Painting journal: A trauma journey
by: Jack Saul

In the midst of a sunny day by the lake, we found the bloated bodies of our missing friends. I found the image at first of murder and the beauty and light of nature disconcerting, as if their bodies seemed to be struggling to be alive again.
  ["Our disappeared friends"]

Re-evoking the emotional experience of the trauma with the support and protection of a community can be transformative. But when there are no others with whom to share the traumatic experience, then the body alone is left to carry the burden of witnessing.

Can the expression or representation of trauma ever be entirely contained in textual language or does its inexplicability endure as a constant challenge to symbolic or narrative representations of the traumatic experience. Without glorifying the inarticulate and nonverbal, how does one include this preverbal process in the endeavor to represent trauma?

Placing of traumatic imagery in the light and beauty of the day, where it is often overlooked. The light that illuminates nature also throws light on the evidence of violence in its midst.

They suspended me for hours; I dreamt of giving birth and discarding the chord and placenta somewhere in the brush.
  ["Suspended at birth"]

To maintain connection to the theme of trauma I start from an event and move associatively to my own images evoked by these traumatic narratives. It seems problematic that the process takes me further away from those who told me their stories.

The evolving imagery is a representation of the body, an absence of the body, the body as both dead and alive, the body in pain, the organs and fluids, resisting a non textured slick and digitally mediated world of representation.

His spirit was searching for a way back to his body. The tears in his eyes meant to me that he was listening and already feeling how much he would miss us.
  ["Those final moments"]

I remember the admonition of Eli Wiesel, that when one begins to comprehend the enormity of the horror of the Holocaust, one becomes silent. Was he speaking about the silence in the face of the futility of words, or the muteness in response to overwhelming terror?

Narrative always involves selective memory and selective forgetting, the spoken and the unspeakable, what can be articulated and what lies beyond and resists language. It is silence that defines the contour of what is remembered.

If only we could find a question.

If we must dissociate in the face of the traumatic events in the world, can we use this dissociation to struggle little by little with the painful affect that accompanies the realization of some of these horrors in our lives.

I began last year to express through my art something of what I was feeling about working with the survivors of torture - my own stance as a witness, as one going through a parallel process of trauma in response to listening to these stories, as one having to alter my view of the world to accommodate the extremity of such brutality of humans and the widespread apathy. I was curious to juxtapose beauty with evil - to see what happens in proximity - do they cancel each other out, does beauty diminish the impact of evil and vice versa?