Bracha L. Ettinger and Ria Verhaeghe

This demanding exhibition was not for anyone who might be in a hurry. It required patience, concentration, and above all, a great deal of time. Curator Catherine de Zegher, the former director of the Drawing Center, in New York, has long been looking at convergences in the work of Bracha L. Ettinger, an artist and psychoanalyst based in Israel and France, and Ria Verhaeghe, a Flemish artist who has worked as a nurse. On a broad scale, de Zegher’s major 1996 traveling exhibition, “Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of Twentieth Century Art in, of, and from the Feminine” (which featured more than thirty women artists from a wide range of countries), laid out some of the notions fundamental to this show—mainly, the idea of building a conception of art in opposition to phallocentric discourses and the set identity structures that they impose. The works on view in this exhibition, titled “Alma Matrix,” entail a search for the “matrixial” sphere. Born of Ettinger’s own psychoanalytic practice, this influential concept refers to the intrauterine environment in which two bodies, the subjectivities of mother and child, coexist in the final stages of pregnancy: an unconscious space where self and nonself share a vaguely defined terrain in which, seeking psychic affinities, they are constantly reorganized.

This idea translates in the work of Ettinger and Verhaeghe into the creation, manipulation, and photocopying of paintings, drawings, documents, and photographs from newspapers, so that the images are not clear but washed out, giving shape to indeterminate spaces. Ettinger often makes use of family photographs and documents related to the Holocaust—most of her relatives were killed in the Lodz ghetto and at Auschwitz—which she repeatedly photocopies to create blurry images upon which she then draws. The copying ink that appears throughout her work—as in Mamalangue, 2001, whose title refers to the notion of a maternal language—gives the images a purplish hue. Similarly, Verhaeghe sets out to salvage what seems about to vanish: images of anonymous people doing an array of ordinary things, or in the midst of disasters or violent conflicts. She calls this archive of journalistic images Provisoria (Provisional), 1996–2008, and it is, in fact, a provisional collection of photographs gathered according to subjective criteria. Verhaeghe does not set out to create an orthodox and rigorous classification system that yields statistics; rather, she keeps those images that she finds striking, and juxtaposes or intersperses them in works like the collage Glenden, 2002. In other pieces that allude to Verhaeghe’s previous career as a nurse, such as Knuffels, 1997–2009, she uses latex and cotton to suggest the theme of healing. Organic latex, which is often used to make doctors’ gloves, is directly related to the body and to convalescence, but (as de Zegher reports in a text accompanying the show) the smell of latex also reminds the artist of her childhood and her mother. By means of these subtle references to the maternal, to the patient and therapeutic task of collecting forgotten images, these artists insist on the primacy of shared experiences and sentiments: an approach that challenges the viewer to avoid easy answers, and one that the society of the spectacle is hardly equipped to accept.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.