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Number 13: Spring 2018

Art, Science and Witnessing, Or, what Laura Made

Laura Chernaik

I made something that addressed the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis’s 2017 conference on Gender, Transgender, and Psychoanalysis. The Site had offered the trainees the opportunity to produce an artistic fringe as our contribution to the conference. My work would be about psychoanalysis and about—well, not about trans; about non-binary; about me. Amongst other identities, I’m a queer theorist and a psychoanalyst, training at the Site, so the work would include serious thought about psychoanalysis; about both theory and practice. However, as I wanted to make work that could be exhibited as part of the fringe, I’d make something that was art and could be hung. For years, I’ve been interested in the ways that highly abstract theory can be presented and developed though works of art and literature; the fringe seemed another, very welcome, way to do so. I think it’s problematic to make art from analysand’s words, so I made my art—or is it science? —from the words of people who were not my analysands. I made four pieces that collectively I called Prismatic Heresy. 

I set out intending the project to be undecidably art and science. Lakatos (1978) argues that science is what is debated and yields new facts in a progressive research programme. Formalism (as in Bion and Lacan’s use of mathemes or Freud and Lacan’s use of topology) is often taken to be the prime criterion of ‘science’, but formalism is also used in the arts and humanities; most notably, by Northrop Frye, in literature, and Hayden White, in history. Thus, Lakatos argues, we need an additional criterion: the distinction between ‘progressive’ research programmes and ‘regressive’ ones, science and pseudoscience. Notoriously, Lakatos followed Popper in arguing that psychoanalysis was pseudoscience. However, despite this, the research programme of which Lacanian formalism is part is flourishing. This paper is a contribution to that research programme. Or, it’s art. Or, it’s witnessing. As the world changes, as, in Haraway’s words, the “comfortable old hierarchical dominations” (1991: 161) become less salient, witnessing becomes even more important, not just for suffering but also for joy.

I recorded and transcribed an encounter with four people who were not my analysands. Two of the participants had been in therapy; one for many years, one for a fixed number of sessions. I told them that I would act like I do in psychoanalytic sessions; which is, mostly, to listen. I would make something with the recorded and transcribed words, something to do with psychoanalytic listening and with the 7 colours of the rainbow flag, and I’d be happy to discuss—and work on— drafts of the work with them before exhibiting it in the Fringe of the Site for Contemporary Psychoanalysis’s 2017 Conference, ‘Gender, Transgender, and Psychoanalysis’.11 The exchange subsequent to the interview varied, person to person: some offered detailed editorial and artistic suggestions, some focused on the ‘discourse analysis’; and some on ‘witnessing’. 


  1. And subsequently in the Queer Arts Weekender, Shortwave Gallery, London, February 9th-11 th 2018.