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Dr. Ketzia Alon – On a Dazzle, Depression and Clinical Glare

2010 | “Forest of Oblivion” exhibition text

“Are we at… what is the name of this place? I forgot. What is your name? Something awkward happened to me. I can’t remember my name. And also the name of that animal. Have I been infected in forgetfulness? Can you be infected by it? Very frightening!”. These are the words of Alice in “Alice in wonderland”. It seems that the forgetfulness of the private name indicates a cognitive peak of repression, disappearance and muteness. Who am I? Asks – or actually investigates – Alice and receives different answers each time throughout the book. It seems that the deep powers existing in this classic book – literary beauty, psychological profundity, semi-conscious enticement along with childness and vulgar childishness – receives a stunning visual expression in the intricate oil paintings of Haya Graetz-Ran. Girls sticking out their tongues, suricates on a branch, nameless animals, a wrapped up feminine body, truncated, expressing endless vulnerability, phallic objects, or a teddy bear shaped as a black hole. More than once, dazzling whiteness illuminates from the fertilized surface. However, do not be mistaken by this whiteness: This is a whiteness that carries loads of grief, melancholy, depression and discomfort. This is a surface of whiteness that seeks to blind us and the characters confined in it. I ask to read Alice’s character – The ultimate character of the girl in the white dress – as a profound symbolic key to the paintings of Graetz-Ran, paintings that move across a wide artistic entirety.

The following paragraph is what Julia Kristeva wrote while she was analyzing the figure of a melancholy patient of her: “As if she was Alice in the land of pain, the depressive cannot bear the mirror. The figure of herself and the figures of others evokes in her hurt narcissism the violence and the desire to kill, from which she defends herself by crossing the mirror and taking a place in the other world, in which, thanks to a limitless spreading of her frozen agony, she finds anew a hallucinatory completeness” (Kristeva, Black sun). It seems that Graetz-Ran is an expert excursionist in the land of pain. What rustles merely as a clue in the paintings, receives an explicit expression in the words of Kristeva: The desire to kill. Brutality can be found under the picturesque, enticing, allegedly magical surface. The self-defense against the desire to kill and the conquered violence is an “endless spreading of frozen sorrow”, an accurate definition to the emotional load emitting from Graetz-Ran works. Only then, in the rectangular boundary of the canvas, in the accomplishment of the artwork, reappears the “insane perfection”. “Crossing the mirror” is the symbolic crossing toward the canvas, constituting a distorting mirror from a special kind.

Kristeva is greatly aware to the infiltrating sexuality coming out of Alice’s character and refer to the character of Virginia at the literature of Louis-Ferdinand Céline: “Virginia, A carnivalesque copy of Alice by Lewis Carroll, is the child that enables to imagine the angels as women. This comparison has the fantasmatic advantage of rejecting the despised meeting with women, because that in that body of a dancer girl, exhibited for gazing, touching, hearing, smelling – the sexual is everywhere and therefore it is nowhere”(Kristeva, The powers of evil, my emphasis). In Graetz-Ran’s work also, the sexual is everywhere. There is no place free from it, however this is a sexuality that is far from being utopian. A thin layer of pedestry, incest and sexual abuse hovers above her images. The feminine body seems as fenceless, penetrable, mastered. We fear of the humiliation and the contempt that are about to appear without delay.  The intricate dialectic of being ruled, the existence of the “black hole” in the center of the heart of the personality, the dwelling place of the soul of subjectivity and on the other hand the place of the big invasion, receives a stunning visual expression in the series where the teddy bear in the hands of the girl became a “black hole”. Kristeva writes this: “Isabelle needed this ‘black hole’ of her melancholy to build around it her vital motherhood and her actions, as other people arrange themselves around the repression or around the splitting.  It was hers and only hers, the place where she lived, the narcissistic center she dived into, as well as she drew powers from it” (Kristeva, Black sun, my emphasis). The Yungian term of the “shadow” receives on Kristeva a gender turnabout, perfectly appropriate to describe Graetz-Ran’s paintings.

The formation of the black teddy bear (male, as opposed to female) turn into a deep well to be drawn from, and at the same time, that draws into it. The ambience of tension in the painting is as if it seeks to puncture the materiality of the canvas and reach further, further out of the painting, out of the wall it is hung on, out of the world, to the “heart of darkness”. The desire to be drawn, to cease to exist, which is originated in the loss of life powers and vitality and in the regression to the depression and melancholy, is projected in a “delicate violence”, “sprinkled”, to the painted character, to the artist and to the observer together. The stretched canvas is the battlefield for defeating the pain, for the triumph of life over death. The creation of art out of nothing, the creation of beauty in the world, are the ammunition the never runs out. However, from themselves they hand over the “evil powers” against whom they are required to act.

“By recruiting the primal processes and the idealization the sublime dynamics loom a hyper-sign around the melancholy vacuum and together with it. — the artifice, sublime meaning instead of non-being, that constitutes its essence and implies, is replacing the ephemeral. The beauty is equal to it in its essence. Similarly to the feminine fancy clothing that conceal stubborn melancholies, the beauty appears as the admired face of the loss, it changes it in order to give it life” writes Kristeva (Kristeva, Black sun, my emphasis). Sublimation, refinement. In the artistic texture of Graetz-Ran this word receives an additional meaning. It is not merely the refinement of intensely powerful Tantalus impulsion, but its refinement up to a delicate painting, up to “festive attire that conceal persistent depressions”. In some works the azure folded skirt, smoothly ironed, is ended at the imagined knee line, without legs at all. The upper part of the body is wrapped with a pink corset. Markers of sexuality along innocence, castration along seduction, creates a full array of “hyper signs”. On other works appears the running rabbit, escaping, Metonymy to the young girl that as “under a huntsman pursuit” of powers bigger than her, in a situation that its end is known in advance. In other works can be found the posed hands joined together, laid on the center of the chest, against the heart, generous, pleading…

In another series presented at the exhibition, “the rabbits series”, the rabbit is posed in a symbolic equivalence to the girl, however, notwithstanding confronted against her, carries in her intimidating phallic loads. The rabbit represents simultaneously feminine vulnerability and a dangerous shadow and constitute an icon for helplessness along with deep repulsion feelings that she provokes. We feel that a calamity is getting closer and closer – both for the rabbit and for the girl.
The character of the rabbit is being transformed in front of our eyes: While in several paintings it runs, lively, small and quick, in others it appears without fur and finally as a bleeding piece of meat, served to eat. This artistic technique appears as if it exposes the thematic course: at the beginning the rabbit is drawn as a glued toy, then it looks like a character from a comic strip and finally, undressed from all its ‘cuteness’, naked from its life, completely exposed – a small lump of organic substance. It seems that the rabbit series takes its power from a traumatic, incurable childhood memory, in which Ran nurtured a pet rabbit but for her horror it was served for her as a meal on one day.

The entry of the biographic-concrete into the canvas gives presence to the course of ‘peeling the layers’ that Graetz-Ran displays at the exhibition, a course to which her total commitment is explicit. The traumatic seeds of the soul as if were all ‘scattered’ on the canvases, crashing in a delicate force, not subsiding. The complex of the attributes that Graetz-Ran adds to the paintings – whether they are tree branches, small plastic dolls, or other non-painterly elements, are joining her inner-personal repertoire and creating a total and complete ‘environment’  that does not settle only with paintings.

“To give suffering a name, to elevate it, to break it down to its smallest elements, these actions are without a doubt an instrument to gradually make grief disappear. To find in it satisfaction from time to time, maybe even to overcome it, to move to another one, less urgent, more and more indifferent… Nevertheless, it seems that the arts indicate on some ways that bypass the discovery of satisfaction, and without turning the grief to a mania alone, promises to the artist and to those who know about it, a delicate grasp on the thing that was lost (Kristeva, Black sun).

It seems that Ran’s paintings follow the exact sequence that Kristeva indicates: Giving a (visual) name to the suffering and to break it down to its smallest elements: the frightened eyes of the rabbit, the excessively starched fold, the corseted body that express resistance to the over pressing and finally sticking out the tongue.