Artist Ian Boyden ’95 presented a TEDx talk in September 2015 on his concept of “‘eradicate the self’ self-portraiture.” He expands our understanding of “self” beyond a single individual to include the environment.
“Several years ago I was sitting around a bonfire with a bunch of artists and we were talking about self-portraiture when I rashly dismissed it as some sort of narcissistic folly,” he recalled in the talk. “I woke up later that night, sweating, wondering what on earth was I, a person who’d never made a self portrait, even talking about?
“Of course, therein lay this challenge: to make a self-portrait. A challenge which I accepted, because I knew I had to make one, if I were ever going to talk about self-portraiture again. And so I did. And it changed my life.”
His three initial criteria, that it “should look like me, suggest something unique about my interests, should remain unchanged” led him to produce a replica of his head in crystal-clear resin—a piece he later decided had been limited by these assumptions.
“The actual reason that my resin head had failed was that I had thought it should have endured unchanged, which actually violates the very nature of the self,” he says. “With that epiphany I began to make self portraits which I gave back to the environment, so that forces within that environment could then complete them.”
Boyden went on to make sculptures of his head out of seeds that he gave to the birds. He made others from dried fish and marshmallows, which he gave to bears, and he made others out of stone, which he tossed into the river, to be worn away.
The art work and the process of their consumption are inseparable. “Every transformation is a form of self-portrait,” he notes and asks the viewers to consider that the environment is a critical component of each of us. “We’re all shaping and being shaped by our environment; Our portraits endure, not by permanence, but through expansion into the environment.”
To see the newly-released video of his talk, click here.
Currently the executive director of the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, Boyden also exhibited his work this fall at Wesleyan’s Mansfield Center for East Asian Studies, in the exhibition Tripod Complex, which included one of these self-portraits. Titled “Half Boat,” this portrait was carved from wood and then given to fire. The result was a portrait that resonated with the carbonized aftermath of a forest fire.