Consciousness of Shock by Victor Brauner, 1951. Wax encaustic on hardboard, 64 x 80 cm. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.
A symbolic struggle is expressed between the human and bird halves of the hybrid form in Consciousness of Shock, in which Victor Brauner portrays a complex boat-shaped figure in the course of battling for control of itself. Drawn in the schematic profile style of Egyptian hieroglyphs, a large androgynous head unites with the raised prow of a boat elaborated with breasts. The body of the vessel, directed by rudderlike legs and feet, merges at the stern with the upright body of a bird. Two powerful hands, at the ends of crossed arms, suppress the internal battle by restraining the limbs of the bird, while a third hand doggedly forges progress along the river by paddling. Thus, in keeping with the nature of much psychic conflict, a difficult internal struggle is self-contained, while the vessel-self continues along a predetermined route.
Nicolas Calas has suggested that Brauner was inspired by two Egyptian themes, the “Sun Barge” and the “Heavenly Vault,” in the creation of this image.1 While a generalized Egyptian style undoubtedly influenced Brauner’s imagery, it seems more likely that the artist derived this fantastic visual vocabulary from his own imagination, rather from specific art-historical sources.2