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Michael Wright

Presentation - BreadMatters II, Lisboa, Portugal


Thoughts on Bread     -    Performance and Ritual

Our condition is characterised by the contradictory and oppositional forces which constitute our being, by the tension of unrequited desire. We physically stand by virtue of muscular tension; equally, this state of tension applies to our internal state. We inhabit a space of contradictions which are the source of violence, but equally the source of creativity that seeks to construct a coherent state of being.

Simone Weil states: 'we are of God and other than God…', contradiction is our condition, 'What we desire we consume'.


Bread, and more particularly The Eucharist, is entangled in this relationship. The Eucharist is the most disturbing and profoundly extreme expression of relationship and faith. It is folly, the extremity of sacrifice, the abhorrence of cannibalism and irrational contradiction of civilised thought. It is also union beyond symbol, inexplicable intolerable intensity of love. Such is the import accorded to bread in the transformed state of The Eucharist.

Ritual transformation of material links the making process in art with the religious conviction of faith. These are the thoughts that underpin my own limited undertakings in relation to making art in response to the theme of Bread Matters.

It is a given, in the interpretation of the arts, that the drives that determine the outward appearance of the work we produce are frequently unclear and more often unbeknown at the time of engagement. The meaning of work emerges more pertinently through a reading of the process imbedded in the fabric of the work rather than through the specifics of the symbolism or narrative contained in the imagery.

The ritual of making is revelatory in that what emerges through the process, that is the performative act of making, are manifestations of material which is not consciously contrived or preconceived. The unconscious has its own energy, driven by internal necessity. It is the enactment of the necessary that determines the performative presence in the making process. Aesthetic or language concerns, while appearing to preoccupy the conscious mind as primary content, are but the vehicle for this deeper necessity of enactment.

Rosemary Gordon in her publication 'Dying and creating' explored the creative process from a Jungian perspective and posited a theory that the creative drive has its roots in the need to act out and seek reconciliation between the bi-polar desires of the 'death wish' and the will to autonomy. The death wish is defined as the desire to seek union, submergence and connection and in effect to escape the consciousness of isolation. The other polar desire being to establish 'individuation' by means of establishing self-knowledge, independent expression, and autonomy of self determined action. Put succinctly, the means to establishing individuation is in acknowledging and consequently owning the shadow aspects of personality which are submerged but which are projected out and read as attributes of life, attributes which we seek to disassociate ourselves from or worse to persecute. The inability to establish individuation results in a pattern of neurosis.

Intrinsic to our condition is contradictory desire. In relation to Gordon's reading of the creative drive tension is the essential internal drive that progresses us from one state to another and progresses the evolution of work.


The most persistent relationship we collectively hold to the nature of our unconscious being are unfortunately rooted in negative readings; that our dominant drives are those of the id, egotistical and instinctual desires and fears which are of necessity repressed by our better social self. This undeveloped reading generates an image of the unconscious as predominantly harbouring destructive energies resting below a public persona. This conception in consequence generates repressive fear of unconscious material whose energies are perceived to threaten potential chaos. We collectively live in fear of our own shadow self and project that fear onto the difference of others, supposing that if they are not controlled, they will become a threat. So too must societies different to our own be controlled for fear of the damage they will do to us. We live in fear of the collapse of the social being and at worst collective collapse which threatens our existence with havoc and violence on an apocalyptical scale. This projection is but the transference and displacement of what we contain but do not wish either to acknowledge or own, we collectively conspire to maintain an immature cycle of projection and persecution.

Our earliest attempts to organise our perceptions of the world into a conceptual structure results in the formation of a binary pattern of opposites. There is 'I' and 'not I', thing and a 'not' thing, inside and outside, good and bad things, good and bad people, good and bad cultures. This simplistic model of thought supports and reinforces the internal desire for displacement, projection and persecution. Predominantly this is enacted in popular cultural production that belies a more complex commercial and political agenda of manipulation. We are fed and fuelled by the media industry with a consumer fantasy of the hero myth. The one dimensional hero figure that slays his shadow by projecting his righteous anger onto the external evil. This is the enactment of the binary principle which governs unquestioning desire for a simplistic unified moral coherence, the coherence of feeling righteous. This is above all the roots and energy of neo conservative born again Christian America and its mirror opposite Islamic fundamentalism, both of which pervert the intent of their sacred texts by their righteous persecution of that which is other, that which does not conform to their self righteous vision and will.

The other aspect of this mythic projection, which is harnessed and nurtured by consumer culture, is that of fulfilment of unfettered desire, unhindered will to power and cathartic revenge fantasies. Our ever present collective obsession with violence and death are enacted relentlessly through the media industry whose production offers satiation of desires and fears without responsibility, within the neutral arena of virtual reality. We now witness the unjust blurring of the boundary between reality and fantasy as political interests, in the interest of manipulation, enact these desires on the world stage. The news has become a continuum of these consumer interests and presents conflict as a continuum of entertainment. In this system we acknowledge our desires vicariously as empowered consumers while being reduced to disempowered spectators of belligerent projection and fantasy.

This consumer parody of unconscious drive represents a subversion of the internal drive to enact and transform the self and constitutes a negative of the progress we are required to undertake if we are to mature as either individual or society.


In an interpretation of a reading of Winnacott… 'We live by the power of our imagination which allows us to extend beyond the space of our immediate needs. The roots of our relationship to art production can be argued as being identified with our earliest experiences of fantasy. The primary fantasy is in the mind of the infant being which intuits the mother as an extension of the infant self. As desire for contact or feeding prompts the infant to cry for the mother the mother appears. The infant has the delusion of control. The mother gradually breaks this delusion by not responding to every demand and replaces herself with a substitute object, characteristically a soft toy that the infant becomes attached to. This object is the substitute/surrogate providing security and more pertinently becomes the subject of transference of desire. It is also the absence of the mother'.

Objects of transference become our earliest object of fantasy through which we enact our desires and loss. We project onto this object and enact our needs both of desire and anger.

Within the art making process, 'the making of' rather than the 'viewing of', leads to an engagement with the unpredictable complexity of our being. We are led on a journey by our own psyche without knowing where it will lead. Anger, sexual desire, cathartic enactment and release play their part in the early stages of this journey. This work constitutes an acknowledgement and a form of empowerment as these energies are harnessed and understood. But what, and where to, then? If we do not get arrested at some stage by intellectual arrogance, fear of loss, loss of youth, power or identity we are inexorably led into a more complex and less obvious relationship of enactment. We are led into an enactment of space/time consciousness and apparent loss of self. When desire is apparently exhausted we are led to confront the greater fear which is the unspeakable void, into the desert of our being where we must inevitably let go of the formative knowledge and influences which condition our sense of self and identity. We are forced inevitably to let go of the will to mythologize our own being and to contemplate beyond the security of the familiar obsessive pattern of desire and projection.


In this sense, the ritual of the mass takes us through a confrontation with our shadow self in preparation for union both with Christ and community. The core of the mass is sacrifice. Sacrifice has distasteful, primitive and barbaric connotations, yet it is reality. Sacrifice is endlessly enacted in the hero myth of our culture. Sacrifice of liberty is imposed economically wholesale across regions of the globe so as to maintain the wealth and security of our consumer life style. It is obvious that sacrifice in some form is necessary to the human condition even when it is masked by the veneer of apparent liberal, sophisticated democratic consumerism. It is one of the myths of the liberal democratic stance that it is possible to inhabit a reasonable and neutral position. This is a delusion born of disengagement. The increasing levels of anger in consumer society are directly related to the frustration of the naïve fantasy of fulfilment without responsibility, of a consumer life free of sacrifice.

In Christianity modern man is confronted with the nauseating, barbaric image of unspeakable penal death and then challenged with the offer to embrace and carry his own cross. This runs counter to all human instinct. However if this request is understood in its true intent it is no more nor less than to acknowledge and embrace the metaphorical cross of ones own and collective shadow self.

There is bound in our relationship to The Eucharist the problem of our relationship to our own body. Ours is a culture that is simultaneously obsessed with consuming and yet inhabits a cerebrally disconnected state of relationship to mortality and consequence of action. This is a direct result of the subversion of our imaginative life and in consequence we have developed collective neurosis.

By experiencing sensations and emotions we feel alive and satiated, there is a logic which then equates greater sensation with a greater experience of life. So we are bound to continuous pursuit of sensation and equate it with emotional fulfilment. I feel therefore I am! We make a god of our emotions and become addicted to sensation. This is our contemporary neurosis which art as a consumer product is under constant duress to produce, ever greater and novel sensations but which endlessly follow the same dead end cycle as they are bound to the unreflective engines of desire. The grip of consumer culture, the power of its persecution is rooted in the fear that not to have, not to be continuously fed, and satiated by sensation is to experience death. This is like the infant's relation to the mother seeking to maintain the delusion of control, of having our needs and desires instantly satiated at our will. And the violence the enormous need for enactment of violent fantasy, this stems from and is directed towards anything which thwarts our needs and desires for sensation. Consumerism leads to violence because it cannot tolerate being impeded by moral concerns. How then does one square liberal ideals with consumer goals, they are inherently contradictory. Consumerism requires challenging. This is why the right wing has greater clarity it does not seek to impede or question, it sees the logic where as the liberal ideal of tempering consumerism seems limp and incoherent.

Yet ironically, it is only when we cease to consume and cease the pursuit of sensation, that we fully reside in our consciousness. When we still the desire, we can inhabit our most profound aspect, that of being nature conscious, of inhabiting our consciousness. In this way the performative fulfils a vital function as does the effort of prayer, in confronting the unquestioning desire, confronting by using the tools of beauty, absurdity, incongruity and mystery, the stuff that cannot be consumed but which forces us back onto our consciousness… Consumer art always gives easy passage to escape consciousness into mechanical illusion.

It is in detaching from this manic consumption that the performative in art and prayer have a correspondence of similar purpose.


Bread is the staple of the body in the form of complex carbohydrates that release energy as fuel for the body. There is in this an equation to The Eucharist… 'unless you eat my body you will not have life in you…'. This is the rub of The Eucharist to be understood as as either a residual of a primitive barbaric practice of sacrifice and as such an intellectually intolerable proposition, or alternatively the palpable manifestation of mystery, of union and love for man, manna from heaven in the form of food for the soul… Christ as the fire of the soul…

This internal necessity of projection and transformation of our being requires enactment and this enactment cannot take place on a level of fantasy or wish fulfilment, it requires ritual and performance, to be externalised and enacted. It is for this reason that we are compelled to pray, to make love, make war or make art. This necessity is also enacted in the mass in that what is essentially psychic and interior change in the form of prayer has to be enacted externally culminating in the process of transubstantiation within the mass. Bread into Body. In this spiritual undertaking we are paradoxically intellectually and emotionally forced to acknowledge the corporeal mortal state of our being as the vehicle of our relationship to God as He too, in the aspect of Christ, becomes present in the material state of bread, consumed and made internal to our being. It is through this physical performative enactment that the reality of relationship is transcendent of symbol and sign and impacts on our being at a depth below intellect and language.

© Michael Wright, August 2003


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