SAM ERENBERG: COLORS ARE THE SHADOW’S SCREAMS
(Free adaptation into English from Edmond Jabès)
by ROSANNA ALBERTINI
They are colors for wars. Since Humans can’t do without wars since the beginning, we walk across their fields searching for whys. We hardly find them. Mostly, there are myths and beliefs; no equivalent between the whys of the specific time and place of a war and our own. Yet, we throw questions on photographs, paintings and written words as if some truth might trespass. It’s the curse of thinking. As if time had made it better, ripe like a perfectly soft persimmon. The “bitch-goddess of blind objectivity” offers us the persimmon as the snake did, tempting Adam and Eve with an apple. Eat it, and blindness will be inevitable.
Oddly enough, more conflicts, cultural, started in modern times among and between the fellows of photographs, paintings, moving images, written or spoken words. My friend Bianca Sforni, after reading Memento 1, History in Watercolors, brought to my table a book by Susan Sontag I had never read: Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003. I devoured it. And I felt like the boa in Le Petit Prince, but with two elephants in my belly: the large body of war images and the moral presence of a biblical elephant repeating over and over: “you shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing.”
Sam Erenberg’s watercolors float on paper like the music tunes in the air, having a different kind of absorption. They seem to resurface after sinking into layers of shadows. Better not to reduce them to reasonable patterns or wishful considerations, feelings, meanings… language would limp. Sounds from darkness, whispers of pain, heartbeats, heath, emptiness, mutilations, winds, they speak through the music of colors. We can only imagine. Dates and name of the country introduce one more abstraction, like inscriptions on gravestones. We see what we miss. Despite the growth of sciences, human reason does not progress. We thought intelligence could help us to see clear in ourself and around us, but we can only count on our imagination: the immense machine we are is the first unknown territory we live in. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Reason is the faculty to organize all the faculties of our soul according to the nature of things and their relations to us.” In this environment abstraction becomes one of the many tools, not the goal.
Henry James declared to the New York Times in 1915: “The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated…” Virginia Woolf during the Spanish Civil War: “Photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye.” Her revulsion to war is irreducible: war is a man’s game. (Quotes of two masters of words from Sontag’s book) Edmond Jabès: “Le mot ne meurt pas come un homme, mais come un vocable. Avec lui, s’émiette l’univers.“ The word doesn’t die like a human, rather like a piece of vocabulary. Along with him, the universe crumbles.
I felt I was losing my mind on December 10, 2001, looking at the “ground zero” landscape in New York, during the nocturnal search for bodies in a hell of debris: a color picture by Edward Keating was on The New York Times’ first page. The center of the image dominated by the back of an ironworker: he stands, but one cannot say he is resting. He looks down at the white blow of dust, or smoke, hard to tell which, as white as a bridge of light. This man’s back is not asleep. What about us? Do we really “sleep our lives?” Do we sleep our writing, our understanding of artworks, resting on a reasonable background that we call theories? Are our systems of thought only fables we make up, to fill the gap between the unaccountable lack of meaning in which we swim every day, and our need for illusion, so deeply rooted that we cannot restrain our minds from liking the absurd act of working, shaping and reshaping intellectual textures or connections?
The fact is that art is not reasonable at all. Art is our best reminder that we are physical entities, mainly connected by a nonverbal exchange. In this sense, as Louise Bourgeois kept saying, art guarantees our mental sanity. Stuck in our search for intellectual truth as a naked tool, we hook ourselves to the sky. But down here there is no escape. Religion of freedom, cult of uniformity and art of forgetfulness — undertaken by centuries of industrial machinery — have cast human brains in iron. I wish they could melt along with Erenberg’s visual stories, and restart breathing.
La parole est dans le souffle, comme la terre est dans le temps. (Edmond Jabès)
Words lie in breath, like the earth lies in time.