Surrounded by Me

Surrounded by Me
Saturday, March 18 and Sunday, March 19, 2017

Organized by: Tyler Coburn and Robin Simpson

Saturday, March 18th, 5:00 pm: Presentations by Felix Rietmann, Judith Rodenbeck, and Robin Simpson

Sunday, March 19th, 2:00 pm: Screening of video psychotherapy training tapes from the 1970s, as well as works by Richard Serra & Nancy Holt, Howardena Pindell, Kate Craig, Ulysses Jenkins, Sadie Benning, Jennifer Montgomery, Mike Crane, Tyler Coburn, and Sidsel Meineche Hansen

When video emerged in the 1970s, its simple camera and closed-circuit monitor setups were quickly diagnosed in art criticism. Rosalind Krauss, writing in the inaugural issue of October, argued that the ease of video feedback suggested the medium to be psychological by default, asking: “Yet, what would it mean to say, ‘The medium of video is narcissism?’” For Krauss, though video had the possibility of being a means of reflexive observation, the artists of her generation appeared to be trapped in a reflective loop. 

Outside the art world, video was developing a parallel life in the clinic. From the start of the 1970s, psychotherapists—including New York-based Ian Alger and Milton M. Berger—employed video feedback techniques as an adjunct to the therapeutic process. Where Nancy Holt utters, “I am surrounded by me” in Boomerang (1974), as she negotiates the echoes of her voice fed back through a headset, so a colleague of Berger’s, facing a fleet of cameras and monitors, remarks, “I feel surrounded by myself.” The studio and the clinic thus functioned as staging grounds for narcissism, a term fast becoming paradigmatic of what Tom Wolfe called the “Me” decade. In this era, narcissism expanded beyond the constraints of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, coming to play a central role in post-industrial, service-based societies that valued individuation and self-encapsulation above all else.  

Comprising two evenings of presentations and screenings, Surrounded by Me interlaces clinical practice and critique, through an encounter between early video art, video psychotherapy, and the work of contemporary artists and scholars. While narcissism is a starting point, this program also considers the influence on art and psychotherapy of a number of disciplines that emerged contemporaneously and often interdependently, including behavioral therapy, neuroscience, cybernetics, and corporate pharmacology.