It is easy to enjoy art that envokes pleasant feelings, that makes you feel good. However, denying tough and difficult emotions is not healthy in the long run, and this is where art as therapy steps in – it helps you confront your sorrow, pain and fear.
Around the time I first saw this painting, I was struggling with anxiety and sometimes suffering panic attacks. I immediately saw these feelings reflected in this painting. This is how a panic attack feels to me – the raw streaks of paint accumulating in the middle of the painting are like the chaos of pain and despair that forms a tangled knot deep in my chest. Dark red smears at the edges like bloody fingers desperately scrambling for an escape, searching for relief but always drawn back into the surge of fear. Twisting and turning with nowhere to go, the whole painting screaming silently in an explosion of agony.
I stood in front of the painting and stared, feeling like it had hit me hard in the stomach. I was shocked to find my deepest feelings exhibited openly on a museum wall. I have been unable to share my experience with others, partly out of embarrassment, but also because I did not know how. I could not put it into words. Instead, Rebecca Horn has somehow put it on canvas for me.
At the same time, I felt a connection and a relief. It’s not all just inside my head – it’s right there on the wall! Suddenly, my anxiety was tangible. It lost some of its looming, incomprehensible horror. As a tangible thing, a thing I and other people can see with our eyes, it becomes more manageable. I can meet my anxiety, look at it with open eyes, and I can cope with it.
Artwork: Rebecca Horn, “House of Pain”, 2005, seen at Tate Modern, London