Too traumatic to talk about

by Helen Barker

What happens when you think through language and are faced with form? Every day I go to my studio and stare at pieces of paper, ink, pens, wood, canvases and walls. Every day they stare back at me, mute. Or at least that’s how I’ve being seeing them. Caught up as I have been in the fluency of the written word, the language of the image has caught me off guard and challenged me to a duel. The trouble is, it’s always first to fire the shot – and it never misses. I’ve been shot in the head by a pack of Faber-Castell brush pens three times this week. Well, today’s different. Today I’m pulling the trigger first.

Last night I went to Reading Loop, a weekly discussion forum for contemporary art, philosophy and, well, general creativity, based in Sheffield. It’s appropriately named, as despite this being my first ever visit to the group I dropped onto the merry-go-round with ease. We looked at a poem entitled  The Looking Glass Dictionary by George Szirtes  along side three video works by Hondartza Fragga and discussed notions of home, nostalgia and exile. I picked up on a couple of things that were mentioned which I’d like to jot down here.

Exile – to be forbidden from language due to a post-trauma condition. Can you be traumatized by art making? In the worlds of psychology and neurology, it is now believed that strong sensations triggered by an event of severe shock (or trauma) can lead to the closure of certain neurological paths to the brain, thus resulting in a loss of language, or an inability to express ones-self. As this was discussed round the table I began to consider the artist’s relationship to language. I began to wonder if making art could be considered a traumatic event in the psyche, one which may lead to the exile of language. Lost for words, empty of phrases, unable to express exactly what the work means….so often we think of these things as due to an inarticulate behaviour in the artist, or an emotionally demanding attribute of the work – too strenuous upon our feelings, our sight or our intuitive responses to allow us to formulate words. But what if the condition of the language-less in art were something more to do with the post-traumatic effect of experiencing the making of it? Might this place the artist in a wholly different position to the critic, or the writer who comes along and witnesses it as an external “thing” in the world? Does the position of art as “thing” change in relation to those making it and those consuming it? As a ‘producer’ and a ‘consumer’, I find myself wanting to dig deeper into this problem.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Mention was made of the way that children often use rhyme and repetition to create their first sense of “home” from the large and confusing mass of information that makes up the world. Space is thus reduced to something more manageable, patterns are made and grooves are formed. I have spent a lot of time going over old work, re-drawing small and basic patterns, filling up space with the same images in order to break it down. The action of the artist seems potent in light of this thought – and brings us into the realms of Difference and Repetition by Gilles Deleuze (on which I must do some reading…..)

“According to Deleuze, complex repetition involves elements (or singularities) which multiply (or reflect) each other. Repetition may be variable, and thus may include difference within itself. Perseveration, on the other hand, is an invariable form of expression, which has a sameness rather than a difference in its mode of presentation.”

So, as I approach an afternoon in the studio faced with images and fraught by language, I ask myself – are the pages really mute, or am I simply stunned by their inexpressible content? Does it matter that words slide into objects before my eyes, and that quantifying them in form generates new entities – images. Silenced by their visual quality and exorcised through repetition, these images have somehow escaped our probing 21st Century questions “Would you like to talk about that?” “How does that make you feel?” and “What do you think that means?” Instead, this unidentified  post-traumatic condition of having created an image leaves me with only one thing left to say –Ready, aim, fire….