This talk considers the place of (self-) portraiture in Hassan khan’s practice. In echoing the title of James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel, a portrait of the artist as a young man, it locates the significance of khan’s formative years to the relationship of an artist to art history. More specifically, and against this backdrop, the talk considers the relevance of a particular moment that may be described as the emergence of an image of the self as an artist, for its implications on a practice that claims itself as unable to escape portraiture. But the title is also in fact a twist on the original and suggests a collapse between the artist and his portrait. This collapse can be seen as indicative of a certain elusive and yet unmistakable tension that often surfaces between ‘the persona of the artist’ and ‘the boundary of the work’ in much of khan’s oeuvre.
While this is not only obvious but also unavoidable in works like 17 and in auc, stuffedpigfollies, I am not what I am, or the boy in the alphabet book—all portraits of the artist, it also extends to other works such as gbrl, g.r.a.h.a.m., nine lessons learned from Sherif el-azma, and studies for structuralist film # 2—which are portraits of others. in some of these latter works, there is a very specific contract that exists—unknown to the viewer—between the artist and his “sitter”, and it is only through the exercise of this contract established by the artist figure that the portrait of the sitter gets produced. The artist becomes present in his portrait of another.