Traumatic from a stroke when I was 21… Kim,

Traumatic events, from major traumas such as wars and natural disasters to more simple traumas like death and everyday stress, have always had a strong influence on the visual material that societies produce. Sigmund Freud suggests that artistic representation “returns us to trauma” however it also allows the “gradual assimilation of the traumatic event” (Wallace 2006:3) Visual responses to trauma allow preservation of the memory as well as, according to Freudian theory, psychological healing.  On a social scale, art in response to trauma can become cautionary and help future generations become more aware of their past, as well as assisting in psychological healing for the current generation.

Shirley Hayes, a performance artist, displays a similar belief to Freud. When discussing one of her recent works in an article for ‘The Journal of Art for Life’ she writes “the fine arts are commonly used as a means of therapy for trauma” (Hayes, JAFL vol. 7 no.1, 2015), throughout the article she discusses how she and other artistG1 s utilise performances and visual art to cope with traumatic memories. The monologue that she is referencing to involves her reciting in detail her “personal observations and experiences” to her audience.  G2 G3 

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“Did I tell you I was married at age 19 right after my first year of college? And, that we had three beautiful girls by the time I was 23?… We divorced after 25 years. The easiest and kindest thing to say is that “we grew apart.” Have you ever heard of such a thing? My mother hadn’t. She and my father were married for over 40 years and when you got married, that was it for life… Daddy died of complications from a stroke when I was 21… Kim, my second born, was only a few months old then. (Kim died at age 20 just after beginning her freshman year at college… I can’t talk about Kim right now, but, she died from a type of lymphoma— immunoblastic sarcoma of the B cells, they said.) … Somehow a part of me died then too…”

The performance’s purpose was to emphasize how the economic, psychological and social conditions of childhood can impact ones later life experiences, relationships and happiness, not only that but encourage theG4  audience to “make connections” to their personal reality and how simple traumas affect one’s well-being.G5 G6 G7 

Despite how a depiction of a traumatic event can evoke emotion, or ‘open the wound’, a representation can also help assist in making the matter more digestible allowing people the ability to process what they have experienced. Frida Kahlo’s paintings remain sharply relevant when discussing the relationship between art and trauma, particularly with regards to Freud’s theories on psychological healing. Like Hayes’s monologue, Kahlo’s paintings were extremely personal and drew from her individual traumas with regards to mental and physical illnesses, death and loss, and issues regarding gender, love, and sexuality. Frida’s works are often recognized as being starkly painful portrayals of her physical and phycological wounds; she herself G8 states that her “painting carries with it the message of pain”. Despite how macabre Kahlo’s paintings may seem they allow her to communicate and express her subjective experiences with one’s viewer, making her ‘invisible’ traumas visible. For instance, in Kahlo’s painting ‘The Broken Column’ (figure 1) completed in 1944, painted shortly after she had spinal surgery, Frida brutally depicts her mental and physical pain by showing her whole face and body penetrated by nails, tears on her cheeks, a split in her torso which then draws attention to a shattered column symbolising her spine, all held together by a medical corset. Even the background of the painting is cracked and barren to further emphasizeG9  her trauma. G10 G11 

Beth Watson, a licensed clinical social worker, articulates in a blog post that when “overwhelmed with fear, we lose the capacity for speech, we lose the capacity to put words to our experience. Without words, the mind shifts to a mode of thinking that is characterized by visual, auditory, olfactory, and kinesthetic images, physical sensations, and strong feelings.” (Watson 2014) Indicating that naturally, in response to trauma, people tend to manufacture or crave visual responses as a method of making sense of them. She goes on to say that “programs that focus on nonverbal expression—a description that includes art, music, movement, and theatre programs as well as sports—are vital adjuncts to any community healing efforts” (Watson, 2014), hence further suggesting the visual arts are believed to play quite a vital role in healing social memory. Kahlo’s paintings have exceeded the professional world and found their place in popular culture: the extended approval of her work signifies a social connection: Shirley Hayes states that “The hope is that interpretation of works of art that deal in some way with life’s traumas might be a catalyst for one’s own reflection, artmaking, and healing.” (Hayes, 2015) with regards to Frida’s paintings, the public appears toG12  identify with her pain, showing an emotional connection between artist and audience; suggesting that Kahlo’s paintings assist in healing the social memory of those who suffer from similar conditions to her or to reflect on their own circumstance.G13 G14 

In ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ by Susan Sontag, published in 2003, she says that “objects of contemplation, images of the atrocious can answer to several different needs. To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself more numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible.” (Sontag, 2003) here she emphasizes Freud’s view that although representations G15 G16 can be painful, eventually they assist in the ‘numbing’ of trauma, yet are necessary to remind us of traumatic events- suggesting visual representations are crucial to the preservation of social memory.G17 

Dan Todman discusses WW1 in his 2014 article ‘Remembrance and memorials’. He states, “The scale and nature of the First World War both required and complicated its remembrance.” (Todman, 2014) He touches on the significant role of memorialization regarding the war and its importance due to the ‘global reach’ of the event and devastating results in terms of those left disabled or deceased- many of whom were left without known or marked gravesG18 . Despite the devastation, G19 WW1 remained a creative stimulus for artists since artistic representations were critical to document the war and its overwhelming losses. Todman writes “Some of these responses were extremely modern in form, others reached back to more traditional representations of war, sacrifice, and heroism in the search for comfort and understanding.G20 “. Painter, Felix Vallotton, was sent to depict the battlefront in 1916. One of the pieces he returned with was a representation of the military cemetery of Chalons-en-Champagne, painted in 1917 (figure 2). The painting portrays countless rows of cross-shaped graves that stretch to the back of the painting. The repetition of the graves illustrates the horrifically high death toll of the warG21 . The flowers and ribbons left on the graves represent the traumatic effect it had on those who survived and the mass bereavement that accompanied it. While Kahlo’s paintings channeled her personal trauma, Vallotton drew from the trauma that affected the social memory, creating a representation that serves as a memento of the war and allows social healing by providing closure for the victims.G22 G23 G24 G25 G26 

On the contrary to Freud, Lacan’s view is that Trauma and representation are entirely separate- Wallace writes; “there is no relation between trauma and representation, as trauma is by Lacan’s definition the very thing about which nothing can be said, written, painted, or performed.” (Wallace 2006:3) proposing that a representation can never quite evoke the trauma it aims to imitate. Ysabelle Cheung discusses the issues with visual representations and exploitation of traumatic events in her article ‘Art After Auschwitz’. The Holocaust provoked an overwhelming mass of artistical responses, “Holocaust literature and poetry became a genre of its own immediately following the event” (Cheung, 2015),  inspiring famous blockbuster films such as ‘Schindler’s List’ (1993) and ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ (2008). The piece ‘Fucking Hell’, by Jake and Dinos Chapman, features 60,000 toy soldiers mutilated into grotesque scenes that portray WW2, though role reversed, placed in nine vitrines arranged to form a swastika (figure 3). The glass cases display thousands of Nazi German soldiers; being shoveled into ovens, being crucified, some with heads on spikes, being raped, ectara (figure 4). Producing art on something as devastating as the Holocaust, particularly when one is a speculator rather than a survivor, can be interpreted as exploitation of that traumatic event, or trivialization of itG27 . By creating something so grotesque has been suggested as imposing the horrid on the already horrid, G28 further demeaning victims of the genocide. Art critic Harald Fricke commented on the work (Fricke, undated) “Pictures of chopped-up tin soldiers in SS uniforms who are being castrated by skinhead mutations certainly adhere to the British preference for sensation, Nazi-trash, and sexploitation,”G29 . Though the Chapman brothers protested, claiming their “intention was not in any way to trivialize the Holocaust.” G30 (Jake Chapman, undated) he continues to claim, mimicking Lacan’s theory, “This is an event that’s beyond representation. Using toy soldiers is a way of emphasizing the impossibility of that. Here are these little figures that are totally incompatible with the pathos they’re supposed to supportG31 “, the model is made to emphasise that despite spending two years mutilating 60,000 Nazi figures, the Nazis murdered 60,000 Russian PoWs in six hours, nothing can try to, nor claim to be quite so barbaric as the Holocaust; that is something that can only be remembered through social memory. G32 G33 G34 G35 

Today social media plays a central part in global connection, allowing huge masses of information to be processed universally. Francesca Cacapossela says in her article, ‘Art-Making After Tragedy’, that “The accelerating speed of communication makes artistic responses to trauma impossible to ignore” (Cacapossela, 2016). Major trauma’s, such as wars, natural disasters or terror attacks, affect G36 the social identity of large communities daily, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide a podium where artwork inspired by thesG37 e events can easily be adopted, ‘liked’ or ‘shared’ on a viral scale. G38 

On Friday 13 November of 2015 Paris was hit is a series of coordinated terror attacks killing over 120 people. French illustrator, Jean Jullien, produced a simple painting in response, depicting the Eiffel Tower inside a circle, appearing to mimic a peace sign, and uploaded it to his social media only hours after the attacks with the caption “Peace for Paris” (figure 4). The photo gained thousands of likes on Instagram and retweets on twitter excluding the uncredited shares on other platforms, rapidly gaining recognition as a symbol of the event representing unity in and beyond France. Jullien states in an interview “The main purpose of the image was to communicate peace and solidarity, and that’s exactly what it seems to have done.” (Jullien, 2015). Artist Michel Hebron, who has studied internet art and social media trends suggests that “designs which are easily modifiable allow for even more creativity” (Cacapossela, 2016) which surely occurred with regards to Julien’s piece- its simplistic design ensured the work was easy to mimic and reinterpret. As the peace sign continued to spread across social platforms it could be found drawn on bodies, on t-shirts, or used at protests and memorials following the terrorist attacks (see figure 5 and 6). Jean Jullien’s work seems to have become synonymous with the trauma of the Paris attacks; the mass adoption and use of the symbol show signs of mourning but also solidarity since the icon carries with it the message of strength and peace. The positive message attached to the painting carries with it social healing for the community regarding their connected memory- whether they were personally affectedG39  or showing support to those who were. G40 G41 G42 

There is skepticism regarding the accuracy of our personal memories, Bluestein states “all our memories are limited, particularly regarding complex events, when our effort to recall them often involves a mixture of truthful description and imagined construction.” (G43 Nimac, 2014: 31). The brain and memory are vulnerable to distortion; particularly regarding traumatic periods, which can prevent visual representations being accurate depictions. However, not all representations must be lifelike, such as Frida G44 Kahlo’s work where symbolism played a huge role in how viewers personally identify with her. In a similar way, the pure simplicity of Jean Julien’s Peace for Paris represents the trauma through social identity, rather than trying to accurately depict the event like in Felix Vallotton, The Military Cemetery of Chalons-en-Champagne, the peace sign is made to represent the togetherness of the community despite the horror it has endured. G45 

Visual representations are used in response to a trauma to tell a story whether reflecting personal trauma or societal. As a society, we feel the need to narrate life to make sense of our experiences. Artists use trauma as a vehicle for social commentary G46 as a means to preserve social memory and to assimilate its psychological effects. G47