In the atavistic Greece, katharsis found its place in magical rites, performed to clear the body from all corruptions, illness and contaminations. Later on, philosopher Pythagoras spread a more mystic way to conceive catharsis, which turned to be intended as a spiritual purification from passions and irrationality. Following the path of this ancient master, who gave music a primary importance in the process, Aristotle wrote about the power of tragedy as a mean of purification from passions through the identification of the audience with the characters’ misfortune.
Two millenniums and a half later, psychoanalysis labeled as “cathartic” the process of one self’s liberation from trauma and conflicts, through the remembrance and conscious experience of the events that caused the tear in the patient’s mind.
In Laura Makabresku’s “Days Of Purification”, “katharsis” is summarized in all of these meanings.
The stunning 150 picture album sets many recurrent themes of Makabresku’s imagery and poetry in the rough location of a psychiatric hospital. Animals, religious references (sacral painting is quoted by Laura herself as one of her influences), symbolism, love, eroticism, death slip from the signature dark-fairy tale atmosphere of the Polish artist’s work into colder, nightmarish surroundings. Yet, even behind the disturbing, sometimes brutal scenes, lies Laura’s unmistakable elegance and sensitivity.
For centuries, psychiatric wards have been places where to hide mentally ill people in the same way you would hide your brooms in a closet, and where “to cure” basically meant “to neutralize”. Is a happy coincidence that “Days Of Purification” comes out this year, in the fortieth anniversary of the Basaglia Law: in 1978 Italy became the first State in the world to outlaw asylums and to obligate the adoption of new, modern ways to take care of psychiatric patients.
Today, mentally illness is once again a hot topic – though not hot enough, maybe. In a society that stigmatizes in a worrying way anything that falls out of standards, mental diseases are still a taboo and patients still pariahs. After all, besides their “imperfection” and “abnormality”, mentally ill people force the so-called-healthy to the uncomfortable task of facing their own irrationality and fears.
Facing the abyss of the mind looking through the eyes of a mentally ill person can be sort of a cathartic experience. But there’s more into Laura’s work.
The most immediate reading of “purification” in this photo series is surely the one of the patient’s healing from his/her disease. This is double-faced. Because if on one side we can consider healing from or dealing with mental illness a form of purification from a state of chaos, on the other hand reconciling with the deepest, darkest, inmost part of our soul can be no less cathartic.
The process looks equally painful from both perspectives.
Another interesting point in “Days Of Purification” is the recurring of natural and religious elements.
Nature is the wilderness, the instinct, the submission to the unbreakable law of life and death and its cruel effectiveness. What Nietzsche would have called the Dionysiac, whose acceptance frees the man from his desperate attempt to rationalize the irrational.
Nuns and crosses point at a quite different way to purification – a vertical way that aims to metaphysic, faith, compassion. Which at the end of the day is kind of a different side of irrationality.
The link between these two perspective is, once again, pain.
Pain comes again to our mind when we compare the graphic black and white of “Days Of Purification” with the nuances of other works by Laura (which are always very “pictorial”, whether they remind of watercolor or Flemish paintings). The atmosphere is always dreamy – but this time is more of a nightmare. Vintage meets the contemporary, setting the scenes out of time and emphasizing the idea of the psychiatric ward as an actual non-place. Apart from society. Apart from the world. Even apart from the passing of hours, days, years.
So, is “Days of Purification” mostly a tale about purification from pain? Hard to say. It’s also a tale about love, faith, fear and hope. And above all, lingers and aura of sacredness and mystery.
Interestingly enough, Laura’s own words about her current approach to photography take us back to the mystical origin of “Katharsis”:
“I think that nowadays I mostly explore areas which concerns sacrum. I turn more to transcendetal topics and leave behind personal emotions and portraits.”
To discover more about Laura’s work, here’s the link to her Instagram account and website.
On Instagram you can find the link to download “Days Of Purification”.