Visual Arts

Psychodynamic considerations at margin of presculpture
and prehistorical sculpture interpretation

Licia Filingeri

The definition that we want to give of the debated concept of interpretation will make use of a conceptual psychoanalytic model according to the theories of Freud and Klein..
Under the model of interpretation, expressed by Sigmund Freud relative to dreams interpretation (1900), we want to point out that, as interpretation, we wish to make clear the latent meaning of some material.
The conscious thinking of the artist is evident when the latent meaning awakes an analogous meaning in which it places itself in connection with the "significant." This occurs through the reactivation of those that Melanie Klein defines "internal objects" (1921-24), attributing a relation between the Self and the external reality, at that moment object of perception. We will remember that with the expression "internal objects" we mean the unconscious phantasies according to the feelings of oneself and the mental expression of instincts that create correspondent internal phantasies. Particularly important seems the setting up of projective identification, in which the omnipotent phantasy splits its internal objects, projecting them on the object with which they are identified.
It is central in the interpretation of dreams the reactivation "of memory and projective identification in that self and object are confused" (Mancia, 1983).
It is however very important that just through the projective identification we can place ourselves with empathy in the situation of others (or their work), since we can understand their communicative and affective side. Better still, in consideration of the artistic creative moment, Donald Meltzer emphasizes how the social energy, that the artistic creation implicates, derives primarily from the tendency to the projective identification (1967). Then the projective identification appears central both in the creation and related process.
Therefore it can appear less surprising , that faced with artistic work multiple interpretations can take place.
In the case of presculpture and prehistorical sculpture, agreement amongst scientists and scholars appears till today limited to the following :
a) Stone objects (flint or other stone types, depending on the layer origin) clearly indicating human work;
b) Natural and unworked stones, intentionally used by man for a representational purpose;
c) These objects cannot be categorized as arms or tools , but if they are they must have some decoration added that distinguishes them from the others;
d) They are not remains of work or natural findings, as in those cases the probability to obtain a figurative and typological form would be very low in percentage with respect to the representative forms that may be found;
e) They are stone objects intentionally worked by man for representional purposes, functionally referred to social, religious or communicational activity, echoing the environment, but identifiable as art.
Then, while we cannot have anymore doubts on presculpture and prehistorical sculpture, a univocal interpretation of this does not exist up to this date.
The most qualified researchers can interpret the same presculpture more or less differently, yet all seem to agree about fundamental lines of interpretation, such as those that Gaietto called "presculpture directory forms" (1982).
In light of projective identification, we can hypothesize that the difference of opinions of scholars is deeply tied to the psychological constellation and internal objects of man who created art and the varying acceptance of analogous internal objects, or concerning the same developmental phase in which today we observe and interpret this art.
What provokes our interest currently in many of these presculptures of Lower Paleolithic is the fact that their head is divided into two faces. This is very evident in the strong and significant group of "double faced with look in opposite direction" studied by Walther Matthes (1963) and Pietro Gaietto (1974). The splitting mental operation underlying their creation appears constantly, also in the figures which have only one meaning but is more evident in those which present more and different aspects.
This tangible separation brings us immediately to the setting of partial, internal objects typical in the development of children aged 3 to 4 months, into the paranoid-schizoid position theorized by Klein (1952). We will remember that this is the result of the immediate conflict between life and death instincts. The splitting seems to derive from the idealisation of an ideal object, in order to exorcise and defensively isolate by auto damaging the persecutory object. Through the projective identification , parts of the self and of internal objects are projected on the external objects and in this manner identified with them, possessed and controlled.
In its beginning, prehistorical presculpture appears tied with this developmental intrapsychic phase. This phase was subsequently, however, surmounted by the same sculputure-making people who practised agriculture, breeding; edified and invented writing and laws. On the contrary the former was not done by the people who did the first paintings, but did no lithic sculpture and had no tradition of building and breeding as the Magdalenians (Filingeri, 1982).
After a long "foetal preparatory gestation "of millions of years, or less, as per the quantavolutionnist theories (de Grazia A., 1951), we can theorize that man developed his Self in a "human" way both like the foetus, at neuro-psysiological (Mancia, 1981) and at psychological level (Rascowsky, 1977). And one of first forms of expression and communication of internal objects of himself, was just in the tools and art creation.

It is very important to consider the projective meaning of the "contour line" of the prehistorical presculpture with respect to the primitive differentiation Self - not Self, that I hypothesize to be at the labour moment , characterized by a physic and psychic modelling action of contractions on the skin, first holding limit between Self and not Self (Filingeri, 1982).
In this contour line (Matthes, 1967), omnipresent and privileged, a top and a bottom do not exist (Giedion, 1964): by that contour line, Homo come out from nature's womb, after a labour of millions of years or catastrophically shorter but dynamically intense (de Grazia A., 1981); he laboriously asserts himself to be different, with projective identification upon artistic objects in parallel with technical objects (tools). This contour line constitutes the first guide for this artistic work lecture. It is been expressly wanted by Homo himself and with empathy , repeated primarily by all those who work on Presculpture and prehistoric Sculpture. The dynamic mobility of identifying play of projections-introjections finds a contemporary expression in the rotation act of the same presculpture, also this with empathy, repeated primarily, near the immediate identification of the contour line by those who try to interpret these sculptures. In effect, all can verify that the rotation, keeping always in mind the contour line, is a variable interpretation picked out by all the researchers who have taken up the Lower and Middle Paleolithic art (Giedion, 1964). We therefore say that the contour line individuation and rotation are a basic lecture key.
The division in two, of which we spoke before, would depend on the defensive splitting, aiming to control the excessive paranoid anxiety started by intense projective mechanisms and by related exchanges in which part of the Self can been put in the object.
Homo maker, both at the beginning of mankind as well as today, was overwhelmed by deep anguish to be exposed to a completely hostile world, both external and internal, and be destroyed. He then projected his internal objects, partial and splitted, to the external object sculpture. Often, then, especially during Lower Paleolithic, the sculpture appears figuratively double: the face of the living and of the dead, the young and the old, the masculine and the feminine, the man and the animal, the rapacious and the tame...
It is possible that there are further represented splittings, but only a future strict typological study on a large scale would allow to establish that with certainty.
At this moment, this first basic, fundamental splitting appears evident, emphasized by all the researchers. Presculptures have large caesura, made by flaking work, with partial and juxtaposed images. These paranoid-schizoid mechanisms, present in more or less latent manner in the presculptures, reactivate in the interpreters their own paranoid-schizoid mechanisms. The person who is interpreting, during the explanatory play of projections and reintegrations, can therefore act in collusion with empathy splittings present in the work, and to be more or less moved, having the possibility of reviving one's own ancient splittings, reintrojecting or absolutely projecting.

This explains how a multiplicity of interpretations, not always coincident, is possible for scholars of Presculpture and prehistorical Sculpture. However, a unique basic interpretation, by all the researchers, about the existence of some "directory forms" unanimously identified exists. It is then evident that a complete interpretation for lecturing does not yet exist, even if it is possible to assert that Presculpture and prehistorical Sculpture are already deciphered in their fundamental lines. We wish that earlier typological and related environmental studies in a broad sense woud be thoroughly examined and developed on a larger scale. This should be done following a multi-disciplinary research aimed at defining a unique interpretation of the first art of man that keeps in mind both the formal "objective" aspect of the interpretation and the "latent" and symbolic one. In fact, as in dreams, around the image (and the sculpture is the image "par excellence") there are both condensation and deplacement of meanings with regard to few universal themes.
They refer to the dynamics of the evolution of our relationship with others according to the model of our first relationship, starting from the one with our mother.


DE GRAZIA, A. (1981), Chaos and Creation, Metron, Princeton
FILINGERI, L. (1982), Sé fetale e relazione analitica, Abstracts,Convegno:La nascita psicologica e le sue premesse neurobiologiche, Milano, 1982
FILINGERI, L. (1982), Appendice, in: GAIETTO, P., Presculpture and Prehistorical Sculpture,cit.
FREUD,S., (1900), Die Trauumdeutung, ( L'interpretazione dei sogni,Op. vol.III, Boringhieri, Torino)
GAIETTO, P., (1974), L'Arte Vergine, C.S.I.O.A., Genova
GAIETTO, P. (1982), Presculpture and Prehistorical Sculpture,E.R.G.A., Genova
GIEDION, S. (1962), The eternal Present : the Beginnings of Art, Pantheon Books, New York
KLEIN, M. (1921-24), A contribution to the Psychogenesis of Maniac-Depressive States, in Contribution to Psycho-Analysis, Hogarth Press, London, 1948
KLEIN, M.,(1952), Some theoretical conclusions regarding the emotional life of the infant, in Developments in Psycho-Analysis, by J.Rivière,, Hogarth Press, London
MANCIA, M. (1981), On the beginning of menial life in the foetus, Int.J.Psycho-Anal., 62: 351-357
MANCIA, M. (1983), Memoria, simbalizzazione e funzione del sogno Relazione presentata al Congresso Internazionale . Il sapere e lo scarto, Verona, Aprile '83
MATTHES, W. (1963), Fruhe bildende Kunst in Europa, Zeitschrift fur Religions un Geistesgeschichte,12: 164-179
MATTHES, W. (1967), Zum Verstandnis der alteren Eiszeltkunst, Antaios, 3: 219-252
MELTZER, D. (1967), The psychoanalytic Process, Heinemann, London
RASCOWSKY, A. (1977), El psiquismo fetal,, Paidos, Buenos Aires
(courtesy of Primeval Sculpture, 1984, vol.1, n.1 )