The Third Identity, otherwise known as the Third Hand or Third Mind, is when there is the creation of a third ‘being’ from a two-person collaboration. The original identity’s both artists hold, and a new co-existing identity when they collaborate.   

“The Third Mind is not the history of a literary collaboration, but rather the complete fusion in a praxis of two subjectivities […] that metamorphose into a third; it is from this collusion that a new author emerges, an absent third person invisibly and beyond grasp, decoding the silence.”

(Gysin, B. and Burroughs, W. cited in Johnson, D. 2012: 135)     

Third Identity was the first collaborative term I came across, which more directly explained how I felt, compared to collaboration, it was more personal and intimate. When the two artists are collaborating the Third Identity takes over and is often referred to as a phantom body. Grosz explains that “the image or the doppelgänger of the body the subject must develop if it is to be able to conceive of itself as an object and a body, and if it is to take on voluntary action in conceiving of itself as subject.” (Grosz, E. 1994). When together with a doppelgänger, you can conceive and see yourself as both the object and the subject. The Third Identity becomes a phantom body, separated from yourself – this allows you to see yourself as an audience figure too. To achieve the feeling of having a phantom body, you must develop the image of yourself with your doppelgänger; otherwise, the relationship will not be intimate enough for the Third Identity to develop. Abramović explained during Nightsea Crossing with Ulay “she had the sensation of seeing in every direction around her as if every pore could see.” (Abramović, M. cited in Johnson, D. 2012).  

Abramović/Ulay’s Nightsea Crossing performances were extreme, consisting of tremendous concentration and focus during the seven hours they spent in silence staring at one another. Having this pure silence in a meditative way meant they were able to develop this Third Identity to the point where Abramović felt like both the object and the subject. Abramović/Ulay named their Third Identity ‘Rest Energy’. Similarly, the longer my two bodies spent together producing work, a similar sensation occurred to my bodies. Specifically, when taking photographs in the dark room (featured in figure 3), my bodies spent a lot of uninterrupted time together in a neutral space, a phantom body was beginning to emerge. The Third Identity was relatable in this sense and began to explain how my bodies were starting to feel and that calling myself a ‘collaboration’ wasn’t suitable.    

Figure 3 – BISECT, Chair: As the Phantom Body, 2019

During the first semester of the second year, this is when my identity most closely represented Third Identity – I found this term at the end of this semester, and it began to explain how I felt. Although at the time, I wasn’t referring to myself within the context of Third Identity; I was separating my work into three distinct categories. Gabby focused on photography, while Molly did the textile-based work, included in the submission was work produced together. Both bodies approached the work from their ‘individual’ skillset and perspective, but once wholly collaborating felt like one entity and had similar experiences to Abramović/Ulay. Also, during this period, my bodies only wore matching outfits on more specific occasions, such as when taking photography and special events in my personal life.    

Figure 4 – BISECT, Legs legs legs, 2019

As seen in figure 4 my two bodies wore different tights, and although wasn’t that significant, it just shows how my bodies weren’t as committed in the practice/ideas I was claiming to present. The asymmetries present in these images made this photo less successful; this photo aimed to create an uncanny effect with the use of doubling. However, the doubling wasn’t taken to the extreme, not only did it affect the physical piece it also reinforced the separation my bodies forced onto the work. A line of research at this point was asymmetry and our perception of symmetry. In Michael Birds’ essay on this topic, he states “symmetry perception instantaneously triggers the recognition that something is there – something you need to respond to. But it’s the perception of subtle modulations and asymmetries that reveals exactly what, or who, you’re dealing with.” (Bird, M. 2004). Within doubles by having slight asymmetries, you can reveal more of what/who someone is – this was what my bodies were aiming to, by wearing different coloured tights, to produce a more intense uncanny effect. The issue is the asymmetry is too apparent, going away from ‘subtle symmetry’ and moving towards just being different.    

At this point, my bodies weren’t fully committing and were too focused on appeasing the brief that they separated the work. In hindsight, this was pointless, the ‘separate’ practices my bodies provided, weren’t at all separated. When looking more deeply into collaboration and realising that the basis of collaboration is broader than I first realised, this meant that although I was providing a distinction of the work, nothing was completed alone. Gabby investigated the uncanny, specifically doubling meaning she needed Molly to feature in the photography, and Molly explored conjoined again needing Gabby to be in the costumes. All work which claimed to be made by each body separately was heavily influenced, contextualised and produced by the other. There became a point where the work produced was only ever this Third Identity. The two original identities of Molly and Gabby at this point were starting to fade and as commitment levels rose the less the work deviated from Third Identity. “We begin in a sort of synchronised similitude … and then we arrive at the level in which each of us function alone. The two bodies doing the same, but within, there is a separation.” (Ulay. Cited in Abramović, M. 1993). My two bodies didn’t associate with the fact that Third Identity heavily relied on the two artists having their own individual identities. I decided to swiftly move on from this term to describe my collective identity as it didn’t sit right.