Portraiture has captivated artists for centuries but as more contemporary artists engage with the genre, our definition of what constitutes a portrait must evolve. In selecting the film, What you see is where you’re at by Glasgow-based artist, Luke Fowler, I want to show that portraiture is being explored in new and intriguing ways, offering a refreshing take on the traditional.
Fowler’s method of working is to collage archival film, his own footage and sound (often recorded himself) to form an impressionistic portrait. Pushing the limits and conventions of biographical and documentary film-making, he creates films concerned with authenticity and identity.
What you see is where you're at centres on RD Laing, the pioneering Scottish psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and writer. Laing shot to fame in the 1960s with his book, The Divided Self, a ground-breaking study of schizophrenia. He then helped establish a residential community at Kingsley Hall in the East End of London. The aim was to provide alternatives to the traditional methods of treating those designated ‘mentally ill’. Residents at Kingsley Hall lived communally with the therapists in an environment that broke down the established doctor-patient hierarchies, and which was free from restraining drug treatments.
What you see is where you’re at is a unique and compelling portrait of Laing, very different to another, more conventional, portrait of the psychiatrist also in the Portrait Gallery’s collection. Although both undeniably reveal aspects of his character, I believe Fowler has captured something which goes beyond physical likeness and subtle symbolism. Unconstrained by tradition, What you see is where you’re at offers a hypnotic insight into Laing’s beliefs, challenges and achievements during his time at Kingsley Hall.
Portraiture may be constrained by looking at an individual but, as this contemporary portrait shows, portraiture can be as exciting and stimulating as the artist who creates it.