I’ve been having a lot of nightmares lately. The nightmares are usually a bunch of images jumbled together, like a tangled, weedy, thorn strewn landscape. They’re filled with things I’ve seen recently, in person or through videos, that no amount of therapy can help me ever unsee. These nightmares, disrupting the peace of darkness and permeating my daytime thoughts, consists of a myriad of disorienting and chilling images. They include about thirty seconds (because that’s all I could tolerate) of a man dying before my eyes as a result of police mistreatment. Those images are interspersed with others of senseless police brutality that targets those who happen to be born with a darker skin color, a trait that is simply emblematic of human variation. They are scenes that harken back to our country’s dark history. My nightmares include the peaceful, organized, deserving protests I saw turn decidedly violent, in my own neighborhood, on my own beautiful block, and leading to destruction of all neighboring businesses. The crush of hospitalized, severely ill and dying fellow human beings, those who might be my friends or coworkers, is weaved into the warp and the weft, creating a terrifying tapestry of suffering and pain. We live in a world where masks obliterate our facial expressions, making us look deadened, zombie-like. And believe me, zombies are the bread and butter of nightmares. Weaved into my nightmares are heartbreaking images of the elderly stuck inside their homes for months, with no outside human contact, longing for hugs as we remain socially distant from each other. And then there are videos of a president using tear gas and rubber bullets simply to move back a peaceful crowd so he can saunter through, then partake in a meaningless, incendiary photo op where he is holding a bible, backwards and upside down, remaining silent and self-important when the country around him is falling apart. These are the collective images of 330.9 million Americans, and much of the world. So maybe I’m not the only one having nightmares.
As I think about those terrifying images, I wonder how art can express the tension, justified rage, and unprecedented anxiety of this moment in history. Is there a way that art can reflect back to us the heartache and tightly coiled emotions that are now exploding with volcanic force upon this country? There are of course a myriad of art historical precedents that capture collective emotional unrest inherent in difficult historical periods. In my view, abstraction (à la Abstract Expressionism and beyond) has a unique and nuanced power to resonate with festering, smoldering emotional substrates that lie far beyond the reach of language, as if creating a new language able to articulate their ferocity. To me, abstraction is like an ersatz Rorschach test, revealing to us the depths of our emotions we may not even know exist inside of our collective consciousness. (Full disclosure: I am a psychiatrist). Yet it’s clear that right now we don’t really need the Rorschach to unveil for us our current collective feelings. Nor do we need a new language capable of deciphering complex emotion. The feelings are sitting right there, within and in front of all of us, inhabiting nightmares and broiling on the surface. They’re ripe and steaming and ready for mass consumption. And InLiquid artist Dganit Zauberman’s powerful abstracted landscape paintings seem to be serving up a portion of that emotional fire; they resonate with our painful reality and perhaps offer up a morsel of hope.
Divest speaks to the notion of an underlying force that is barely contained, just below the surface of a primal landscape. The land above is a grey, highly textured abstracted scene, yet it’s a landscape that contains a mysterious ill-defined, bright red energy, hidden below the surface. It’s literally a fire in the belly of the earth. It’s like lava boiling underground, preparing to permanently change the landscape and reshape continents with its life altering force. That fiery lava-like glow seems to be eerily sitting just under the greyish soil, churning innocuously until that moment when the conditions are right for the lava to spew ash and hot gases everywhere in its path, destroying the landscape and changing it forever. Perhaps the greyness and layers of the landscape speak to previous volcanic eruptions that have already changed the earth from brown dirt to ash grey. Or perhaps this mysterious red glow metaphorically conveys a collective emotional landscape like ours at this present moment. Though it was completed several years ago, it could easily be a depiction of the simmering anger and anxiety about our current world: the pandemic, racial injustice, unemployment, government lies and incompetence. This painting seems to show us emotions buried deep in the soil of our collective consciousness, ready to blow at any moment. It’s the calm before the storm. And the title, as if it’s a narrator speaking directly to that glow, seems to be spurning the earth to let go, to allow this seething redness to erupt.
Zauberman’s Deluge seems to convey a moment of eruption. And the landscape, (or perhaps seascape) with its stark beauty and imperfections and inherent power, seems to be the perfect metaphor for potent emotional content. Zauberman explains the blend of landscape and emotion in her work: “A fictional narrative is created, a realm that aims to present an idea composed of multiple layers, which focuses not only on the physical “being” of land, the form, texture, smell, and the process by which it forms, moves and erodes, but also on land as a source of emotional and psychological mood.” The layers, though signifying the layers of earth or sea, are also symbolic of internal, perhaps even unconscious layers that exist in each of us and all of us collectively, and which can ultimately yield changes as massive as eroding landscapes. In this case, the deluge seems reminiscent of those days in late May, several days after the death of George Floyd, when many American cities erupted with violence, looting, and destruction. It was an eruption of justified rage at a broken system, police brutality, systemic racism, and a plea for justice. Or perhaps this deluge conveys the unleashed fear, suffering, grief, uncertainty and death across the planet as the crush of hospitalized and dying patients overwhelms hospital capacities in one of the wealthiest and most medically advanced countries of the world. It’s a viral tsunami that has also pulled the curtain back and laid bare an inequality that exists for African Americans in the United States. The specks of red lava, or perhaps blood, are still visible in the water, as that tsunami-like wave seems ready to reform the land on that shore. Or perhaps, just perhaps, this gigantic wave, overtaking a land filled with green and red specks of detritus, is symbolic of our tears.
Sanguine seems to convey the aftermath, the earth after the eruption. The landscape is covered with bright red splotches, and the ground surrounding the splashes of color has taken on deep reddish hues. There are deep grey heavily applied shadows around the red splotches, perhaps made of marble dust, that seem reminiscent of volcanic ash surrounding the eruption. Or perhaps they are waves crashing upon a stained rocky shoreline. The lava, or perhaps blood given the title, seems to sit on top of the abstracted landscape. It looks like it is in a different plane from the rest of the painting, as if it’s a two-dimensional depiction on top of a three-dimensional scene. Somehow that makes the bright red stains seem less ominous, as if they can be easily cleaned up, perhaps rubbed off the canvas with soap and water. Yet the surrounding landscape is permanently altered; it’s a maroon shade, as if it absorbed the lava. Similarly, the enormous haze of fiery emotions, locked inside each of our consciousness, is leaking and exploding out and altering the landscape. And it’s a fluctuating, churning, boiling landscape, one that not only mirrors our collective emotions but is ultimately changed by them. Perhaps then, there is a small hope, a glimmer of light in that grey ash-strewn landscape. The recent tidal waves of frightening images and tightly wound emotions, the stuff of nightmares, are painful and scary and yet, just maybe, our actions as a result of them can change the world. Perhaps the ongoing protests can ultimately make inroads to true police reform and an acknowledgement of racial injustice, leading to legislative changes. And perhaps there is a possibility for a changed world resulting from this pandemic, one where we learn to slow down, appreciate each other and respect and care for our planet. It may seem naive to offer up such hope amid this nightmarish grey-red rubble. And yet, let’s not forget that islands and mountains and the richness of the landscape are similarly created from those explosive fires within the earth. It’s a force that allows our earth to grow and to change. We just need to learn how to harness that same fire within us.