Mapping the Invisible: Self-Portrait — A Map of Depression

My self-portrait is a map of my depression, using a collage-based approach with text pulled from my own poetic writing and physically-linked symbols.

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My initial brainstorm was closer to my final product, with an idea of spatialization based on my own gendered ancestry (my family’s history in Poland, the trauma of survival, etc). The maps we viewed in class, such as the dream map, inspired me. My mode of art is largely collage-based, though, so I was nervous about working outside of that medium. I was also distracted by the personal nature of the project and the idea of having a single, recognizable sign system, surface, and connection system.

However, after viewing the work of Ward Shelley, I thought I would go in a different direction and instead map the evolution of my sense of postmodern aesthetics. Like Shelley’s work where he maps in neurotic detail different artistic movements, I wanted to create a detailed and text-based timeline of counterculture aesthetics moving into the internet age of “new aesthetics,” something that I know about as obsessively as Ward Shelley does with his movements.

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My sign system was text and pictures pulled from my personal internet projects, such as facebook aesthetic groups (inb4, sport aesthetics), and from my tumblrs, basementfag.tumblr.com and health-goth.tumblr.com. The surface was minimalist, on black with an extra pattern representing the advent of the internet into counterculture. I considered adding more text in boxes to explain different phases of postmodernity, but I struggled to find a connection system that satisfied me artistically, and also felt like my work was not personally connected enough with these explanations.

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Eventually, I returned to an idea more similar to my original one of collaging my own sense of spatiality and embodied experiences of different spaces or states. I decided to map what I know the best right now, which is my depression and my own thoughts.

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My surface was different states of depression, coded by color and space:

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My sign system was collaged poetics, as well as pictures of bodies, many of them my own, and of consumed media I encounter entering into my subconscious.

My connection system had to do with different states of mind. I primarily used the symbols of pills to communicate going through different chemically-influenced states of depression. I also used a crow in the top left corner, a symbol of death and darkness in a natural world, and a hand reading “NO” in the bottom left. The hand represents the power silently and physically no to violation and trauma represented by the bottom of the map, the “basement” section.

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The main effect I tried to produce with my map was a sense of different, separate physical spaces. I wanted it to feel like one could imagine oneself enter into each different space and travel throughout them, hence the use of roads, landscapes, a bed, and my computer screen. I tried to supplement this impulse to enter or traverse by using pictures of different bodies, so that the viewer could feel corporeally connected to the map.

My map attempts to make visible the ways in which mental illness can cause a sense of being lost in the vastness of one’s own head. I wanted to make visible the expansiveness and physicality of my mental illness, especially in an era of internet mass media, pornography, and chemical supplements. I am a trans person and an web artist who’s self-making has been internet-based. I interact with my corporeality and sexuality heavily in virtuality. The tools of webcams, selfies, and other such highly recent technologies affect my consciousness about my body and about where I live psychologically. The screen, feeding back my image to me, causes me to live in a dreamlike, virtual state. The shifting chemical states caused by medication adds another dimension to this bodily sense of shifting. These two factor, chemical changes in one’s state of mind, and the shifting in senses of spatiality because of the constant feed of media, can make depression an even more complicated state of mind to grapple with. My map attempts to make visible this struggle.