Quiet Please! On Silence and Acts of Silencing
The sound of snow
Dropping on my coat
About 220 years after Jacques-Louis David painted the French revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat dead in the bath, stabbed in his chest (La Mort de Marat, 1793), the Chinese artist Yue Minjun returned to the neoclassical masterpiece and repainted the scene, this time without the image and head of the dead (The Death of Marat, 2002). Thus while David’s work brings to mind representations of dead Jesus (for example, the first Pietà by Michelangelo or The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio), it is hard to escape the comparison with Yue’s work and the depiction of the empty tomb in which Jesus’ resurrection took place. Either way, these allusions to Christian faith and art create a statement that ties the willingness to sacrifice oneself in the name of ideology and a belief in the ability of the individual to free humanity of its sins and to hasten salvation. If the silence of the dead in David’s work was deafening, its absence from Yue’s work is even more deafening. The connection between silence and absence is derived from the assumption that image can cry out silences (as in the case of the original painting), as it can create a tumult that originates in the visual nothingness (as in the case of the new painting that is based on the assumption that the viewer identifies the exclusion). The common denominator of the silence of the unheard and the silence of the unseen can be found in the comprehension that we are dealing with a forceful action, which is a result of a collaboration of the silenced and silencers, the subjects of the work, its creators, and sometimes its viewers. One can draw lines of resemblance between two revolutionaries from different nationality, time, space and culture, that were silenced by the political system, either with a knife or with censorship and concealment. The fact that the text, that was written by Marat and can be read in the painting since the eighteenth-century, became unreadable in a twenty-first-century painting, contributes as well to the discourse about silence and silencing.
Silence and silencing in their varied cultural contexts are at the center of the current issue of the e-journal History and Theory: The Protocols, that is based on the conference under the title Quiet Please! On Silence and Acts of Silencing that took place in Bezalel Academy on December 2012. Silence is an integral part of any spoken language, as the space between words is an integral part of any written language. People who underwent psychological therapy are aware of the fact that what was silenced in their childhood has sometimes more influence on their adulthood than what was spoken. Those who experienced meditation workshops are acquainted with the great power of silence. In the Israeli collective memory moments of national silence have become protagonists of the collective narrative. At times, silence is expressed in the empty space and the interval between elements in a visual or musical work. John Cage’s 4:33 that opened the conference serves as a great example of such expression. On this work Cage said that “this is my favorite work, I listen to it every day”. Therefore, silences are an essential component in psychoanalysis, conjugal and intergenerational dynamics and in socialization and creation processes. Silence can constitute a choice of the “speaker” who wishes “to say” something through it. Undoubtedly, silence can express power and create experiences of violence, alienation and distance. This is the nature of deafening silence. At the same time, silence has a quality of intimacy, something that brings people closer. Sometimes the reaction to it on behalf of the “listener” is intuitive, and sometimes it requires prior knowledge in order to identify the silence and interpret the message that it enfolds. On the other hand, silencing can constitute a forceful action that is forced on an individual or a group by virtue of social conventions, social discourse and political control. World history is saturated with acts of silencing, beginning with censorship on those who try to say or create something that is not in line with the general or formal stance, and continuing with the destruction and physical concealment of existing products.
This issue deals with the different aspects of the contemporary discourse about silence and silencing, and examines complex issues and dynamics in the fields of art, film, visual culture, literature and music, history, politics and religions, sociology and psychology. A special place in the conference and in this issue is dedicated to the ways in which these concepts, which are derived from speech and hearing, are represented in the field of visual culture. The articles in this issue are divided into two parts: Silence (Michal Efratt, Yochai Ataria, Ayelet Bechar, Sonia Mazar, and Yehuda Israely) and Silencing (Ilan Abekassis, Yehudit Kol-Inbar, Oded Heilbronner, Roni Amir and Dina Azrieli, Nissim Avissar, Efrat Even Tzur, Gidi Yehoshua and Noga Stiassny).