Text in Bracha L.Ettinger’s art by Natalia Shapkina

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Bracha L.Ettinger is a French – Israel artist and psychoanalyst. As an artist she works with different media, among them painting, video, graphical works, diaries and notebooks. Some of her works include text. Sometimes the presence of text is obvious, sometimes it is hidden under many layers of images and can be seen only as path or circuit.

Her work with notebooks is a significant example of work with text or even work of text. Since they are real notebooks these objects have quite a personal meaning, a status of privacy. Artist writes down her most precious thoughts there. And at the same time she uses those notebooks during her psychoanalytical practice, so she writes down some words of her patients. She follows the psychoanalytical rule of “floating listening” which means to avoid conscious evaluation of what is important and what is not. And also she adds paintings, ink drawings, lines, strains to her notes.

The functioning and the status of text here is quite complex and unique.
I think that this complexity can be grasped by term “writing” in the sense that Jacques Derrida uses it. In the famous work “Freud and the scene of writing” from the book “Writing and difference” Derrida follows the development of freudian theories from 1895 till 1925. In 1895 Freud wrote his “Project for scientific psychology” where he said that each good psychological theory should have theory of memory and started his research in a scientific way. This work considered to be one of the most complicated
Freudian texts and at the same time it inspired many famous thinkers such as Jacques Lacan, Jean-Francois Lyotard etc. One of the significant questions of the work is how our psyche is able to keep permanent traces (memory) and at the same time to be able to the new perceptions (consciousness). Developing his thoughts over the years Freud refuses to use neurological language and comes up to the metaphor of “Mystic Pad”. “A Note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad” was written in 1925 and describes the work of human psyche as a work of “Mystic Pad” which is a toy for children, but for Freud this one is remarkable.
Freud wrote “Its construction shows a remarkable agreement with my hypothetical structure of our perceptual apparatus and that it can in fact provide both an ever-ready receptive surface and permanent traces of the notes that have been made upon it”
For Derrida this mystic pad is also not a simple toy, its construction provokes thinking. There are two surfaces in it. One of them is always ready to perceive, another captures everything and works as a storage for all traces. But those traces transform one another. When we add something new the previous trace will be changed at least a little bit. Our memories don’t stay the same.

For Derrida is crucial that all this freudian elaborations bring us to the idea that our psyche itself is a machine of writing. This writing is not necessarily phonetic writing. Phonetic writing is a writing within writing for both Freud and Derrida. This concept allowed Freud to interpret dreams which are sort of text more similar to hieroglyphical writing.

Bracha’s notebooks are metaphors for psychic surface which includes personal and social, I and the traces of the other, domestic and artistic. It is a very interesting that her theories ( in aesthetics, psychoanalyses, gender studies) appears from those notebooks. It is pertinently to mention in this context Anna Achmatova’s famous saying about poetry appearing from garbage. In Bracha’s work we cannot see the garbage in its direct meaning but all those residuals could be treated as social garbage, at least as something faraway from ideal holistic forms.

To conclude I would like to come back to this Freud-Derrida extension of notion of writing an Derrida polemics with McLuhan. If McLuhan pointed out that we live in the era of the end of phonetical writing, Derrida said “I think that in another sense we are living in the extension – the overwhelming extension – of writing. At least in the new sense… I don’t mean the alphabetic writing down, but in the new sense of those writing machines that we’re using now (e.g. the tape recorder). And this is writing too”. May be that is why not each peace of art loses its capacity being recorded or transformed by digital technologies? For example Bracha’s notebooks which were created by hands sometimes exhibits also as a digital piece on the monitor. Is there something in common between Freudian “Mystery Pad” and “IPad” of our times?

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  1. In autumn 2013 Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger showed the “Memory Post” solo exhibition in the Peter and Paul Fortress (The Museum of the History of St. Petersburg) and in the Freud Museum of Dreams. This was the first time I had a chance to look at the art which reflects three hypostases of Braha: as an artist, a psychoanalyst, and a woman.
    To my opinion, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger’s art is “influential”. The key topics she explores are memory, oblivion, history, the repressed, Holocaust. The first time you look at the paintings, there are plenty of images, thoughts, memories, anxieties, etc. immediately appearing and moving around inside of your head and your soul. Juxtaposing different materials: photos from a family album, photomaps, archival documents and automatic drawings, is a distinctive feature of Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger’s art. And I agree that this particular feature always make her works as if they are private documents of someone unknown. And actually they are.
    The most effective in this way are notebooks, they are diaries of her everyday life. And again I would agree with Natalia’s thought of Anna Akhmatova’s saying as being applicable for Bracha Ettinger’s art as well. All the thoughts which appear in our head everyday, all the words we say or keep, information from various media – there is much of that garbage from which we are to select something that stays, and words that she selects re those to stay in her diaries.
    She shares her feelings and thoughts with the outer world through this notebooks, she keeps all of them like documents of her life. They are almost always colourful reflections of her personality. Some are embodied in paitings and some are frozen in written questions or statements.
    Transformation of the notebooks to the exhibition/museum object does not delete that personal feature which every diary possesses. So, we as viewers are those who see some secret or mystery of another person’s life. And it goes without saying that this fact provokes our curiosity more and more. We are those who slowly opens this door to the artist’s inner world, may be, to make ours feel different, may be, to enrich it or experience something we have never had before.

  2. Dear Nastya! Thank you so much for your beautiful text on Bracha’s art! I’ve just came up with the idea to send her link to this. May be she will be curious)))

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