BRACHA: Pietà–Eurydice–Medusa

Painting by Bracha of abstract forms in white, purple and red.

BRACHA, Eurydice n. 53 – Pieta, 2012-2016. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Braverman Gallery Tel Aviv.


May 6–July 29, 2018


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BRACHA (Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger)

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BRACHA: Pietà – Eurydice – Medusa is the largest comprehensive solo museum exhibition of Bracha’s work in the United States, featuring a range of works spanning the last four decades—oil paintings, often created over several years, earlier and more recent drawings, notebooks, and three video works—that address the themes of loss, love and trauma within the context of the atrocities of war and traces of memory of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

The art practice of BRACHA (Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger) is entwined with her work as a philosopher and psychoanalyst, dealing with trauma, oblivion, the feminine, maternal or “matrixial” gaze, the unconscious depth-space between abstract and compassion, fragility, the “subreal” and the transition from invisibility to visibility. The iconography of the work stems from the history of her family during the Holocaust and more recently from the re-emergence of the artist’s experience of shellshock from years ago when she took the leading role in an operation to rescue the survivors of a shipwreck (“Medusa”). Often based on family and historical archives, especially images of Jewish women and children being led to their deaths in the Ponary forest during WWII (“Eurydice”), Bracha’s singular form of abstraction aims at a caring transformation of such images. To highlight their fragility, she incorporates them into the work after passing them through an obstructed photocopier, or more recently, using them as symbolic source imagery. With multiple layers of paint, color, and line, she creates an ambiguous space that affords the viewer an intimacy with her subject matter and both obscures and recalls the pain it evokes (“Pietà”) In her catalogue essay, Tina Kinsella writes, “Bracha’s recent paintings beckon us to reprise the work of mourning, to return to the grounds from which the act of lamentation arrives and to reappraise the particular emotion that the laboring through grief produces. . . the Pietà always threatens to disclose this excess of sorrow by surfacing the penumbra of future loss that lurks in the heart of the maternal relationship between mother and child.” While many of these images evoke singular tragic experiences, Bracha’s art of compassion and witnessing brings us to recognize the imprint of trauma in all human beings. As a form of testimony and being-with, art has the capacity to transform the effects of trauma while striving for the sublime. She writes: “Art works toward an ethical space where we are allowed to encounter traces of the pain of others through forms that inspire in our heart’s mind feeling and knowledge. It adds an ethical quality to the act of witnessing.”

Spread throughout the first-floor gallery, this intimately installed exhibition features over 100 works dating from 1985 through 2017. The exhibition title references female figures from mythology, literature, and biblical sources, and creates connections across works from several of Bracha’s past and current bodies of work. Often represented in hues of violets, blues, and reds, Bracha’s works offer abstracted configurations and spaces created by the materiality of oil paint, ink, and the powered ash of photocopying dust, the undulation of light and shadow, and the traces of fragmented, ghostly images that appear and disappear.

In addition to Bracha’s paintings and drawings, included in the exhibition are three video works and several of the artist’s notebooks.

Much as Bracha’s drawings and paintings foreground the fragility of the archival material, her videos evoke an atmosphere of water and explore, with jellyfish and butterfly, how the fluidity of the medium allows images—often drawn from Bracha’s paintings, drawings, notebooks, and family photographs of mothers and daughters—to emerge and recede, to fade into one another, and to move between bodies and generations.

The notebooks, too, offer a living archive that incorporates the artist’s hand through pages of quick drawings and doodles, writings, and thoughts. Along with fragments of philosophical and psychoanalytical thinking, they capture the tropes of her artistic processes and traces of her daily life. In her catalogue essay, Amelia Jones discusses what Bracha calls the “surface crisis” offered by her art. “Bracha’s notebook sketches and writings enact a relation of body to page that we experience slipping away. . . [Her] vulnerable pages, saturated with color and ideas, offer hope… bound to an erotics of intersubjectivity… I cling to the world she offers.”

A future publication focused on the works in the exhibition with contributions by Dr. Amelia Jones and Dr. Tina Kinsella is forthcoming.

During the course of the exhibition, Bracha L. Ettinger will offer a 3-week graduate-level seminar, entitled “Memory’s Wound Is a Space With-in: Depth-space and Carriance beyond Abstraction versus Empathy.” This seminar is offered in conjunction with the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture and the English Department. In the seminar, the artist-psychoanalyst will lend philosophical scope to the issues that she explores in her artwork. Together with her students, she will elaborate how taking seriously the maternal and the feminine in human life changes the way we think, leading us to transform our relationship to historical trauma, our inherited ideas about the subject, and the interaction between self and other in ethics, and the distinction between abstraction and empathy in aesthetics. The seminar, which is free and open to all interested students and the public, will take place at the UB Anderson Gallery on April 26, May 3, and May 10 from 2-5 pm.

Artist Bio(s)

BRACHA (b. 1948 in Tel Aviv) a daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, working in Paris and Tel Aviv is an artist-painter and an artist-theorist. She is one of the leading figures of the new European painting, and a groundbreaking theoretician of French psychoanalysis and philosophy of ethics, aesthetics, and sexual difference. Her recent exhibitions include Muzeum Śląskie, Katowice (solo); Colori, GAM, Torino; The Image of War, Bonnier Konsthall, Stockholm; Encounters, MAS/KMSKA, Antwerpen; Lyric on a Battlefield, Gladstone Gallery, NY; The Haunted House / The Human Condition, National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow; The 14th Istanbul Biennial (with solo show); Callicoon Fine Arts, NY and Braverman Gallery, Tel Aviv. She is Chair & Professor of Art and Psychoanalysis at The European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, and the author of several books and many essays on art, psychoanalysis, ethics, and the matrixial sphere.