M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

Lesson: Full-size Nude Self-Portrait with Prosthetic

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The Toronto International Film Festival, Toronto, Ontario

Prosthetics and Figuration
The focus or goal of this lesson is to approach figuration in a more critical and conscious way.
View the Learning Object

Learning Object Collection: The David Cronenberg Collection
The Self-portrait
To be able to consider, construct, and observe one’s own unclothed body is a highly humanizing process. The students have a lot of experience observing other bodies in the environment of the art institution. To turn the gaze upon themselves is an exercise in empathy. The construction of narrative, the identification with the process of representation, and the position of the viewer are all altered in self-portraiture. A nude self-portrait allows the students to understand intimately the role of the model in an artwork, an experience of affect which may be wholly new to them.
The Prosthetic Element
The goal of this part of the assignment is to consider the addition and/or replacement of a part of the body in order to alter the context of their life-size nude self-portrait. This prosthesis is a device the student may construct or find which informs, or transforms, their idea of the self.

The addition of the prosthetic to their self-portrait provides agency in the process of self-representation. It can represent a self-invented adaptation of their physical bodies. They may decide to use it as a construct to describe or supplement a perceived weakness or strength; it may be symbolic of a narrative that is central in defining themselves such as creating an alternate persona.
The Prosthetic Element - part 2
As a starting point for the project we looked at props and costumes for several of Cronenberg’s films: Videodrome, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ and Crash. Incorporating Cronenbergs’s props and observing their function in his films allows students to see the fusion of human and machine, a hybrid state that transforms both. Access to 3-D scans of the work allows students to manipulate the objects in space, observe detail, and fit them into the pictorial space of the painting. They can compare the props from the films to their own bodies to reinvent narratives.

We also considered the symbolic nature of this addition to the body, specifically in reference to Cronenberg’s imagery, expanding our definition of these additions to the body to encompass psychological transformation. Twinning, viruses, and the divided self function as prostheses in the context of the psychological narrative. The human impulse to create prosthetic devices stems from the same impulse to invent metaphor and language.
Activity
Part 1: Presentation of research and a thorough analysis of the visual opportunities that give rise to that research. Thumbnails, preparatory sketches and palette studies are expected. The student has fleshed out an idea significantly. A written page describing research, process, and idea is due at this point. The student has 4 weeks to complete this.
Requirements: Minimum 2 pages of writing plus visual notes and bibliography.

Part 2: The student has finalized the composition and size of the piece and has a developed underpainting. Any new ideas and diversions can be entertained here but the commentary will consist chiefly of technical issues.
Requirements: Sketchbook or other preparatory work and underpainting, Canvas size must be determined, and work must be somewhat resolved at this point.

Part 3: Final painting presentation and critique
Resources
The students use the works and props of Cronenberg’s films to discuss the idea of a prosthetic. A historical overview of the medical necessity and cultural significance of prosthetics allows students to think of prosthetics and orthotics as creative and metaphoric extensions of their bodies. In addition, the reflexive nature of the self-portrait reconsiders figurative painting practice in a highly individualized way.

Results/Outcomes:
The assignment is expected to lead to an interrogation of figurative practice. Some questions that may come up for them and may be explored visually:

1. What is human? – The corporeal surface, the psyche, and the interior and exterior limits of the body

A prosthetic is anything non-human that interfaces with our humanness for the purpose of changing or improving our experience of being human, but:
2. Where does the prosthetic stop and the body begin?
3. Where is the human in all of that?
4. Does the prosthetic change the finite qualities of human life?
Additional Considerations
Consider, therefore Art as Prosthetic
• It continues the process of human manipulation of our bodies and our environment.
• The act of art making is like a cultural prosthetic.
• By making art, we add something to our personal identity, our cultural identity and ultimately the identity of humans

Mimesis and its Technologies
• Prostheses can be viewed as a means to interrogate the relationship between the subject’s internal world and external projections
• Prosthetics, therefore, undertake literal and metaphoric work

Prof. Natalie Waldburger
OCAD University
2013

Learning Objectives

Lesson and Goals:
The subject of the figure and its representation asks more questions than it answers. A contemporary understanding of the body and its representation in art, once the weight of art history has been lifted, must be open to many of these unanswered questions. The focus or goal of this lesson was to approach figuration in a more critical and conscious way. The upper level course for which this project was developed, builds on prior studies in figurative drawing and painting to develop new approaches to figurative practice. The project is two-fold, involving both a large-scale life-size nude self-portrait painting and the addition of a prosthetic to their self-representation.