July 18, 2011

Jessica Eaton

A slight-of-hand, that’s the work of Jessica Eaton, whose lightness of touch belies a range of profound, even disturbing concerns to do with the insistently fictive space of photographic images. Eaton’s elegant, discursive pictures have a wry humour that softens our descent to those other, less comprehensible precincts of meaning. These pictures evoke the complex mesh of perception and visibility that is the latent value of a process implicated in the seemingly “neutral” field of photographic representation. The nominal subject is fatally tangled in the very structure that allows it to be seen, an act of repeated disappearance. Although elaborated with a combined rigour and playfulness Eaton’s work has a deep measure of this uncertainty; her conceptual games reveal the material intersession of photography.

Elements of pictorial structure are disclosed as the subject of these works, their exposition of process becomes another meaning. Within this rhetoric of formal gestures a distinct sort of vocabulary emerges, one that breaks the image down to the slightest degree by which it might still function. Concentrating for the most part on a studio practice, Eaton offers a layered reading of photographic history, qualities specific to its development as a medium. Her manipulation of given forms has an idiosyncratic cast, they become an acutely charged surface for the problem of photography, those uncanny distortions of time and space that we so easily take for granted. In fact, Eaton’s work is driven by a precise use of these two variables, producing structures that exist only in the composite dimension of the photograph itself. Many evoke the particulate duality of light, indeterminate states that seem conclusively frozen, but which are also the product of an accumulation, time flattened and becoming multiple. We see then none of its aspects as decisive, they are all disturbingly real, because our sense of the world as a visually cohesive experience depends of the modes of perception that create and maintain its singular appearance.

Eaton’s photography feels like an engagement with that synthetic process, but there is a refusal to let it become fully transparent, revealing instead its fixed co-ordinates and ellipses – how the illusion is worked, or at least some of the ways. She has moved still deeper into this imagined territory of the photograph, to deal with shapes that are increasingly meticulous and yet more elusive than ever, despite the bristling internal proliferation they depict. The effect is cerebral, but rarely distanced; it is the product of an open, sophisticated formality. Her latest work exists squarely in the presumptive, unstable space between it and the viewer, a challenge to the habits of perception. Both full and empty, these pictures work to define the process of their making, just as they are unmade when we grasp exactly what that is, breaking apart the certainties of photographic time. By taking a late modern fascination with geometric density to these unexpected philosophical depths, Eaton’s work is a glimpse of another future for the medium and a challenge to our understanding of its past.

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