Sometimes I wonder why I even both to write, think, or photograph anything. I do a great deal of rehashing ideas and thinking out loud via my site/blog. However, somehow, it ends up being worth it. For example, it is almost humorous the way that things can come back around; full circle. This time 3 years ago I was pouring over Michel Foucault’s “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias“. And, again on this wet April morning, I’m scouring through the same text looking with a fresh set of eyes at what I missed. For those new to the term I love to use so often, Foucault describes a heterotopia by saying, “There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places — places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites…all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.”
My relationship with this particular bit of writing (from a Foucault lecture given in 1967) is an intimate one. In the last week, I’ve gone back and forth from reading this bit of Foucault to watching Michael Haneke’s “Caché” at least a dozen times, each time feeling the two are linked. Its going to be a bit of a stretch to relate these two together, but I’ll do my damnedest. The connection is something that I always come back to: both works discuss the relationships where private and public spill into each other.
In “Caché” the racial tensions that remain inherent in post-colonial French society demonstrate this “non-site” of neither public nor private. Over all, the film suggests it is one thing to support and favor a multicultural social fabric, but it is another thing to actually bring the otherness of an immigrant family into one’s own home. In the film, an unknown person sends to a wealthy Parisian family video footage observations of their home. In this regard, the film touches on the first heterotopia described by Foucalt: the mirror. He writes, “The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.”
Foucault hints at other such sites that enmesh themselves into our lives such as heterotopias of crisis and deviation. He describes these sites as places where, “those in which individuals whose behavior is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed.” To return to Haneke’s “Caché,” as the film progresses, the main character Georges (Daniel Auteuil) pursues the sender of the videos into such a place. In this instance, it one of the many large late-modernist housing projects surrounding the city. Inside, immigrants, the poor, and others considered to be “others” are conveniently vertically stacked, isolated, and concealed.
Now to draw back to me and my work. (After all, I am the reason for the season… its true! My birthday is Sunday, May 01… also known as International Workers of the World day.) Foucault’s third principle of the heterotopia is perhaps most pressing on my mind this morning. Put simply, “The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” This is the thread that I’ve been yearning to examine and express with photography. In past work, I’ve failed to express this incompatibility that can occur within places of “non-site” even though it has been staring me in the face since the completion of my MFA exhibition. I’m going to expand more on this in subsequent posts on photos already gathering dust and also those that are still latent.