A WORLD WITH MANY FACES
Iris Gniosdorsch

"Universal self-consciousness is the positive knowing of one’s self in the other self. Each has absolute independence as a free singularity, but does not differentiate itself from the other through the negation of its immediacy. Each is therefore universal and objective, and possesses the real nature of universality in that it knows that it knows this in so far as it recognizes the other and knows it to be free." This is self-consciousness in its universality. Although the ego itself is what is most unyielding, in that it is trained, it is the equal of its universality in its determinate being, and is therefore implicitly free universality, of a real nature. Such self-consciousness is self-knowledge, and knows of its freedom or independence in that the ego knows the other to be free. It is thus that I have my free self-consciousness in the freedom of the others’ self-consciousness. This universal reflectedness of self-consciousness is the Notion, which since it knows itself to be in its objectivity as subjectivity identical with itself, knows itself to be universal. It is not only the substance of all the essential spirituality of the family, the native country, the law, but also of all virtues, - of love, friendship, valour, honour, fame. Interreflecting self-consciousness is the substantial basis of all these relationships. I am, and I appear as such, and this apparency has being within the other, the determinate being, as an other, being merely an apparency. They are the same as I am, and I am what I am only in the apparency of the other."(1)

Art is recognition through sensory means. Alexander Honory has translated this simple saying into his work in an astonishing way. Central to his work is the everyday person. Photographic images are presented in photoseries, taken at socially meaningful milestone events, such as christenings, weddings, funerals or family reunions. Alexander Honory collects photographs of such festivities, which document the photographed and their understanding of themselves, while at the same time, emphasizing the strong social conformity of these events through their presentation as a series of photos.

In his new project, Alexander Honory wants to develop this theme as a large-scale "field project". His interest is consistently aimed at the tension created by the interweaving between the individual in particular and general social structures. Analogous with a natural science experiment, a few basic parameters are determined and working hypotheses are constructed. On four continents, in twelve cities respectively, the faces of 720 passers-by will be photographed in front of a neutral backdrop, and recorded on video for 10 seconds. This will be done in office containers situated in central locations in each of these cities. The images taken in every city will be documented in a publication and on videotape; they will be made available for research in the city archives.

The working hypotheses for this project are as follows:

1)When one has, as in the aforementioned quote from Hegel, to rely substantially on one's social surroundings for the construction of one's personality, is one able then to observe in the photographs of the faces of people in a certain place, something of the "relations" of that place and that time ?

2) How do I take in the faces, when I see them on thousands of photos one after the other, or as part of a continuous 24 hour-long videotape ? Is it possible to remember the individual faces in the series or, is all that is left a mixture of diffuse atmosphere-loaded images ?

3) When all the photos have been looked at, is it the common features of the faces in all the photos which prove important, or is this outweighed by the need to pick out distinguishing features ?

Tests in the psychology of perception have demonstrated that in order to identify and emotionally judge someone, people first of all scan the face starting with the eyes. Looking at Alexander Honory’s work can throw light on the nature of these patterns of personal identification.

Moreover, social psychological research has shown that within a fraction of a second, people look at a face and from the eyes, draw certain conclusions as to whether that person is sympathetic or not, which they rarely revise. Through means specific to art, this project could reveal standardized personal judgement mechanisms. It could, however, also expose social prejudice structures, by comparing the different countries. As the image material is put into the archives, diachronical observation studies become possible, which could prove that certain faces no longer evoke feelings of foreign-ness or fear, when social or personal frames of of reference have changed.

Alexander Honory’s project is thus in the best sense a modern work of art, as the formal means and the concept are adequately in tune with the phasing out of the 20th century. This is equally valid in regards to its spatial scope, since the real persons on earth, the "global village", are reflected, through art, both as a mass and as individuals. Similar to the transition from the painted picture to the photograph, the photograph mediates an "auratic" (Walter Benjamin) nimbus of the portrayed person, that, so far, the computerized image does not produce. Moreover, Alexander Honory has the courage to keep the "open-ness" of his working hypotheses open until the end of the project, in the manner of a good natural scientist, and not to provide any hasty answers. Contrary, however, to natural science, his art projects cannot be reduced to statistical results, as the way in which the photographs can be seen depends upon a whole universe of personal and social components, the content of which can never be completely grasped in a quantitative way. Alexander Honory looks with sensory means to realize essential ways of observing his contemporaries, whose destinies move in the tension between mass points and the unviobale dignity of the individual.

Iris Gniosdorsch

(1) G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophie des subjektiven Geistes, ß 358, p.345, publ.: J.M.Petry


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