Extension of the field of the intimate

The notion of intimacy paradoxically raises the question of its limits, of the possibility or impossibility of its “mise-en-scène.” The desire to escape the confines of the atelier (by exhibiting oneself, in both senses of the word) arises before and imposes itself on the artist. New technologies make such over-exposure/over-exhibition possible. But at what risk?

Display of nudity, old age, or sexuality—the intimate appears in all the mediums and in all registers: from the understated to the “outpouring” of pornographic obscenity.

Whether as exacerbated narcissism—the last avatar of the individualist society—or as the need for withdrawal and reorientation amidst the anonymity of the globalized world, the “I” makes its presence known. Reality TV, cameras, webcams, and blogs have become the favorite tools for over-exposure of our intimate selves.

“Extimacy”1 defines that new ambiguous search, the validation of the self in the eyes of others, and the progressive expansion of the private sphere in public space. This at times self-indulgent display, bordering on exhibitionism, is a response to the growing intrusion of systems of surveillance and control into our lives and life choices.

Since the 1970s, artists have played with the dichotomy between private/public, voyeur/onlooker and its boundaries. Autofiction, the staging of one’s existence in artistic work, subverting the techniques of surveillance constitute attempts to reintroduce the intimate, the sensory, the confused, and the ambivalent. A totally poetic secession against the uniform totality.

2 The term “extimacy” [Fr: extimité was coined by Jacques Lacan in 1969, but remained limited to specialized, theoretical usage. Serge Tisseron borrowed it and gave it a different meaning in his book L’intimité surrexposée [Overexposed intimacy] (Ramsay, 2001) devoted to the phenomenon of the “Big Brother” show. Tisseron claims to oppose the word “exhibitionism” used in reference to the participants in the Big Brother show (in French, “lofteurs” after the French title of the show, “Loft Story”) and which he deemed inadequate. The word has quickly entered popular usage. In 2002, Michel Tournier published Journal extime (La Musardine).

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