Nixtieq (I wish)...
NIXTIEQ features a series of subjects responding to a given set of variables which I have defined, and thus sets out to document a direct experience of self-expression within a set of formal structures that tend to emphasise repetition and seriality. The work invites its participants to reflect on a deeply heartfelt wish and write it on a plate of glass, which will in turn be incorporated within a photographic portrait of the same participant.
The work constrains the participant to perform an act (this, according to his/her uncontested choice may be real or conjured), and demands unmediated expression from the subject in the extraction of the desire and in the subsequent decoding of the same desire into a descriptive string of text. By photographing the sitter with the written wish, the resultant text is rendered into the visual symbol or label for the sitter – i.e. the entire image may impose the sitter to be referred to as “the person who wishes/to be/to become…” etc., therefore conforming to Flusser’s theory that the “human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create”.
As this body of work is the outcome of a collaboration on varying contact and communicative levels between artist, sitter and audience, NIXTIEQ seeks not only to translate the sitter’s innermost desire into a universally legible symbol, but, through a representative collection of such portraits, also endeavors to expose the community’s wishes. This work somewhat burrows through the various interweaving layers of the village of Attard, right to the very historical core to lay bare the most cherished secrets buried in the very heart of its people. The resultant images are thus intended be an interior reflection of the community, projected to become an essential part of the village’s exterior make-up.
This work also intercepts the channel of communication between subject and audience in portrait photography by creating a third element – a mediator or ‘spokesperson’ – that of the declared wish. This written text (taken by the viewer to be an authentic desire of the sitter) challenges the hierarchy of importance in the work and becomes (in Roland Barthes’ words) the punctum, as imposed by the subjects themselves, be they banal or philosophical, unique or predictable, selfish or altruistic – everyone has their say. The subjects therefore, metaphorically become ‘hostage’ to their own wishes. The sitters’ own images within the portrait structure serve as backup visual reference to the message and aspire to reinforce their convictions in their own declarations.
The text ‘becomes’ an integral part of the image and takes on a leading formative and informative role in the structure of the picture. The written phrase enlightens the viewer to a ‘reality’ only known by the sitter, therefore more or less shifting the photo-text relationship to a situation where the subject becomes subordinate to the written wish; the text directs our understanding of the sitter’s image within the overall structure of the work. The written wish thereby does not explain the image, but confirms it – a kind of instruction manual as to how we are to decode what we see.
These public declarations may confuse the viewer as to their intended purpose as no advertised product is immediately evident. We are accustomed to outdoor signage fulfilling the specific function of making us accept and endorse someone else's message. In these works consequently, the individual’s wish becomes our own, a kind of appropriation, through collusion, of a person’s self-expression presented as a commodity. In a sense, these wishes could be seen as the ultimate commodity, the fundamental desires of these individuals.
NIXTIEQ also seeks to question the very reason behind these individuals’ consent to share these intimate and hidden desires with the rest of the community. Is it, perhaps, the affirmation of Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame prediction? Could this project serve as an opportunity to give voice to the desires of a larger group or a silent majority? It could for some be a simple, once in a lifetime opportunity to greet the local community; somewhat like sending a Christmas card to everyone… or hitting the send to all’ button on the village’s email.
Whichever way one chooses to look at this work, the project invites us to close our eyes and wish… as in Jiminy Cricket’s own words to Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wished to become a real boy,
“When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are,
Anything your heart desires,
Will come to you…”
(Lyrics for Walt Disney’s ‘Pinocchio’ Soundtrack by Cliff Edwards)