Panel 3 Introduction & Jacqueline Taylor - Alchemy of Desire

Panel 3 Introduction & Jacqueline Taylor - Alchemy of Desire

2014-10-23 2014: Twice Upon A Time: Magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses

Twice Upon A Time: magic, Alchemy and the Transubstantiation of the Senses

Conference held at the Centre for Fine Art Research (CFAR) 26-27 June 2014

Panel 3 introduction & Jacqueline Taylor - Alchemy of Desire


Alchemy (ἔτυμον χημεία) of the Western world has been politicised and named as a tradition through rational thought in order to be represented. In this sense, it can be likened to Lacan’s ‘symbolic’ realm of signification and ‘Other’ discourse as imposing rational, logic order and linguistic codification that structures signification and representation. However, there has remained a residue of alchemical practice that has eluded enunciation in precise words; an excess in which alchemy has been identified as esoteric and a poetic form.

Indeed, for Kristeva the history of the signifying systems of magic, shamanism, esotericism and certain types of poetry attest what social discourse represses through a process of signifiance* that exceeds the subject and communicative signifying structures. She alsocites abjection (that which is rejected/expelled by social order) as an alchemy that transforms the death drive into a new signifiance.

*that is, the interaction of the symbolic and what Kristeva terms the semiotic (sē′mē-ŏt′ĭk) disposition of language as related to the pre-linguistic bodily drives or jouissance to generate a new productivity in the subject as ‘in-process’.

For Kristeva, poetic language refers to elements of the unconscious repressed by the symbolic that when mobilised through the practice of writing, explode the linguistic codes and semiotic chain of the dominant symbolic socio-political order to escape the holds of rational science and create a crisis of social structures and its ideological manifestations.

Irigaray too, talks about sexual difference as an alchemy of desire which she locates in ‘intervals’ of time weaved with space to open up sites of difference. She builds on Empedocle’s four elements as the foundation of alchemy to put forward poetic language based on the philosophy of matter as existing in a state of ‘semi-fluidity’ to signify inexpressible ‘psychic’ strata bound up with jouissance.

Drawing on Kristeva and Irigaray’s thinking surrounding textuality in relation to alchemy/χημεία and desire, I will argue for a poetic understanding of painting to allow for non-representational articulations of the ‘feminine’ (located not in relation to gender but as a pre-linguistic modality repressed by the normative communicative function of language and representation) in relation to the painterly. Rather than a focus on painting as an object or end artefact, I will put forward what I have termed ‘the poetic’ in relation to a focus on the ‘process’ of painting, which I argue more closely relates to signifiance. I argue that the ‘heat of making’ as interrelated with the poetic enables jouissance to be enfolded through space- time moments within an expanded spatiality of painting in relation to bodies and matter, allowing non-representational modes of signification to emerge.

I will consider my own material practice (see accompanying images) which focuses on the transformation of painterly materials through the construction of painting-spatialities in which painterly forms manifest performatively and unpredictably through alchemical processes which converge with the subject as linguistic, social and corporeal. I aim to present a performative reading of a hybrid poetic paper in which the textual and material collide visually as well as conceptually.

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