Text by James D. Campbell 2006
Shadowing the Self: Reflections on the Art of Eve K. Tremblay
“Maybe out of my shadow
The days arise, relentless and unreal.”
- Jorge Luis Borges (1)
“Truth is thus an alteration, a positing but an altered, imaginary one.”
- Julia Kristeva (2)
Closely and surreptitiously, Eve K. Tremblay pursues her own shadow across perilous terrain, whether poised tremulously on the precipice between inner reality and external life or parsed out as phantasmal inflections on the far side of various Gregor Samsa-like metamorphoses. She is in search of her own truth; a truth which may be synonymous with imaginative alteration but which is so luminous that we are ineluctably pulled into its corona. She is stalking her own shadow but we should remember that ‘shadowing’ implies here not only doubling of self but also ‘adumbration’. This is pertinent because she imbues her images with an emoting nimbus that stalks the viewer as well -- both as we attend to them over time and long after we have left them behind.
Like the white halo of the sun that draws the optic moth-like to its light during an eclipse, the auratic emotional charge and attendant atmospherics of the Uncanny here are subliminal and superluminal at one and the same time. (3) The adumbration, like a light wind over autumn leaves, stirs a shadowy imago within us, and quite instinctively -- as though it had always already lain dormant in wait there like a memory retained from the moment of birth – and it comes to nebulous form just under the threshold of consciousness with a sense of strange familiarity and vague, indefinable unease.
Eve K. has, for the last several years, made photographic images that exceed, affectively and auratically, and often radically so, what they ostensibly represent. Her corpus possesses a numinous supplementarity. (I refer to supplementarity as introduced and developed by the French thinker Jacques Derrida, particularly in his On Grammatology. Derrida argues that the supplement must not be thought of exclusively as a stratagem of accreting sense to a given text. (4) The supplement to a text has to be seen as both addition and necessary angle towards completion. In other words, it is integral.) The supplement is sheer plenitude, amplifying self-presence, and necessary surplus. It is also perilous. The fulsome traces of supplementarity entail a double gesture that segues adroitly with the artist’s own doubling of self in these elliptical, restless and seductively fey narratives.
If Eve K. tails herself covertly like a gifted ‘pavement artist’ (an outdoor surveillance specialist operating on foot), well, we ‘shadow’ her narratives in search of their unseen and dangerous supplement in our turn – and they stalk us and eventually graft us to them in a true spirit of reciprocity when the supplement is dismantled within us. To those sensitive enough to receive their clandestine communiqués, these beguiling and far more than merely clever or diverting, because they give a whole new meaning to the word ‘suggestiveness’) fictions foreshadow our own doubling as we decant them in mind’s eye. Perhaps this progressive, reciprocal incarnation, at first barely felt and then increasingly familiar and even hypnotic in effect, shadows our reading strategies as closely as the artist does her own shadow-self. Perhaps that is why these suspended, oblique narratives haunt the spirit of the seer with such lingering, troubling intensity.
Inspired by a host of literary, theatrical, scientific and psychoanalytical sources, Eve K.’s charged narratives stake a powerful claim on the embodied imagination. The works themselves are akin to porous puzzles we are asked to solve as we imaginatively project into and gingerly assimilate them. We get caught up in the works as though they were limber web-like snares for eye and mind and we their less-than-agile prey.
As we examine the different series of works reproduced here, we find that different perspectives entail assuming different perceptions, and different assumptive contexts as well, and often contrary ones. Eve K.’s images hide their true subject matter in plain sight, like a fore-edge painting in a book. Scanned forewards there is one image, one representation, say a wolf enclosure at the Basel zoo. Backwards, quite another, foliage behind a fence with its very own heart of darkness, and then, inexplicably, a nameless emotion wells up from somewhere deep within.
Examining Tremblay’s work in the light of psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s notion of object relations and the transitional experience -- in which inner and outer reality interweave and a wide swathe of healthy, enlivening paradoxes result – is richly rewarding. Here is an intermediate arena for staging, as in the theatre, sundry identifications, states of selfhood, acting-outs and working-throughs. Somewhere in the no mans land between subjective life and objectively perceived life-world, Eve K. makes her stand.
Winnicott, the eminent British object-relations theorist, developed the concept of transitional phenomena, by which he meant the investment of subjective meaning in objective phenomena. In the shadow-fraught liminal space he describes, a dynamic reciprocal interweaving between the self and an artefact of the surrounding world transpires. (5) In her emotive playhouse of the heart, this energetic theatre of the mind, Eve K. herself takes a cue from Winnicott and directs with great passion, precision and a cool optic sundry fantasies and competing selves and strange scenarios through invoking a chorus of distinctive voices, ensuring it is all intersubjectively sound and shareable. The most paradoxical states and enigmatic scenarios abound in her works. She implants and instigates tensions of psychic and relational life, throwing them into synchronous imagery.
Her elliptical narratives are all grounded, in a sense, in this transitional arena, a launching pad for myriad possible worlds. She brings into play a vital “third space” between herself and her double, inside and outside, her work and our optic; hers’ is a truly liminal space of pure, unfettered creativity. This space in-between is the home for “her” and “not-her”, “me” and “not-me” – and, also, for “us” and “not-us”, I mean lastly, her enamored public. Winnicott argued that this arena must by no means be construed as integral to ego organization, but that it is found "on body experiences" (6). Hence, the presence of the body as enactor/experiencer in most of Eve K.’s images, and the adolescent female body, in particular, as protagonist.
In terms of this work, artist and viewer enter the space together holding hands, as it were, for it speaks, above all, to a shared and shareable constituency. The paradoxes that inform all her narratives are never off-putting or solipsistic. They readily seduce – and are perceived as entirely positive, even when limned with potent melancholia. For, in this ‘third space’ neither reconciliation, relief nor felt "transcendence" are possible. No utopian signifiers at play here.
The series Disparaitre en bleu – Ein Spiel de Biosemiotik (2003), is haunting, convincing and her palette is at its most delicate, refined and seductive there. It is also a cool purview on a near-future world resonant with that which director Michael Winterbottom envisioned in his wonderful recent film Code 46. Eve K.’s chameleon-like identity stratagems inside these works test the existing limits of what constitutes true subjectivity and she moves between inner and outer worlds like a sad nomad.
In her most recent series Tales without Grounds (2005), Eve K. invokes futuristic scenarios in which her subjects are engaged in strange ritualistic activities. Of course, this is the here and now, not the mute fantasia of some tomorrow world. But her staging and pristine atmospherics remind us palpably of cinema. In these large-scale color photographs, she works from the permeable membrane between the ‘interior’ world of the psyche and the ‘exterior’ existence of the life-world, simultaneously evoking the inner lives and external realities of her mysterious protagonists.
Eve K. bravely builds and breaks open potential spaces to birth subjective ontology – and she acknowledges that anxiety cannot be excluded from such spaces. She recognizes that those potential spaces and transitional objects are always already intersubjectively shareable -- but seldom synchronous.
As we enter from the stage wing left into her oblique narratives, we become complicit in the play of shifting psychic postures and potentialities, and we experience something of the inherent fluidity of psychic life that their creator Eve K. has elliptically invested them with. It is on that reciprocal hasp that the doors of our imaginative propensities swing open and closed.
Not surprisingly, Eve K. studied theatre and French literature and her work has certainly been more influenced by these than the enervating conventions of antecedent straight photography. Her pristine and unerring sense of staging also shows she has been more influenced by cinematography than the extant photographic canon. She is more a protegé of the filmmaker and director Chantal Ackerman than she is a student of Walker Evans or Gary Winogrand.
In one of her most highly-charged works, Mémoire anticipée d’une jeune fille dérangée (deliciously cribbed, by the way, from Simone de Beauvoir’s Mémoire d’une jeune fille rangée), we are confronted with the young subject of the piece, sitting in the foreground of what seems a huge hydroponic lettuce cultivation complex, but it could also be the Sargasso Sea, for all we know, far from shore and spying out at us from behind a lettuce as though it were a Ralph Eugene Meatyard Lucybelle Crater-like mask. Or is meant to be her true face? We ask ourselves: What manner of hybrid creature is this, an escapee from a latter-day Wellesian Island of Dr. Moreau?
The protagonist is dressed in two tones of green, like a young plant. Playing with the artificial idea of the girl in the garden, over against the usual passivity that one associates with these kind of images, Eve K. suggests that the girl is herself her double, coquettishly playing at transforming herself into a vegetative half-beauty half-monster. Is she eating out her own face? Is she Eve, the artist’s double? Or Eve of Eden, offering not an apple but a lettuce to our Adam? It this meant as a critique of the projective thrust of the male gaze, which would subject the young woman to ruinous taxonomy as a passive beauty, waiting to be deflowered? So this image is seductive and luscious -- but also subversive, because the title refers to the anticipated memory of a disturbed girl. We also reflect on the possibility that the lettuce as an edible object is consumed so that the subject might better conform to a specific idea of socially ‘idealized’ female beauty. This ‘portrait’ entails, as is the case with all Eve K.’s work, troubling questions with no easy answers in sight.
The sense of surpassingly strange familiarity I spoke of earlier is an effect of the artist’s paradigmatic doubling, and more specifically, the uncanny and the unconscious, melancholy, voyeurism and restless darkness. But here consciousness takes itself as the object of its own hyper-reflection – and is changed as a result.
Eve K.’s embodied gaze on her own shadow "self," and our own disembodied gaze, doubled and then redoubled as it peers "inside" her tableaux vivant makes for a remarkable synchronicity in the seeing. However, this experience of seer and seen, seeing and being seen, and what is, for that matter, “unseen” is destabilizing -- and suggests jeopardy and displacement. Eve K. meeting her own double, after pursuing her so vigorously over such rough terrain, and, by extension, our encounter with our own doppleganger in coming to terms with this work, is an eerie harbinger of the death event. For, as an old German proverb says, if you meet your own going double, you must soon “go” yourself.
As we have seen, Eve K.’s resonant images and oblique narratives have the power to instruct, unsettle, disturb – and displace. Her true content is often the unnameable— that which is beyond or before language -- and we are at first looking in from the margins. It is never very long, however, before we have stumbled into the mise-en-abyme and find ourselves at dead center of these magnetic narratives, and enter their “third space” as a willing accomplice in the making of meaning. At the same time, we are resolutely hooked, and the images speak to us in a language far more intimate than any cinematic fable of how the most seductive of appearances often camouflage the most profound private lack.
Eve K.’s shadowing of self and Other is carried out with remarkable deftness, subtlety, subversive poetry -- and bravery. Her courage is incandescent, as she makes her transitional spaces our own. Our ongoing entanglement with her images is integral to that exhilaration we have always felt when ‘reading’ the most profound works of contemporary art.
1 Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Heraclitus” in In Praise of Darkness (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc., 1974), p. 19.
2 Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans.Margaret Waller with an Introduction by Leon Roudiez (New
York, Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 219.
3 See Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny in Standard Edition XVII, (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute
of Psychoanalysiss, 1958).
4 See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 1997).
5 See D. W. Winnicott, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena” in Collected Papers: Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis (London: Tavistock Publications, 1958).
6 D. W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (New York: Routledge,1982), p. 70.