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In the Frame for November 2012: Dan Duggan’s ‘Cipher Series 1’

This month one of our volunteers has chosen Dan Duggan's Cipher Series 1, which was brought into the Archives & Museum's collections following its inclusion in the Bethlem Gallery's 2010 exhibition, entitled Me, Myself and I, as this month's featured picture. She writes:

"I find the face to appear elfish and earthy; roughly textured, the trails down his cheeks remind me of tree bark. Its severe gauntness and expansive forehead, which disappears out of view, also adds to this slightly inhuman quality. The expression is solemn and his eyes, staring blankly out from heavy shadows feel almost accusing. What is perhaps blood running from wounds in his forehead or tears from his eyes has been left to stream down his face untouched, perhaps because he himself is helpless, or does not notice or care. He does not appear in anguish from his wounds, his lips aren’t parted in a cry but are instead held defiantly together. His expression is in fact surprisingly benign given his horrific state. The stark wounds around his forehead remind me of those that might be inflicted from a crown of thorns, and in turn a Christ-like acceptance of them. The wounds might also be perceived as an attack on his mind, they appear aggressively drawn compared to the rest of the picture.

"The artist, Dan Duggan, who has had a long history of mental illness and has "witnessed the nature of a variety of institutions", has said he wants "to engage with the vision I have of the conditions under which I have been kept safe". He does not specify whether his vision is a negative or a positive one, but to me this picture communicates assault and pain, either inflicted internally or externally, where the victim’s emotional reaction is muted. I find this picture incredibly haunting."