Beyond the Reach of Words
The psychologist Shlomo Shenhar, director of Telem Kibbutzim, Child and Family Clinic, Yoav Regional Council branch, comments on “Forest Tunes – The Library”, an exhibition of Shai Zakai.
When I studied agriculture in high school, our teacher Pircha (her real name) taught us that in preparation for falling off a tree, a leaf creates a “detachment tissue”. Ever since, in the course of my work as a psychologist, I have made use many times of that expression’s metaphoric significance.
In her work, Shai Zakai weaves an “attachment tissue”. The leaves that have fallen return to their trees. The broken branches heal. And the bulbs are returned to the earth that gave them life.
In most cases memory and imagination join together to create anew and resurrect the irreversible destruction. Our patterned thinking, that which has much need of restoring wholeness to the partial, the maimed, and the broken, is at work here too.
In her library, Shai Zakai gathers and preserves fallen leaves. The natural is gathered from nature, from the garden, in order to protect it, in order to protect human memory.
Nature is unable to defend itself. The gardener struggles against fallen leaves that disturb his order. The drive for development will reforest the naked hills, while at the same time, it sows destruction, uproots trees, and brings ruin to the bulbs.
Shai Zakai preserves nature and documents the destruction, but she also preserves her personal and family memory in black boxes. The super-ego, that domain of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not”, is what brings her to sort and catalog the fallen leaves in protective boxes or, as it were, in jars of preserves. But when you open the boxes, you are engulfed at once by nameless fragrances and wordless memories.
The detachment tissue that caused the leaves to fall becomes a fabric of connection linking the past with the present. The human memory may be likened to a complex of drawers – boxes, some locked in the subconscious, some forgotten, collecting dust, slipping toward the abyss of oblivion, some available, accessible.
Opening Shai Zakai’s boxes would seem to be a rational visit in our ecological-conceptual forest. But paradoxically, it is an exciting visit to a world in which the odors and scenes from the past take you to what you were, to where you were, and to whom you were with.
And because what you were continues to exist in what you are and will be, this is a multi-layered encounter of past – present – future, of childhood – youth – adulthood – old age. And thus, this tissue of connecting encounters the tissue of detachment and overcomes it.
Shai Zakai’s language traverses the precise definitions of botany and geography and chronology to reach another language. In an interview, Professor Yadin Dudai [sp.?] from the Weizmann Institute has said, “The mind does not speak Hebrew.” In attempting to comprehend the language of the mind he hypothesizes that it contains five letters or signs that keep returning in different combinations. We decipher the mental code, and it deciphers our linguistic code.
But transcending words and codes, we experience ourselves and our environment by means of something that is not language. It is not language because the connections between signifier and signified are complex and cannot be defined.
In the language of words as well, we differentiate between denotation – the literal meaning of the linguistic unit – and connotation, which holds not only the direct meaning of the word but also its cultural and historical context.
But the translingual experience, whose roots are in earlier stages of human development and which is located in our emotional system (the limbic system) operates in other ways. Its building blocks consist of a combination of the primary sense experience and our perceptive and emotional response.
The translingual exists always in the present, a continuum of sight, sound, and touch. It preserves our previous experiences and creates an ongoing dialogue between past and present.
The translingual apparently exists among other animals as well. Then, what of human uniqueness? As human beings we are capable of creating an additional translingual dimension, the fantasy - the creation of a translingual experience that is not merely a representation of a historical situation but rather a creative combination of external and historical building blocks with those created by our imagination.
The art of Shai Zakai gives expression to the translingual experience. The video installation that creates an exciting manifestation of the “spirit of the place” contains a courageous attempt to encounter the translingual in the sights, voices, colors, and movements whose verbal description would dwarf them. They evade linguistic definition because they have been created at the same spot where the signifier and the signified are one, and they create a powerful emotional response that, like our personalities, paradoxically embraces both harmony and conflict.
The photographs on canvas too, through the process of their complex shaping, leave behind the concrete and the verbal to capture the translingual experience.
And inside the black boxes which display, almost compulsively, the organization of the logical, moral part of ourselves, there are moving representations of the translingual by means of touch, sight, and smell. To a certain extent we have here a symbol of the structure of the brain: in the outer layer of the brain one finds the neocortex, responsible for instrumental, organized, and logical thought. And inside, the innermost parts of the brain contain the emotional and translingual systems.
The art of Shai Zakai is of special significance because it integrates western thought with the eastern approaches, demanding a union with the emotional experience.
As one who has for years been concerned with emotional treatment, I have been in search of this encounter and dialogue with our translingual aspects. There, I believe, is to be found the potential for true change and healing.
Facilitator in Psychotherapy and Psycho-diagnosis
Treatment and Counselling in Family Care