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The Case for Hand Stencils and Prints as Proprio-Performative

Author(s): Patricia Dobrez

Journal: Arts
ISSN 2076-0752

Volume: 2;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 273;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: rock art | hand stencils and hand prints | technique | cultural specificity | decorated hands | patterned hands | gestural language | looming | representational momentum | mirror neurons | proprio-performatives

Hand stencils and prints are found globally in rock art, reflecting the sine qua non role of the hand in human evolution. The body itself is the tool, and it affords the registering, in the form of a trace, of what perceptual psychology terms an “ecological self”. More than a “signature”, a hand mark is uniquely “proprio-performative”, combining inscription of individuality with direct address. The first part of this paper looks at what might get in the way of a universally readable primary meaning by methodically addressing issues of technique and cultural specificity. Having cleared the ground, it proceeds to make its argument for hand stencils and prints as constituting a special category of rock art imagery. It does this by having recourse to ideas currently under discussion in cognitive psychology: awareness of self-agency and body-ownership, as well as the notion of perceived looming in pictures. Finally, an appeal is made to the claim for a key mirror neuron role in communication. Because they are traces of actions eliciting mirror-neuronal responses, hand marks are seen as affording a readily accessible external term in an exchange of meaning on which a system of graphic communication might be built.
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