Peep Show at The Octagon

Close up: the view from here
A discussion led by Kayla Parker
Wednesday 28 October 2010 6.00pm – 7.30pm
The Octagon Social Club, Plymouth

Hi, I’m Kayla Parker. I’m an artist film-maker and a lecturer in Media Arts at the University here in Plymouth, and I’m also studying for a PhD: my doctoral research looks at creative practice and gender in animation, inflected through the lens of feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, with additional perspectives from Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva.

Firstly, I want to thank Beth Richards and Project Space 11 for inviting me to give a talk, and I’m delighted you’ve have chosen such an interesting venue: the bar of The Octagon Social Club.

In response to the themes of Project Space 11’s Peep Show presentation of moving image work by members of the Subjectivity and Feminisms Research Group at Chelsea College of Art and Design, my talk draws on work by Sigmund Freud and Luce Irigaray to examine the interplay between ‘I’ and ‘eye’, focusing on embodied visuality and the subjective resonance that is activated by the dynamic perspectives of maker and audience.

My talk is structured into 3 parts, each which adopts different approaches to the Peep Show. Some of the themes will arise during the talk and others can be explored through our interaction afterwards. Part 1 is a free association from the word ‘peep’, and includes Sigmund Freud and Nellie Bly, the feminist journalist who traveled around the world in less than 80 days in 1890. Part 2 shifts the focus to ‘show’, and includes Luce Irigaray’s critique of the Freudian paradigm and ‘the riddle of femininity’ (Freud, 1933). Part 3 is an account of my visit to the Peep Show exhibition in Plymouth City Market.

Part 1
For the first section of my talk, I thought that I’d follow Sigmund Freud and do a kind of free association, which I’ve done in advance: so, here’s one I prepared earlier and which I’ll play back for you this evening. After my talk, perhaps we could continue the process with some analysis?

I’ve approached this talk from a practice perspective as an artist, and have used this as an opportunity to explore the process of critically reflexive creative practice from the interconnected positions of maker and audience/spectator/viewer, a state that at times I experience as two magnetic poles, each located on the opposite sides of a sphere, setting up a magnetic flow or current which shifts and wriggles, flexes and curves back and reconfigures itself.

Sculpture by Mona Hatoum (1992-93)
“The piece consists of a large metal cube covered with metal filings which cling to magnets on the surface of the cube. The magnetic attraction and repulsion forces the filings into a convoluted, intestine-shaped pattern suggestive of a teeming organism” (Orbit, 2006).

So, I’ve gone on a journey, a jumpy kind of linear narrative that follows the train of one word/image/idea, trying to catch thought as it twists and turns, and gets tangled up; tries to escape, and then shape-shifts and assumes another form, sometimes burrowing below ground, and at other times flying into the air, only to dive under water.

Now, to be true to Freud’s method of psychoanalysis I should give up intellectual censorship and speak freely about any thought… and I should assume the posture of the analysand (the person who is being psychoanalyzed) and lie upon a couch - the word is from the French ‘coucher’, which means to lie down, but also to put an idea into words.


This is a photograph of Sigismund Schlomo Freud’s couch in his study at The Freud Museum, 20 Maresfield Gardens, in Hampstead, London. The museum houses the possessions that Sigmund and Anna Freud brought with them to London when they emigrated in 1938 following the Nazi’s annexation of Austria. Freud himself only lived here for a year as he died in 1939, but it remained the family home until 1982, on the death of his youngest daughter Anna Freud, who, following in her father’s footsteps, was also a pioneer of psychoanalysis, with a particular focus on child therapy. She was a keen weaver and knitter, and used to knit during her analyses of patients.

In the late 1880s Freud, the son of a Jewish wool merchant, set himself up in Vienna as a specialist in nervous disorders. Originally he hypnotized his patients: the couch provided somewhere for their bodies to rest, while their minds were released from conscious control and could speak freely, so analyst and analysand could have a peek at the unconscious.

He also began to interpret his own dreams, and in 1896 coined the term psychoanalysis, or free association.

I’m told that Freud’s couch, where all his patients reclined, is very comfortable. It’s a chaise-longue covered with an Iranian rug and has chenille cushions piled on top to support the head: chenille is a soft fabric with a pile, like a carpet, which is very soft and has a kind of two-tone sheen. The couch was a gift to Freud from Madame Benvenisti, one of his patients, in 1890, and is one of the hundred objects selected from the British Museum and other museums to tell a history of the world (BBC, 2010a).

Freud sat out of sight behind the couch - he said he didn’t want to be stared at 8 hours a day - and took notes while the patient said whatever came into their mind, without consciously sifting or selecting information.

Macrophotograph of the seat of Freud’s chair: “a photograph of the creases made by Sigmund Freud on his leather seat” (Parker, 2008) created by the British conceptual artist Cornelia Parker (2000) 63 x 63 cm.

You can actually sit in a replica of Freud’s chair if you go the museum, and his chair is another of the one hundred objects. It was made for Freud in 1930 by the architect Felix Augenfeld, as a gift from Freud's daughter Mathilde. Augenfeld wrote:

”She explained to me that S.F. had the habit of reading in a very peculiar and uncomfortable body position. He was leaning in this chair, in some sort of diagonal position, one of his legs slung over the arm of the chair, the book held high and his head unsupported. The rather bizarre form of the chair I designed is to be explained as an attempt to maintain this habitual posture and to make it more comfortable.”
(BBC, 2010b)

My settee at home isn’t comfortable enough to encourage the flow of instinctive speech, memories of dreams and early childhood, even with cushions, so my free association in preparation for this talk was conducted whilst in bed or on the floor.

As this is the 21st century, the computer, the internet, and Google, are all part of my unconscious, so I have woven in some virtual material that’s come up to the surface as well.

Etymologically means a glance, or a quick look, through a small opening or narrow aperture (mid-15th century), probably from the French ‘piper’ (originally from Latin pipere) which means literally to pipe: in the sense of a man out hunting birds, a fowler, who hides himself in the bushes and peeps out or whistles like a bird to attract his prey – and from this, there is the sense of deceiving, of pretence, beguiling or of being counterfeit or false: the quick look being secret or furtive.

Peep also means to make a short high-pitched chirp, like the cheep of a chick or small bird (c.1400); or as a noun, a slight sound or utterance. A small word for something tiny, miniature, something baby-ish or childlike.


Peep-hole is from 1680s; peep-show is from 1851, though not typically salacious until around1914.

Little Bo Peep the nursery rhyme shepherdess whose flock of little lambkins get lost and also ‘lose their tails’. She wanders around looking for them and weeping until she:

“espied their tails side by side / All hung on a tree to dry. / She heaved a sigh, and wiped her eye”


Peek-a-bo! Peek-a-boo!


From Peeping Bo to counting sheep, and so to sleep with my teddy bear Nellie Bly, whom, when I was 8 or 9, I fed to an Alsatian dog belonging to a friend of my parents, a doctor called Jack Barker who had come round to our bungalow on Jacaranda Drive, Berengaria in Cyprus to give me a typhoid injection. The bear was bare and had no fur, it had all worn away; and was old fashioned and stuffed with sawdust or something hard and scrunchy. The song I learned from my mother’s mother, known as Bid or Biddie, whose real name was Nellie, went:

“Nellie Bly piped her eye / When she went to sleep / And when she wakened up again / Her eye began to peep.”

‘Peep’ meaning here to cry or weep.


Nellie Bly was the pen name of campaigning investigative journalist and feminist Elizabeth Jane Cochran, chosen for her by the editor of the first newspaper she worked for in Pittsburgh. As a child she was known by the nickname Pink, because her mother liked to dress her in pink clothes. Nellie Bly was the title of the popular song of the time written by Stephen Collins Foster:

“Nelly Bly shuts her eye when she goes to sleep. / When she wakens up again her eyeballs start to peep.”
(YouTube, 2010)

In 1887 Nellie Bly faked insanity using the pseudonym Nellie Brown. She was committed, and went undercover so that she could study the notorious mental asylum on Blackwell Island as an inmate:

“Nellie put on old clothes and stopped washing. She went to a temporary home for women. She acted as if she had severe mental problems. She cried and screamed and stayed awake all night. The police were called. She was examined by doctors. Most said she was insane.”
(VoA News, 2010)

After ten days she was rescued by agents acting on behalf of The New York World newspaper. She wrote an exposé of the cruel treatment the patients received. After her first hand account was published, Bly wrote:

“the City of New York … appropriated $1,000,000 more per annum than ever before for the care of the insane. So I have at least the satisfaction of knowing that the poor unfortunates will be the better cared for because of my work” (Bly, 1887).

On 14 November 1889 Nellie Bly left New York for France, where she met the novelist Jules Verne and told him about her plans to travel alone by train and ship Around the World in Eighty Days. She arrived back at her starting point on 25 January 1890: her journey around the world had taken her 76 days 6 hours 11 minutes and 14 seconds. She was twenty-five years old (VoA, 2010).


Part 2
From Peep to Show

Does peeping or looking come before showing? Does the act of looking prompt the subject/object of that look into showing, and telling? Or must one ‘show’ before the ‘peep’?
Still frame from Kayla' film Cage of Flame: a black and white photo of Kayla's eye, veiled, taken by Stuart Moore as artwork for the filmFilm frame from the 16mm film Cage of Flame (1992) ‘directed’ by the dreams I experienced (and remembered) just before and during menstruation over a nine month period.

As a verb, meaning to look at, pay attention to, with additional nuance of meaning as beautiful or conspicuous: something that wants attention, to be seen. As a noun, show means an act of putting on a display, a show of blood; a spectacle or exhibition for others to view, an imperative: the show must go on.

For me, the words ‘peep’ and ‘show’ seem to me to connect the processes of looking as a spectator or analyst and revealing as the maker or analysand. It seems to me that what I do as an artist is to engage in a dialogue with myself. At times ‘I’ allow my subconscious to pour forth in free association of creative processes, whilst at other times my conscious self (eye) intervenes and examines what is normally hidden, or private. Is this the iterative cycle that drives the practice forward?

Bringing what is unknown or secret into the light, makes me think of feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray: ‘luce’ means light in Italian or Latin. Born in Belgium in 1932, Irigaray moved to Paris in the early 19060s where she studied psychoanalysis at the École Freudienne under Jacques Lacan. She trained and became an analyst, and also received a Doctorate in Linguistics.

In 1974 she published her second doctoral thesis Speculum, de l’autre femme, or Speculum of the other woman, in which she criticized the work of Freud and Lacan for their exclusion of women from both philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. This work resulted in her being expelled from the Freudian School of Paris and sacked from her job as a lecturer at Vincennes University.

The speculum as an instrument for medical examination of body cavities, of peeping into, has been used for centuries; but it is also a mirror: ‘speculum’ in Latin means ‘mirror’. In medieval alchemical texts the speculum was a curved mirror in which one could see far and wide, sometimes a magic mirror in which it was possible to see the whole world reflected.

It is light that gives meaning to form in our visual culture: woman is the invisible non-presence at the heart of patriarchy. She cannot be seen.

Irigaray expanded on her theories in her book Ce Sexe quin’en est pas un, or This sex which is not one in which she explored the relationship between language and bodies, specifically male and female bodies, and suggested that women use unique syntactic structures in the production of meaning, that are independent of the phallocentric binary oppositions. The patriarchal system is based upon the one, and has produced a series of oppositional terms or value judgements, in which one is always dominant or ‘better’, such as: good/evil, man/woman/ light/dark, right/left, day/night. Irigaray argued that we needed a new language, generated by women, that would exist in a multiplicity of forms, mirroring a woman’s ‘more than one’ sexual organs: a feminine language that can speak from everywhere, with meaning that is slippery and unfixed.

In This sex which is not one Irigaray suggests that within the scopic economy woman’s value is as a passive beautiful object to be contemplated, but her ‘missing’ sexual organ represents the horror of nothing to be seen […] This organ which has nothing to show for itself also lacks a form of its own” (Irigaray, 1977: 26).

Sigmund Freud defined all active erotic (sexual) behaviour as masculine, and defined female sexuality in terms of its relation to the male: thus, the vagina was a ’sheath’ or masturbatory orifice for the penis, a hole waiting to be filled. For Freud, because woman had no penis – a visible sexual organ – the female body is classed as ‘nothing to see’: rendered invisible, she does not exist, she has no form.

Lacan further developed Freud’s paradigm with his proposal that a child becomes a ‘subject’ by leaving behind the world of touch, of oneness with its mother, and shifts its primary mode of perception to the visual in which the illusion of an ‘I’ - a separate self - is constructed and a sense of ‘otherness’ is internalised. Lacan called this the Mirror Stage because the system operates through the distancing effect of vision: the child ‘sees itself’ as an illusion of wholeness.

Through the metaphor of a woman’s (more than) two lips touching Irigaray introduces the sense of touch as being an important element of female sexuality, of being in a body, and thus reduces the distance, the separation, between self and other in Freudian and Lacanian theory.

Seeing for me, both as a maker and as an audience, is an embodied process: visuality being a sensual engagement with the world through sight, alongside a cadence of other senses - touch, smell, taste, hearing, proprioception, temperature, pain, and directional awareness - and memory.

Part 3
I visit the Peep Show

Sunny Friday afternoon. High pressure, air flows in from the north pole; yesterday morning, the first frost of winter. The sunlight has that golden syrupy feel of late autumn as I walk down through town along Cornwall Street: through the Place de Brest, past an elderly couple sitting close to each other on the curved brick bench, their faces following the sun like daisies.

I remember it's a full moon later tonight, a blood moon, as I head down into the cold blue shadows along Cornwall Street to the Pannier Market, which was built in the boom of post-war rebuilding, and is now more than half a century old. The city centre feels unbalanced since the opening of the new Drake Circus shopping centre at the top of the town, as if the west end is sinking into poverty and neglect. I pass the charity shops that line the street, the empty windows of closed-down Woollies, a man with a tattooed neck pushing a buggy across the broken pavement.

Inside, the formality of the Project Space 11 show contrasts with the jumble of stuff that fills the market. A blackboard, belonging to the next stall on the left (Elder Crafts), has a heart drawn on it in scratchy white chalk, and advertises a card-making workshop.

Steel shutter, a pack of crisp white A4 sheets, gloss-red lipstick steps carefully bolted to the floor. Look Here the arrow points to a circular aperture, like the iris in my eye. I climb and place the headphones on my head so my ears are covered, and hear the exotic squawks of a parrot; then, balanced on the top step, looking with one eye close up to the hole (I am left-eyed when it comes to camera view-finders and telescopes) I see:

a television screen on which I can see video footage of a caged bird
(Jessica, 2006).

I am on the outside looking in, from here to there, beyond the aperture. But there is also here, I am also inside: a tiny figure within the camera, a ‘pupilla’ (in Latin: little girl) inside the TV monitor, stuck in a digital film loop. Locked in, a prisoner looking out at that hole drilled high up beyond reach, through the steel shutter that tastes of iron blood.

I have a friend with me to take photos, and when we leave Peep Show he takes a picture of me outside the pet stall, where there is a stack of caged animals. I am particularly drawn to three soft brown bunny rabbits on the bottom layer, which I want to take home with me so they can live on my bed. In the top cage blue and green budgies chirp and cheep, and remind me of my grandparents, of old people, of a front room window shrouded in patterned net curtains, where every Saturday afternoon, after working in the dockyard all week, my granddad Jack sat in an arm chair in front of the racing and tag-wrestling (Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo) on TV, smoking Players Navy Cut cigarettes (scratching a sulphurous match on the sandpaper strip of a box of Swann Vesta) and eating a quarter of a pound of Keiller’s butterscotch sweets. I waited for the sing-song of football results: I would peep around the door and then sneak in. While Jack checked his pools coupon with a stumpy pencil, the wrapping of silver paper coated in gold peeled away and the buttery caramel slab of butterscotch flooded my tongue.
Still frame from Kayla's film Glass: the still life of carefully balanced coloured glass pieces created for the filmFrame from Glass (2010) a digital film by Kayla Parker: microscopic stop-motion photographic animation of fragments of coloured glass found washed up on Stonehouse Pool beach, Plymouth.

For discussion:
Themes and questions arising from the lecture
Irigarary and architecture: her influence on the built environment
The control and use of space in the Pannier Market (recently re-branded as Plymouth City Market) and in the Drake Circus shopping centre (the mall)
The Pannier Market: an abject place?
Why Irigaray: how relevant are her ideas today?
Essentialism, biology and ‘in process’: the destabilization of the masculine construct of subjectivity by Irigaray, Cixous and Kristeva
Times for change: 1890s / 1960s, and today
Feminisms: performed and fluid identities
Eye and I: specular identities, seeing and being seen
The hole and the whole: scopic economy and the illusion of self (Lacan)
The controlling gaze (Foucault, Mulvey)
The close-up: ‘paying attention’ to the place of subjectivity (Münsterberg)
Subjectivity and spectatorship
Embodied visuality
The relationship of language (written and spoken) to creative practice
Methodology: evolving languages 'as (a) woman' and practicing multiplicity 'as (an) artist'

BBC: A history of the world (2010a) (website) ‘Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic couch’
Accessed: 26 October 2010

BBC: A history of the world (2010b) (website) ‘Freud’s chair’
Accessed: 26 October 2010

Bly, N. (1887) Ten days in a mad-house. New York: Ian L. Munro. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010
Cage of Flame (1992) Directed by Kayla Parker (16mm film). Plymouth: Kayla Parker Animation. 9min 45sec

Freud, S. (1933) ‘New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis’ in Strachey, J. (ed.) (1961) The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud. London: The Hogarth Press

Freud Museum London (2010) (website). London. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010

Glass (2010) Directed by Kayla Parker (digital film). Plymouth: Sundog Media. 2min 30sec (loop)

Jessica (2006) Directed by Lucy Gunning, L. (excerpt) (digital film) 2min 59sec

Irigaray, L. (1974) Speculum, de l’autre femme (Speculum of the other woman) translated by Gilian C. Gill (1985). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

Irigaray, L. (1977) Ce Sexe quin’en est pas un (This sex which is not one) translated by Catherine Porter (1985). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University

Orbit: SpacePlace (2006) ‘Mona Hatoum «Socle du monde» (Base of the World) 1992-93’ (website) ZKMax. Available:
Accessed: 27 October 2010

Nellie Bly: The pioneer woman journalist (2010) (website). Pasadena, CA: Tri Fritz. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010

Parker, C. (2008) ‘Apocalypse later’ in The Guardian (online) (Tuesday 12 February 2008). London: Guardian News and Media. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010

VoA News: Special English (2010) ‘Nellie Bly, 1864-1922: Newspaper reporter used unusual methods to investigate and write about illegal activities in New York City’ (25 August 2007) (website). VoA News. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010

YouTube (2010) ‘Nellie Bly - 1864-1922: Newspaper Reporter’ (website) uploaded by c1wang May 01, 2008. Available:
Accessed: 26 October 2010