’œuvre et, plus spécifiquement, de l’autoportrait. Dans une perspective postcoloniale, l’autoportrait en costume (repris par exemple des classifications ethnographiques, ou issu de la science fiction) tend à remettre en cause les politiques de la représentation et leur rapport aux discours dominants. Il oblige à un questionnement sur les rapports de pouvoir, sur l’intersectionnalité des rapports sociaux, en invitant à cesser de performer les clichés, en œuvrant pour le devenir minoritaire et des identifications multiples, diffractées, changeantes, composites, partagées par des contradictions culturelles et sociales. D’autres autoportraits très contemporains de l’artiste en Autre sont hantés par une vision cauchemardesque qui renvoie au clivage de l’être que la psychanalyse a investigué et que l’avancée du post-humain rend plus tangible.

Il y a donc bien plus que de la fantaisie ludique dans ces auto-mises-en-scène : l’autoportrait déguisé, à la frontière de la satire et du carnavalesque, peut masquer ou camoufler le sujet pour diverses raisons ; il peut poser la question de l’intégrité du corps, de l’individualité et de l’authenticité, notamment quand l’artiste s’engage dans un travail sériel. En modifiant son identité ou son sexe l’artiste explore les normes de la société dans laquelle il vit et se fait  porte-parole, ou porte-corps. Cette conférence propose d’étudier plus en détail ces diverses stratégies de déguisement qui sont particulièrement nombreuses dans la création contemporaine. La réflexivité et l’auto-référentialité postmodernes, mais aussi les évolutions technologiques facilitant la manipulation des images ont rendu ces pratiques aisées –comme en témoignent les selfies dans l’art, ou l’avatar (si tant est qu’il est un autoportrait déguisé).

La réflexion posée dans la création contemporaine sur les relations animalité/humanité, corps/machine, inspirées des critiques de l’ontologie de l’être (E. Kosofsky Sedgwick, Donna Haraway, Mel Y. Chen), la transformation de soi en autre et l’intégration –in/corporation—d’un autre soi dans des œuvres explorant le motif du double, sont des stratégies d’introspection qui méritent toute notre attention.

Les propositions d’une longueur de 300 mots environ pourront être transmises à valeriemorisson@gmail.com, julie.morere@univ-nantes.fr et emmanuelle.cherel@gmail.com, accompagnées d’une courte notice biographique, avant le 30 mai 2017.

Self-portraits in costumes: multiple identities at play


Self-portraits admittedly waver between earnest confession (as stressed by Philippe Le Jeune in Le Pacte autobiographique, Seuil, coll. “Poétique”, 1975) and concealment. It is often a representation of the self that goes beyond the idea of the artist as subject in order to tackle wider notions. In a similar way, the self-portrait in costume or disguise (in painting, photo or video) may either protect the artist from self-disclosure or put his own self at risk. It is a multi-faceted genre or mode that this conference purports to explore. In painting, clothing has recently received a long-deserved interest: in  Fabric of Vision : Dress and Drapery in Painting (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), Anne Holander underscore that clothing does matter as much as any other component of the composition in the eyes of the painter. This applies even more forcefully to self-portraits in costume.


Some classical painters have playfully included an image of themselves in period costumes in their compositions or painted self-portraits in costume. Veronese features dressed in white in The Wedding Feast at Cana (1562) while Rembrandt portrayed himself in oriental costume in The artist in an Oriental Costume (1631). The act of self-portrayal –as a creative process—may be viewed as an intimate act and private performance or as a staging of the self for public display, questioning the social and political status of the artist, the individual or his community. The costume inevitably introduces a twist or trick that may be playful or more intriguing: this strategy has not been fully explored and deserves more attention.


Given that self-portraiture is an experimental and mediated exploration of the self (and a nearly unavoidable step for many artists in the intimacy of the creative process), it is an invitation to explore lighting, stances, and costume either humorously or more introspectively. Costuming or masquerading, that is seemingly assuming someone else’s identity, may partake of a documentary or fictitious project and rely on various autobiographical modes. The artist may metamorphose him/herself exploring different time-periods, geographical areas, or identities; the dress may be normative or conversely singular. The manipulation of the self in the visual arts may be liberating, as is the case in the tradition of the masquerade or fantasy photographic portraits: through costuming the artists free themselves from the constraints of society and its prevalent dress-codes. Handicrafts, intermediality and bricolage may be used to costume the self in a process-oriented approach sometimes close to artistic performance. The body may disappear entirely and the artist be buried in the costume, faceless; conversely the artist may be reduced to a shadow or use synecdoche to escape exposure.


The costume (attire, dress, props, or make-up) being more than a sign of belonging entails performative embodiments and blurs the identification process thereby disrupting the conventions of self-portraiture. As a matter of fact, the self-portrait in costume often entails narrativity and fictitious self-representations in which the artist may drift towards fantasy and virtuality to explore complex forms of otherness.


Portraying oneself in exotic attire is a means of drawing the spectator’s attention to the artificiality of portrait-painting and the theatricality of social roles. The self-portrait in costume, relying as it does on shared sartorial norms and social codes, articulates culture and counterculture and may debunk myths, stereotypes and normative discourse centered on the body. The self-portrait in costume thereby constitutes a puzzle for the viewer who finds himself trapped into the contrivances of the staging. When costuming also means revisiting previous images and relies on intericonicity, the viewer may be complicit and laugh or mislaugh at the quote or distortion. Contemporary photographers and video-artists conceive fictional or fictitious autobiographies inducing generic and referential instability. Artists related to postmodern and postcolonial art portray themselves in costume to critically explore identity construction and the notions of authenticity and nostalgia. In a postcolonial perspective, self-portraits in costume tends to question the politics of representation, power relationships in the modern society, representation of minorities and a multiplicity of possible identifications torn between cultural and social contradictions. Other self-portraits are haunted by a nightmarish vision of the artist as Other, referring to the divided self from a psychoanalytic perspective. The advent of the post-human has made these imaginary explorations more tangible.


There is, we suggest, more than imaginary playfulness in these self-staged performances: the self-portrait in disguise may verge on parody or satire and entail carnivalesque reversals; it may conceal, even camouflage, the true personality of an artist for various reasons; it may also challenge the notion of physical integrity, singularity and authenticity especially when produced in series. By changing his/her sexual, ethnic, social identity, the artist may convey a strong message and situate his/her practice within society. This conference is an invitation to consider the complexity of the self-portrait in costume particularly in the contemporary period. Indeed, both postmodern reflexivity and self-referentiality, and the extended possibilities offered by image manipulation have revived this genre, with the success of selfies or avatars for instance raising new questions.


Contemporary creation puts the relationships between animality/humanity, body/machine under scrutiny, and is inspired by ontological theories (E. Kosofsky Sedgwick, Donna Haraway, Mel Y. Chen). The otherization of the self or the incorporation of the other –and the other-self in works concerned with the motif of the doppleganger—are processes of self-investigation that are worth analysing.


Proposals of approximately 300 words may be submitted to valeriemorisson@gmail.com, julie.morere@univ-nantes.fr and emmanuelle.cherel@gmail.com, along with a short biographical note before May 30, 2017.

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