The pseudoscientific study of pathognomics – the reading of temporary emotions on the basis of a person’s physical appearance – emerged during the Enlightenment. Lectures by seventeenth-century artist and educator Charles Le Brun popularized the notion that each emotion had an ideal form, one that was highly specific and visually recognizable. Guides were made illustrating the movements of facial muscles required for each expression. In the field of science, these became the basis for early studies of the humours and of human psychology. In the arts, Le Brun’s system was used by visual artists (painters, draughtsman, sculptors) and performing arts practitioners (actors and dancers) to convey narrative stories to their audiences. These pervasive and problematic ideas resonate today in the forms of facial recognition, expressive robotics, and virtual reality.
With the assistance of actors and performers, I am recreating Le Brun’s expressions following his original instructions. I am fascinated by the physical
architecture of facial movements and how we recognize emotions or empathize with others. By exploring how these historic rules appear in the current era, the project has challenged my expectations about authenticity and the relationship between appearance and feeling.