The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 16-JAN 17

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DEC 16-JAN 17 Issue
Critics Page

Words as Necessities

Pain, whether it is experienced in the body or the mind, often provokes the desire to withdraw, protect, or avoid—to anesthetize rather than discern.

In my early childhood, whenever I felt pain, physically or emotionally, I withdrew to my grandmother’s bedroom. My eyes would wander the space until they reached a watercolor painting. Hanging in a dark wooden frame on the wall next to her bed, I would observe the large sheet of paper, the hastily brushed row of fir trees at the bottom, the hues of beige and gray nestled in the middle. These soft patches of color were surrounded by a frenetic black line—as if forming the profile of an abstracted face looking into the washed out blue sky above. It took me many hours to realize that the profile was actually a range of mountains. From that moment, any time I went back to observe the painting again, I kept looking until my eyes were able to see both images simultaneously, and in doing so I felt exposed to a certain kind of magic that provided healing—the sensation of reconnecting that was enabled by the act of recognizing.

Photo by Barbara Kinney, photographer on the Clinton campaign, at a campaign event in Orlando. Posted on Twitter and shared 8000 times in a few hours.

I believe that all cultural artifacts embed the potential to trigger this mental and emotional capacity. And just as certain works of art can radically challenge the fine line that we draw between art and life, there is a particular kind of writing that can alter our sense of how these artifacts relate to us and what they indicate about the spirit of our time as well as the history—the culture—we are coming from.

To me the precondition for this kind of writing lies in the persistence to look hard, in and out simultaneously, in order to express a personal view that, instead of being imposed, invites the reader to draw their own connections, create their own meaning. This delicate relationship between reader and writer is based on trust.

Trust is more than a social or cultural construction. Just like love, or belief (both words trace back to the Germanic root leubh, meaning to desire, care, esteem), it is an archaic, sentient form of reciprocity innate to human beings.

Writers establish trust through words. Words are sonic entities that are inhabited by meaning. Once they are written, they materialize feelings and thoughts. And in doing so, words can transmit but also refute ideas.

The moment, however, that words are misused as placeholders for ideas, they are abstracted, that is distanced, intellectually and sensitively, from the material world they are part of and directed to.

When writers think in ideas instead of words, they create distance, they compromise reciprocity. A personal view, a voice turns into an authority that replaces
sensory perception (aesthetics) with its benumbed
counterpart (anesthetics).

A critic, to me, is committed to write towards trust—to place their words between a you and an I, between two people instead of two concepts.


Sabrina Mandanici

SABRINA MANDANICI is an art critic and former curatorial fellow of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Foundation. She currently lives in Germany and New York.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 16-JAN 17

All Issues