Interior Face and Retraction of the Senses: a Transcultural Semiotic Reading

‘We can say that face is not only co-constitued in interaction, but is also constitutive of interaction.’ (Bargiela-Chiappini, Haugh, 2009: 12)


The face: a mediator and an interactive producer of perception. The senses and the organs through which they pass are formed and transformed, finding their privileged space of action in the face. The metapragmatic tension is not only outward, but also inward. In a kind of turning point we analyze some representations and iconographies linked to this inverse, reflexive, emic movement. Let us take transcultural and multimedia texts as references: representations and practices whose semiotic reading can help us to deepen our studies on the face, the processes of signification that arise, the forming and deconstructing of perceptions. We select the silence of the face, the face of silence: the breathing practice of Brhamari pranayama, the symbolism inherent to the withdrawal of the senses linked to the Brhamari and other discourses of the body, often directed to the outside, sometimes diegetic, demonstrated by half-closing the eyes or blocking the ears. Beginning with the face of tranquility, from which, according to Brune, all other emotions arise, we move on to the study of impassivity and the neutral mask of Lecoc, whose studies of the theatre have led to developments in the fields of psychology, anthropology and semiotics. We analyze some artistic texts such as ‘Double Silence’ by Michaël Borremans and Mark Manders, ‘Slow silence’ by Yuriy Zakordonets, Miró's ‘Silence’, Jef Aerosol's ‘Chuuut’. We broaden the notion of silence with references to some contemporary discursive practices resulting from recent urban events, but we also refer to significant icons sedimented in time, such as Sanzaru. Applying transversal paradigms between semiotics of culture, art, and the body, we create a path in the knowledge of facial and perceptual mediations in the construction and deconstruction of a neutral face, in the practice of the senses portrayed.

Silvia Barbotto

University of Turin, Italy. FACETS Erc Project.

Postdoctoral researcher within the ERC project FACETS (led by Prof. Massimo Leone), contract professor at the University of Turin, Italy, and at the Autonomous University of Yucatan in Mérida, Mexico. She graduated in Communication Studies at the University of Turin (2004) and holds a Ph.D. in Art Research and Production from San Carlos University, Valencia (2014). Her research deals with the semiotics of the body, multimedia, art and performativity, with a specific focus on the semiotics of the face. Her approach aims at cross-fertilizing academic research and aesthetic, experimental and transdisciplinary practices. 

face studies
semiotic of the body