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Long Paper



Jonathan Isserow

Towards a visual apres coup: retroactive resignification of memory in art therapy

This presentation explores memory and rememoration in art therapy by intersecting the notion of après coup with material drawn from both clinical and personal contexts. It does so by briefly unpacking the notion of après coup as the retroactive resignification of memory, and it locates this concept within a Laplanchian tradition. Après coup or afterwardsness—and the role of memory in psychic determinism—is understood here as the reverberation or ‘structural dialectic’ (Doane, 2002, p. 36) between two events separated across time, so that that which comes after may be understood to re-signify that which comes before. This phenomenon, it is argued, can also be understood visually and two examples are given.
The first locates a visual après coup within the art therapeutic relationship, working with an adolescent boy in a bereavement service in London. Here the complex entanglement between past, present and future, characteristic of après coup in memory formation, is visually evidenced by a retroactive resignification of his earlier art making by that which was made after.

The second involves a more personal example of the presenter’s visit to their ancestral village Žeimelis, in northern Lithuania, following working on an art therapy summer school in Vilnius, in 2008. Here, the visual site and witnessing of the geographic location resulted in the resignification of childhood memory and identity, so that which was visually experienced after transformed that which was remembered before.
Both examples illustrate a visual apres coup where the formation of memory can be considered analogous to that of the kaleidoscope, in which a new position or another image, suddenly reorganises other images après coup. Through this exploration, this presentation argues for the need of a more nuanced notion of temporality in the formation of visual meaning and memory, and how greater cognisance of this may inform art therapy theory and practice.

Jonathan Isserow

Jonathan Isserow has a PhD in Psychoanalysis and Documentary Film Studies from University College London (UCL), and a MA in Psychoanalytic Observational Studies from the Tavistock Clinic. He is a state registered art psychotherapist who has worked extensively within child, adolescent and family psychiatry. He convenes the MA art psychotherapy programme at the University of Roehampton, London.

Isserow, J. (2019) Documenting separation: Tracing a visual culture in post-war psychoanalysis and its contribution to child development. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 24(3), 282-302.

Isserow, J. (2019) Retroactive subjectivity in documentary film. Studies in Documentary Film, 1-15.

Fellous, N. & Isserow, J. (2016) The art of connecting: an exploration of art-based attunement in art psychotherapy, Art Therapy Online, 7(1)

Isserow, J. (2015) The digital artefact: Reflective arts-based knowledge production in art psychotherapy training. In: Schmid, G., Sinapius, P. (2014): Artistic Research in Applied Arts. In der Reihe: Wissenschaftliche Grundlagen der Künstlerischen Therapien, Band 5: Hamburg, Potsdam, Berlin: HPB University Press

Isserow, J. (2014) Review of Making Spaces – Psychoanalysis and artistic process. In: Townsend, P. Making space: psychoanalysis and artistic process: a day of dialogues between artists and psychoanalysts, Free Associations 66 (2014)

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