Memory’s Wound Is a Space With-in Me. To Rethink the Crystalline with the Humane, to Rethink Abstraction with Depth

Bracha L. Ettinger

conference: DARE 2017: aberrant nuptials
date: November 21, 2017
venue: Orpheus Institute, Concert Hall
format: keynote
keywords: colour, Johannes Sebastian Bach, memory

abstract about the author(s)


“If there is a modern age, it is, of course, the age of the cosmic” say Deleuze and Guattari. “The assemblage no longer confronts the forces of chaos, it no longer uses the forces of the earth or the people to deepen itself but instead opens onto the forces of the Cosmos.” The essential relation is no longer matter-forms but material-forces. The material is a molecularised matter that “harness[es]” forces, and the forces to be harnessed are “no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos. . . . When forces become necessarily cosmic, material becomes necessarily molecular,  with  enormous  force  operating  in  an infinitesimal space. . . . We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the …plan of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed. . . . How does Paul Klee present this last movement, which is … a cosmic ‘breakaway’? And why so enormous a word, Cosmos …? Klee says that one ‘tries convulsively to fly from the earth,’ and that one ‘rises above it … powered by centrifugal forces that triumph over gravity” (A Thousand  Plateaus, 372). The artist turns his attention to crystals, molecules, atoms, and particles, not for scientific conformity, but for immanent movement. Now, different from the abstract of the beginning of the twentieth century, the challenge is to think beyond this abstraction and also beyond the division between abstraction and empathy articulated by Worringer, and attend the abstract subreal: through working toward compassion—beyond empathy—and beyond the pure abstraction that has rejected the organic and the space of depth.

In this paper I present the meeting between the translucent fore-image and traces of trauma (in my own painting) and link this to the realm of subreality. I will talk about my experience of working a dynamically formed colouring-lighting painting and why I feel that the morphed colours touch memory’s wounds both during the process and within the painting as object. Fore-images arise from ephemeral configurations of vibrating elements that are somehow sensed and even trans-sensed beyond the senses’ capacity. Though the translucent fore-image in the mind is ephemeral and spontaneously appears and  fades  away, it  attests  to  the  realm  of  subreality  where  crystalinity addresses the humane and the human shares in it. This means going beyond the cleavage between the crystalline and the humane and rethinking abstraction for today: with the human. “BLACK, / like the memory-wound, / the eyes dig toward you” wrote Paul Celan (in “Schwarz / Black”). The same poet also wrote, however, “WE ALREADY LAY / deep in the underbrush, when you / finally crept along. / But we could not / darken over toward you: / there reigned / lightduress” (in “Wir lagen / We already lay”). Still humanising, always humanising—like Eurydice, the erotic antennae of the psyche is searching for a light—a sign of possibility for being-toward-life. Is it possible to work through art toward  a being-toward-birth in a world that massively enjoys its own Death-drive? We can look in the pain’s eye and connect to the sorrow of the other and to the wounds of its oblivion by fragilising our own self. Beauty is one of the names of the transformation of trauma  in the space opened by affective trans-sensing, when the memory of oblivion emerges and takes shape as abstract research meets the traces of trauma. In Abstraction and Empathy, Wilhelm Worringer writes that the dimension of empathy must vanish from the sphere of  abstraction in the visual creation. He presents a split between empathy that concerns the human, and abstraction that concerns the inanimate. For me it was crucial to invent abstraction that relates to the human and to move from empathy toward compassion. When the abstract meets the wound’s traces in order to affect them, it is possible to think of beauty-with-sublimity and overcome the split between the human and the crystalline, at a level that I have named “subreality.” When the painting reverberates the subreal strings it transports and transmits and humanises its knowledge. The same space that carries us, rocks us, and puts us to sleep (and I paraphrase here Bachelard who speaks about water), the same space that can be a matter of  despair, is also what gives us back our mother, the one who according to Celan is looking for some grains of light. My presentation is based on two earlier papers, “The Art-and-Healing Oeuvre” (2005) and “Translucent Fore-images: Glowing through Painting” (2017).

about the author(s)

Bracha L. Ettinger

Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger is an international artist-painter, artist-theorist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher working in oil painting, drawing, photography, notebooks and artist’s books, video art, conversations, lecture-performances, and encounter-events. Her solo shows include Silesian Museum (Muzeum Śląskie), Katowice 2017; Eurydice—Medusa at Arter in 14th Istanbul Biennial, 2015; Museum of the City of St. Petersburg (2013); Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Angers (2011); Alma Matrix (dual ex.) at Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona (2010); Freud Museum, London (2009); Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki (2009); Kiasma, Helsinki (2006); Drawing Center, New York (2001).

Her recent exhibitions in 2017 include Colori, GAM, Turin; The Image of War, Bonnier Konsthall, Stockholm; Encounters/Ontmoetingen, MAS/KMSKA, Antwerpen; Lyric on a Battlefield, Gladstone Gallery, New York; The Haunted House / The Human Condition, National Center for Contemporary Art, Museum of Modern Art and Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, Moscow. Earlier exhibitions include Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (Kabinet, 1997); Centre G. Pompidou, Paris (Face a L’Historie, 1996, elles@pompidoucentre, 2010); Konstmuseum. Göteborgs (Aletheia, 2003); National Museum for Women in the Arts, Washington, Whitechapel, London

23 (Inside the Visible, 1996).

Books dedicated to her art include And My Heart Wound-space (Istanbul Biennial, 2015); Art as Compassion: Bracha L. Ettinger (edited by Catherine de Zegher and Griselda Pollock, 2011); Le Cabinet de Bracha (edited by Patrick le Nouene, 2011).

Born in Israel in 1948, Bracha moved to Paris in 1981 and worked mainly there until 2003. She now works between Paris and Tel Aviv. She is the author of numerous articles and several books on art and psychoanalysis, aesthetics and ethics, including Regard et Espace-de-bord matrixiels (La lettre volee, 1999) / The Matrixial Borderspace (essays from 1994–1999) (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). Several books with her selected papers are soon to appear in English (Palgrave Macmillan) and in Spanish (Gedisa). She is Chair and Professor of Art and Psychoanalysis at the Division of Philosophy, Arts and Criticism.

info & contact


Artist. Psychoanalyst. European Graduate School, Saas-Fee, CH