The recent exhibition entitled « Focus: Perfection » at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts offered a retrospective on the life and work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The Mapplethorpe effect still resonates with us vibrantly today and it becomes a question which of the various theoretical frameworks we should employ when analyzing his work. Attempting to provide a linear account of his life and work is expected by any such retrospective. It builds on the illusion of the self-conscious, speaking subject providing a linear account of itself. The archivization of his work does not only provides us with an archive (that simultaneously includes and excludes parts of his subjectivity), but it also produces an unconscious that becomes available for analysis and interpretation. This unconscious, exceeding temporality, is informed and constructed in conjunction with the other; its psychic elements are not just the result of the « I ». Subjectivities such as Mapplethorpe’s, that are deemed transgressive, are not the result of a single individual but the recognition between the « I » and the « you » forms an ethical relationship that simultaneously imposes and exceeds the limit. The archive and its psychic aspects can also exceed norms of intelligibility and then return again and be reappropriated. In this paradoxical exchange, something must be lost for another thing to be gained and the art of Mapplethorpe is an example of this, which has undoubtedly pushed the boundaries of art, but also caused moral anxiety and the need for us to reflect on our norms.
Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.
Smith, Patti. Just Kids. New York: Ecco, 2010.
HBO Documentary on Mapplethorpe entitled Look at the Pictures, 2016. Directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey.