Self-Discipline #19, 2009, 23 in x 45 in, charcoal on onion skin

Self-Discipline #20, 2009, 23 in x 45 in, charcoal on onion skin

Self-Discipline #21, 2009, 23 in x 37 in, charcoal on onion skin

Self-Discipline #15, 2009, 17 in x 34 in, charcoal on onion skin

Self-Discipline #16, 2009, 21 in x 36 in, charcoal on watercolor paper

Self-Discipline #10, 2009, 18 in x 16 in, charcoal on onion skin

Self-Discipline #9, 2009, 17 in x 17 in, charcoal on  onion skin

all material copyright © Linda Ford 2022 unless otherwise noted

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The turn-the-century pseudosciences Phrenology and Eugenics, somatic therapies, and BDSM practices, inform this work. Early experiences of visiting the “Worcester Insane Asylum” (as it was called in the 1800’s) where my father worked during my childhood, as well as my own employment as a mental health counselor, have had lasting affects on my preoccupation with bodies that transgress. Exposure to “Somatic Experiencing”, which focuses on mining bodily sensation in order to “release” traumatic experience, led me to research the early innovations of the Viennese Psychiatrist, Wilhelm Reich. Reich proposed that mental states have a corresponding “physical attitude” that is expressed in the body as muscular rigidity or “body armor”. In his view, a response that begins in childhood as a defense against overwhelming anxiety or trauma can become an “emotional and physical straightjacket” in adulthood. Somatic therapies address a similar issue when they focus a patient on bodily sensations in an attempt to release energy trapped or “frozen” in the body. By drawing on these disciplines, I am accessing the body as a sculptural object whose content is manifested in its skin, muscle and bone.

While working as a video editor for a gay bondage website in San Francisco, I began to conceptually connect the practice of BDSM and restraint with "swaddling”, which is used to calm and ease anxiety. In this work, the visual markers of bondage reference the body's internalization of trauma, while at the same time functioning as a therapeutic modality. The self-portrait drawings and collages reconfigure the unified portrait to investigate the fragmented nature of identity and self-knowledge. The title and pun "self-discipline" refers simultaneously to the act of punishing oneself and to the concentration required to make drawings. By titling the reconfigured collages with derogatory terms for women, language is again employed to correlate female desire, monstrosity and excess. The family portrait collages, juxtapose turn-of-the-century photographs of my great-grandmothers with hand-rendered self-portraiture elements, creating "Composite Portraits" like those invented in 1881 by Francis Galton. As the the founder of eugenics, he created composites to identify "physical, mental, and social deviance". By creating these portraits, I seek to uncover somatic inheritance as a tool for self-understanding and explore the idea that trauma can be passed on genetically. The “Body Armor” series of fetish-wear, fashioned from dried hog gut, uses animal skin that is very much like our own, to make literal, the idea of muscle memory. I am interested in the ways in which somatic accumulation and intergenerational trauma create cycles of disease, emotionally and physically. These pieces fantasize about the ways in which internalized control, trauma and marginalization may be recuperated.

Self-Discipline #21, 2009, 23 in x 37 in, charcoal on onion skin