23 Nov 2020

Perfect Stranger, Essays by Zehavit Efrati


‘Perfect Stranger’ – Tapestry of Inner Truth

By Zehavit Efrati
24 September 2018

‘The artist is the one able to digest facts, sensory inputs and then to present the digested facts… this is how the artist helps the non artist to digest…’ (Wilfred R. Bion, in ‘Cogitations’)

The first time I heard Dawn presenting her work was 4 years ago, and it was a unique moment- as it reminded me an interpretation by an art school faculty member in the US – “good art is one that moves something in the inner world of the audience”. Dawn was speaking of nostalgia and longings, to an international audience training to be docents at the Singapore Art Museum. I listened and felt the tears in my eyes. Dawn, by talking about her home, reminded me of mine. The way she understood emotions and thoughts was unusual. She reminded me of the theory and concepts of Wilfred R. Bion, a British psychoanalyst who explored emotional growth and the ability to think. To him, emotional growth requires meeting one’s own feelings, good and difficult experiences, and giving them purpose. Bion thought that the artist, in the act of making art, digests the elements that are not accessible for us, and turns them into elements we can think about and feel. Dawn was talking about her experiences, and by giving them words and purpose she made them familiar and digestible for us. I was interested in learning more about both the aesthetic and the psychological aspects of her work.

Two years later, we started a project together, where Dawn suggested the Q&A model. My questions did not have importance of their own, only to the extent to which they offered a path for her inner world to emerge. Being intuitive and staying close to her experiences were the basic elements of my approach. The movement between the different depths of her emotional life was one of the beautiful cores of her work.
I have learned that Dawn is living very close to her inner truth. Bion called it ‘O’, “The absolute truth, the thing itself”. He assumed that there is an emotional reality inside us, which is mysterious and unknown. Nevertheless, there are moments when we are in a certain emotional state, that we can reveal something new about ourselves. Whenever we try to forget our theories and desires to achieve something and just being present, there is a chance for new elements to emerge. I believe that her natural ability to live close to her truth is the reason the audience feel understood and have free associations while in contact with her work. The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, wrote about art as an act of truth. That the power of art is in the truth that it reveals, and that this truth can be perceived only through art.

Dawn is a voice of a generation of international citizens who are longing for a former version of themselves and their homes. By threading an inner dialogue about her context, she weaves a larger emotional tapestry about the gentle strings of longings, dislocation, time and memory. In this tapestry, we meet our emotions and thoughts, we can get closer to our ‘O’ and perhaps become less of a stranger to ourselves and to others.

Zehavit Efrati , M.A. , is a Clinical Psychologist from Israel, living in Singapore


Thoughts of ‘Perfect Stranger’ during COVID-19

By Zehavit Efrati
November 2020

‘A fish -trap is for catching fish; once you’ve caught the fish, you can forget about the trap. A rabbit-snare is for catching rabbits; once you’ve caught the rabbit, you can forget about the snare. Words are for catching ideas; once you’ve caught the idea, you can forget about the words. Where can I find a person who knows how to forget about words so that I can have a few words with him?’
(in ‘Wandering On The Way’ / Early Taoist Tales of Chuang Tzu/ translated by Mair, Victor 1943)

The first time I met Dawn 6 years ago , during a lecture she gave to new docents at Singapore Art Museum, I had a strong feeling she was a person who knows how to ‘catch words’ to describe her ideas, emotions and thoughts. It took me 2 years to ask her to meet for a coffee and talk. We never stopped ever since. ‘Perfect Stranger’ is the final result of an exchange of words, ideas, pictures, poems, jokes, questions and answers which occurred via emails and meetings during the year 2016 in Singapore.

Back then, we didn’t have the mere idea that at the beginning of the new decade, we will live our lives in social distancing, wearing masks and counting our guests.
In a way, Dawn’s idea to exchange questions and answers via daily emails, can hold today the opportunity and hope to maintain close and authentic relationships from a distance. Today, when we have to stay safe and keep 2 meters away from each other, when we can’t travel freely, explore other cultures and meet new people, strangers – we might feel as if the world has become narrow or shrunk. Nevertheless, if we can hold the hope that we are able to contact truly and deeply from a distance – then we know that eventually, we will be just fine.

At first I wasn’t sure I will be able to re-connect to the deep feelings I have for this project and for my former home – for my beloved Singapore. Today, from a distance of oceans and continents, without knowing whether I can actually be present at the exhibition, I know.
I can forget about the words , as the ideas and feelings are rooted deeply in my memory, thoughts, heart.
I hope these words will move something in your inner world,
Later you will forget them…
But the feelings will continue to live inside you.
Even from a distance…

My deep thanks to Karin Keidar and Eti Landau for being generous women and sharing their
thoughts with me.

And for Dawn, for being my friend, my Perfect Stranger when I was a foreigner in Singapore,
and by that made me feel at home.

Much love,

Zehavit Efrati
Clinical Psychologist
And forever a believer in perfect strangers
Israel, November 2020