This exhibition and publication take their title from a seminar that Michel Foucault delivered in 1982 at the University of Vermont. Foucault defined technologies of the self as techniques “which permit individuals to effect by their own means a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls so as to transform themselves.”
Each of the artists in “Technologies of the Self”—Max Hooper Schneider, Tetsumi Kudo, Lucas Samaras, and Paul Thek—has been principally occupied with the idea of containment, often placing the self, or symbols of the self, within a container—an aquarium, a cage, a box, or a reliquary. Effectively creating a portrait of the self, the container serves for these artists as a technology for gathering, sorting, managing, and processing information on the self. What also becomes evident throughout the practices of these four artists is that the container inevitably becomes a vessel for, if not a representation of, transformation.
“Technologies of the Self” considers transformation as the struggle toward Self-realization, or what Carl Jung described as the “unification of the individual consciousness with universal consciousness” and often symbolized by a circle inside a square. What all four artists have in common, in addition to their aesthetic preoccupation with the container, is that they are all deeply situated in the space between the self and Self-realization and they appropriate the container as a technology so as to imagine (and sometimes come close to) Self-realization.
Besides their aesthetic preoccupation with the container, and the appropriation of the container as a technology of the self, Hooper Schneider, Kudo, Samaras and Thek are also bound by their ability to refract their own struggle toward Self-realization into our own. These four artists objectify the self through a collection of highly personal and visceral, at times incongruent and unreasoning, assortment of objects and symbols in what we’ve come to understand as their (self-) portraits. But in decoding and decrypting these portrait-containers, we find ourselves within them.
Perhaps this is their purpose. One only needs to consider the permeable and transparent nature of the containers—Hooper Schneider’s aquariums, Samaras’s open-lid boxes, Kudo’s cages, or Thek’s Plexiglass reliquaries are all in fact container-corridors, waiting for us to enter.
Image: Kudo Presenting the Ceremony "The Light Not Lost" ("La lumiere non perdue") during the exhibition Tendances de l'art en France 2, 1968-1978/9, at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, October 26, 1979; courtesy of Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; photo: Hiroko Kudo © Hiroko Kudo, the Estate of Tetsumi Kudo, Tokyo; © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris