By Kate Lahey
My grandmother grew up living off the land in Taylor’s Bay, on the southern coast of Newfoundland. This means she grew up guided by hands and the things they make. Stitching, kneading, scrubbing, salting, holding, harming—a soft mechanics passed down to me, with all the knowledge they carry and all the feeling they cannot. Hazel May Eckert’s exhibition, Over Time is also curious about this intimate texture between generations. Like me, she is concerned with the knowledge that is regenerated across generations.
Over Time is the result of The Room’s Elbow Room Residency, a three month program that offers private studio space, staff support and a dedicated exhibition space at the gallery. Eckert’s uses found images of organic objects such as clouds and trees in old magazines, which she photocopied over and over again, and finally transferred onto floor-to-ceiling banners of transparent fabric. Arranged sequentially, like a film strip, they reveal generations of images, each inheriting, distorting and eroding their antecedent. Their blown out, decomposing quality shimmers and plays with light and shadow in the space. As clarity fades, ephemeral textures and atmospheric residues haunt the now barely recognizable photographs. Eckert’s sense of curiosity radiates, as nostalgia glimmers amongst the seven strips of images. It’s within these glimmers that we are asked to reckon with the expanse (and it’s inherent texture) between loss and remembrance. When memories fade over time, what remains? Through her play with coincidence, intuition and strange organics, Eckert asks how time fades, light saturates and, perhaps, how feeling attunes when meaning is lost.
In psychoanalytic terms, attunement refers to the ways in which we pay close attention to the gestures and affects of those with whom we are seeking attachment—often our parents. (1) Absorbing the information that these imprints gestate, we align with these behaviours and feelings in ways that seek to bond and connect. (2) Jill Salberg is interested in how attachment is also the conduit through which the transmission of trauma occurs. Salberg invites Gerson’s terminology of a dead third to refer to her belief “that in the absence of a fully emotionally vital and present parent, the child nonetheless attaches not only to what is present, but also to what is absent—what is alive as well as what is deadened.” (3) An excessive sense of emptiness overwhelms; there is too much nothing. Eckert’s haunted image genealogies take the saturation of absence as a process enlivened with meaning, texture and potentiality. Indeed, Over Time is concerned with the very play and intuition of process, radiant energy and sensitive surfaces. This is evidenced in the spontaneity of found images and uncertain force of repeated copying. I see connections between attachment and photography here, where attunement is the process of noticing the movement of radiant energy, absorbing imprints from exposure on the sensitive surface of the psyche.
Eckert’s Over Time is particularly curious about how the repetition of time and action creates an excess of light and a loss of meaning. With each copied image, light floods, blowing out definition while amplifying a certain ephemerality. Eckert is also concerned with how this loss is paradoxically intertwined with an attunement of feeling, a particularity of colour and the connective processes that generate such curious complexities. Yellows and greens are first to fade, while blues and reds are glimpsed across the banners like flares. The texture between the oversaturation of radiant energy and the blurring of the original image is important for Eckert. Indeed, photography is the recording of light as image, yet images may also be distorted by the oversaturation of light. That which oxygenates our lives can also be suffocating. It is a matter of scale. It is a matter of process.
When we attach to absence, the excess of nothingness floods. In the transmission of trauma, attunement is characterized by the wounds that created such voids, wounds we will never know fully, that we will only experience through the lingering feelings which infuse the textured process of attachment. Eckert’s play with oversaturation speaks to this—when images are over-absorbed with light or colour, we squint our eyes, we focus on the details remaining, we are forced to pay closer attention to the image, we are more curious and engaged with what has been lost from the image and what distorted hints continue to haunt it. The faded outline of leaves melding into the sky, a treeline that stretches shadows skyward punctuated by a red light flare—images which are haunted by a striking absence as shimmers and ghosts refuse to remain legible. Our gaze softens. Eckert reminds us that this is a kind of looking closely from a distance.
The strange repetitions of these copied images do not relate linearly; rather, they seek to draw our attention to the unpredictable and the entangled. Our gaze softens, such that the retinas bear only fleeting shadows and faded treelines. The minimal shifts between generations ask us to look closer. Feeling attunes and we are encouraged to consider the ways in which process and product, absence and presence, making and meaning, feeling and knowing are interwoven complexly, sometimes paradoxically. The rudimentary mechanical process of the photocopier represents a visual language, which, even when known, offers surprising and inexplicable results. Indeed, surprise, intuition and curiosity are the feelings Eckert uses to invite meditation on this tension, or this texture, over time.
These experiments of light and shadow continue into the physical space in which Eckert’s works are mounted. The sheer fabric banners onto which the image genealogies have been transferred float from the ceiling through the middle of the room, playing with the light that floods in from huge windows overlooking The Narrows in St. John’s. They also play with the lights mounted on the ceiling, and with the shadows and movements caused by viewers’ bodies pacing and whispering throughout the gallery space. Here, Eckert echoes Salberg’s question, “how [does] a person carry within [their] mind and inscribed on [their] body numerous histories of experiences with the family’s legacy of traumas and losses? How do trauma survivors transmit these unspoken fragments to their children?” (4)
Trauma, as an epistemic framework, shows us that the incomprehensibility of woundedness demands that feeling be our primary way of knowing. Illegible temporally, spatially and psychically, trauma disrupts the kinds of external modes of comprehension that social and relational cognition demands. Feeling overwhelms, sometimes oversaturating to the point of numbness, always demanding attunement—be it to memory or absence. Eckert, however, does not conclude that “ghosts always suggest where mourning has not occurred,” (5) but rather knows that shadows and light are always intertwined across time, that ghosts and mourning are inevitably entangled.
- Jill Salberg, Wounds of History: Repair and Resilience in the Trans Generational Transmission of Trauma (New York: Routledge, 2017), 78-79.
- Ibid, 85.
- Ibid, 78.
- Ibid, 91.
Over Time ran from January 27 – April 22, 2018 at The Rooms Gallery, in St. John’s, NL, as part of the Elbow Room Residency.
Feature Image: Cast Shadows, 2018 by Hazel May Eckert. Photo courtesy of the artist.