Gail Flockhart

Contemporary Arts Practitioner-Researcher


Semiotics of the Selves

I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of “posing”, I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.1

Semiotics of the Selves explores ‘all the things that self can be’ in order to de-construct and re-construct the facets that constitute the self or perhaps more accurately, the multiple self/s, that embody the image of who we think we are.

Gail Flockhart: Self-Annihilation (2019)

Self-Annihilation (2019)
DSLR photographic film still image
Martha Rosler’s performative video and feminist critique in Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), provided a point of departure for the development of this project.

Where Rosler’s satire demonstrates an A-Z of kitchen utensils, e.g. Apron, Bowl, Chopper, my project develops ideations around particular, personal subjectivities and explores an A-Z of words prefixed with ‘self’, e.g.: self-Belief, self-Censorship, self-Deceit, self-effacing, etc.

The first work, in a series of ongoing works-in- progress, is a short film and audio soundtrack considering the concept of Self-Annihilation (2019), through the performative process.

further text

Self-Annihilation (2019)

Being both in front of and behind the camera lens, engaged in the reflexive process of making conceptual self-portraits, provides a unique two-way perspective and opportunity to consider the performance or re-performance2 of self and ‘construction’ of identity. Using myself as subject and object, and by drawing on lived-experience, personally-situated knowledges can engender ‘enactive-perception’. In this way, embodied ‘doing-thinking’3 offers potential for opening a discursive space, where memory or unconscious thought can emerge through ruptures in the sense of self.

Self-Annihilation (2019) is a short, experimental film exploring domestic psychological trauma, where the ‘circuits of selfhood’4 can be profoundly re-wired.

Self-Annihilation (2019) excerpt
HD single-channel film work and audio soundtrack
duration: xxx

Gail Flockhart: Self-Annihilation (2019)

Self-Annihilation (2019)
DSLR photographic and film still images

As well as drawing on the kitchen ‘knife’ in Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) - which Rosler identifies with several stabbing actions suggestive of wounding - I relate to Barthes’ phenomenological account of ‘the punctum’ or wound as a mechanism for affective transmission. Further, existential or religious concepts of abandonment of self are evoked in the aesthetic and symbolic content, as depicted in Bernini’s sculpture The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647–1652).

As Barthes suggests, the act of being observed by the lens can perhaps invite us to ‘make another body’ for ourself - ‘transform’ our-selves and re-write our personal narratives - how we tell our stories.

This work was exhibited as an installation at Ruskin Gallery, accompanied by a paper presented at Theory:Practice at the ARU Theorem Symposium (Cambridge) on 4th July 2019. Info [online] at:

1Barthes R (2000) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Originally published in France as La Chambre Claire by Editions du Seuil 1980, English trans 1981. Trans by Richard Howard. London: Vintage (p10)

2Schechner, R., 2006. Performance studies: an introduction, Abingdon : Routledge.

3Nelson, R., 2013. Practice as research in the arts: principles, protocols, pedagogies, resistances, Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan

4Williams, S. J. and Bendelow, G., 1998. The lived body: sociological themes, embodied issues, London: Routledge
Gail Flockhart © 2020