Viewer as Subject – Based on the Theories of Hofstadter and Foucault

16 03 2008


René Magritte
Reproduction Prohibited, 1937

79 x 65.5cm

Oil on Canvas

The main idea of our project is something that even Magritte focused on. The idea of Consciousness, and our inability to grasp it within our own selves. Douglas Hofstadter said in his book, I am a Strange Loop, our consciousness is like a mirage, that when looked upon, seemed to disappear. He said:

…what we called “consciousness” was a kind of mirage. It had to be a very peculiar kind of mirage, to be sure, since it was a mirage that perceived itself, and of course it didn’t believe that it was perceiving a mirage, but no matter – it still was a mirage. It’s was almost as if this slippery phenomenon called “consciousness” lifted itself up by its own bootstraps, almost as if it made itself out of nothing, and then disintegrated back into nothing whenever one looked at it more closely (Hofstadter. 2007:xii)

He called art ‘soul shards.’ It is an insight to an internal world (Hofstadter. 2007: p10). He likens consiousness to the ‘I‘ or ‘possessing intentionality‘ and ‘having semantics‘ (Hoftstadter. 2007: p23).

Just as Magritte did with this painting, I am aiming to bring focus to this ephemeral consciousness that we all share. Just as shown above, when one stares at oneself, one sees the back of one’s head unable to see our own faces. The idea of this MA project is to take this one step further using interactivity.

The limitation of the painting is that one must project oneself unto the subject.  Now the question is,  what if the viewer becomes the subject? What if, when the viewer looks into the screen, it is himself/herself that is seen? Through interactivity this is what we are proposing to do.

Hofstadter’s theories also echo that of Foucault. He mentioned that consciousness is a loop and it is through our constant reflexivity that our consciousness evolves. It is like a constant questioning; a constant self-transformation. Foucault said that this is the only true FREE choice we have as human beings. To focus our power or intentions upon ourselves (Foucault. 1990.)


Foucault said in one of his earliest writings:

My head, for example, my head: what a strange cavern that opens with two windows. Two openings – I am sure of it, because I see them in the mirror, and also because I can close on or the other separately. And yet, there is really only one opening since what I see facing me is only one continuous landscape, without partition or gap.

Foucault, “Le corps utopique” (1966)

(Jones. 2006: p1)

Here he focuses on vision, but how we have only one vision which is conscious and self-aware. Hofstadter mentioned how video feedback mimicked this idea of consciousness. And as Mosh and I were discussing these theories, we got the idea of making a feedback loop. As two cameras are pointed into each other’s screens a feedback loop is created. Therefore any change that occurs in one screen automatically affects the other.

This concept brings us back to our original idea of how the negotiations of power take place within relationships, how our consciousness evolves through collisions with each other and how it is that we transform ourselves.

And we will be doing this by moving the viewer away from the role of spectator to becoming the subject of the work itself.

I aim to create an experience with the viewer in this way. As Trinh T. Minh-ha, a theorist on Critical Theory on Otherness explains:

A creative event does not grasp, it does not take possession, it is an excursion. More often than not, it requires that one leaves the realms of the known, and takes oneself where one does not expect, is not expected to be (Minh-ha. 1991: p26).

This ‘excursion’ is what we aim to create through interactivity.


Foucault, M. (1990), The care of the Self: The History of Sexuality Volume 3, London: Penguin Books

Hofstadter, D. (2007), I am a Strange Loop, New York: Basic Books

Jones, C. ed.(2006), Sensorium : Embodied Experience, Technology and Contemporary Art, London: MIT Press

Minh-ha, T. (1991), When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. Routledge: London




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