Artist’s Statement:

So I am still and I am silent, because if I
open my mouth, I may never stop screaming.
— Franz Kafka

When bewildered Russian soldiers invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the appearances of things and of the life in things changed. News from a distant war infected the everyday, and we could see what we hadn’t seen before. Of course, this could have happened earlier – there was never any shortage of catalytic atrocities (they were – they are – everywhere to name) – but we had had the vigilance to screen them out (however acknowledged) at the borders of vision in an attempt to maintain more or less an emotional oblivion. And then, as Lincoln said in another catastrophic time, “the war came.” And the look of things altered if we looked into their life. For the most part there was nothing you could say, but the change could be everywhere to see. The head of a burned match could appear to have a human face. Trees had a way of facing you. The smudge on a paper towel became an icon. Since February 2022, I have tried to picture these transformations as the things I live with become icons. I began with photographs of the things around me – in the house, in the yard, on the street, in the garden. I wanted to see what my phone would picture, and as I looked at the digital photographs on the phone’s tiny screen, as I edit the pictures with the limited editing, rearrangements and montage for which the phone allowed, I found images I hadn’t seen before but (like the animals that surface from the face of clouds or the rock walls in paleolithic caves) were beginning to come to life. I began to see what my mind was ready (but unprepared) to witness: poems without words, icons that look into your face.

Just as any object can embody the Buddha and center a space if regarded as such, just as every thought can become a koan if received as a koan, images become icons if they are faced as icons. Pavel Florensky writes that an icon is an appearance of the energy for which it is the leading wave. As the wave floods in the mind, the appearance dissolves but its spirit becomes palpable. In my eyes the poems without words that I could find in photographs of things became icons for terror and love that coexist as incommensurates in my mind. Inevitably this coexistence for me and for everyone pre-existed 2022, but for some of us Putin’s War made it visible again and as if for the first time. Outcries became visible if not audible, silenced in acoustic shadows. Our shock testified against us.

In 1940 Walter Benjamin wrote that “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we are living is not the exception but the rule. . . The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. The amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” Still in the winter of 2022 the shock was (and the shock continues to be) palpable.

Tony Brinkley