This lecture argues that the production and reception of faces stands at the very centre of western discourses of power and representation: that faces mediate crucial ideas about God, identity, selfhood, and the making and determination of “others.” I claim that particular regimes of the face mark important moments in western social and political development (including the Roman Empire, the political absolutism of Louis XIV, and the mid-20th century totalitarisms of Hitler and Stalin); that faces played a crucial role in the development of circulation economies through their impress on coinage, commemorative medals and, later, on paper monies; and that visualizations of the face featured significantly in the development of new technologies (photography, film and new media); new genres (caricature); and new “sciences” (physiognomy, pathonomy, sociology, anthropology—in which the face was gathered up as a somewhat unwitting agent in theories of social and clinical “progress,” and given a leading role in modern understandings of insanity, criminality and general psychology).
The second half of the lecture discusses the production and destiny of faces as they were caught up in the discourses of visual modernism and the avant-garde. I discuss the invasive, distorting, dislocating, and finally annihilating gestures made against the territory of the face by Paul Cézanne, Odilon Redon, the Fauves (especially Henri Matisse) the Cubists, and the pioneer non-iconic abstractionists (Wassily Kandinsky, Kasmir Malevich and Piet Mondrian). My conclusion attends to renegotiations of faciality in postmodern art practice and in the writings of Paul Virilio, Gilles Deleuze and others.
John C. Welchman, Professor of art history in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego and Chair Emeritus of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts