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Shifting Realms: A Conversation Without Words
Aline Fourier & Jonathan Rutenberg, 2023

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Jonathan, my husband of 35 years, was experiencing cognitive decline. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It was challenging and difficult to find ways to communicate intimately and meaningfully. In my effort to have an intimate dialogue I created Shifting Realms, A Conversation Without Words. We dedicate this creative communication to all who are experiencing cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s or dementia and their caregivers in the hope that it provides another way of staying connected.


In an effort to create this dialogue, I used the mandala symbolism work of Dr. Robert Johnson, Jungian therapist and author, whom I trained with in the 1980s. In his book From Inner Forces to Personal Power, Johnson writes: “In the making of the mandala, the mind enters a state of wordless meaning. The meanderings of the mandala show the process and forces that command the deepest reaches of the mind. Beyond and before the wording process, the mind is acting consciously.” According to Dr. Johnson there are five primary components of a mandala: symmetry, geometry, color, number and intention. By becoming aware of these attributes and consciously combining them, we may use mandalas to share in our future together in a new way, transcending the cognitive challenges into broader realms of connection.

In making this work, my husband and I sat for two to three hours in my yurt studio, communicating on paper with color, movement and shape, taking turns responding to each other’s drawing strokes until the entire sheet was covered. There was not much talking. We smiled as we responded to each other’s color movements on the paper. We used pastels because they are a fluid medium that uses direct communication of our hands without brushes, drawing or smudging the colors. We seemed to know when the pictorial conversation was complete.


The final pastel dialogue was then placed in the base of two perpendicular mirrors, which reflect the painting to create a mandala. We then rotated the pastel drawing three more times to create three more conversational pieces. We shared very briefly about what we saw and how we felt. 

for my husband in starlight

In each of the galleries below, the first image is the original pastel drawing. The subsequent four depict the different variations of the mandala image as seen in the refracted mirrors. 

Shifting Realms I - IV

Shifting Realms V - VIII

Shifting Realms IX - XII

Shifting Realms XIII - XVI