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REVIEW: Hazel Eckert's "Over Time"

Hazel Eckert's exhibition Over Time is a product of The Room's Elbow Room Residency Program, an opportunity that boasts a private studio, dedicated staff support, and the ability to create work for a specific gallery space. However, the advantage perhaps the most important to Eckert was the focused, temporal, and intensive nature of this program, in which artists produce a body of work in a three-month studio window. This nature flawlessly reinforces the resulting exhibition’s exploration of time and memory.

The viewer is encompassed by a towering, shimmering, cascade of fabric banners hung from the ceiling when walking into Eckhert's gallery space. In her work [Slow] Drift, each soft strip lands by the viewer's feet and winds into a tight scroll, suggesting a limitlessness to its length. A source image carefully curated by Eckhert is printed on each banner in its original full quality form and hung high above the viewer's head. Our eyes follow its abstraction and the deterioration of its visual language all the way down to the gallery floor through the process of reproduction.

Trees transform into texture and clouds transform into pattern as each image is reduced to its basic compositional elements. Images flick by like a stop-motion film telling a story of destruction, as all sense of control is surrendered to the mindless, machine driven reproduction, which is a fitting metaphor for our own inability to sway the hands of time and slow the fading of memory.

The material of [Slow] Drift is transparent, with a delicate quality that mirrors the ease with which memories can be broken down, distorted and destroyed. There is merely a thin layer separating the past and the present, a dividing line that is continually in motion. The chosen gallery space for this work furthers this connotation, as the large, sunlight filtering windows allow light to stream through the imagery, distorting it in a further uncontrollable way.

In a recent interview with VANL-CARFAC, Eckhert states, "The residency shaped the body of work physically and conceptually. The main artwork [Slow] Drift was conceived of as an installation for the Harbour Room Gallery and is intended to maximize the verticality of that space. I was always coming back to that physical point of reference by visiting the space and re-orienting myself or the project when necessary”.

Over Time also features a series of singular photographs created in response to the studio experience itself. Studio Walls Cast Shadows depicts several different shadows created in Eckhert's Elbow Room studio by its sunny window. The different patterns of light signify the passing of the hours and the transformative powers sunlight has over a space, depending on the time of day. Each photograph is washed in a different pastel colour, creating a seemingly light, carefree, daydream world - a contrast to the likely reality in a busy artist's studio. "To me," Eckhert explains, "they represent a type of poetic contemplation or somewhat autobiographical record of my experience in that time and space."

This work is a suggestion of an abstracted space instead of a representational depiction. The photographs offer an incomplete perspective but still allow a captivating look behind the scenes at the creation of this exhibition. Their reliance on light echoes the fabric transparency across the room, emphasizing the indivisible link between the passing of the sun and the passing of our days.

It is not coincidental that Eckhert's work is presented at The Rooms alongside the nationally traveling exhibition Photography in Canada: 1960 - 2000 organized by the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada. The photographs featured in this show include those created by prolific artists including Jeff Wall, Suzy Lake, and Jin-Me Yoon. The inclusion in such a high budget, historically meaningful exhibition indicates a relevance and status of the selected work so significant it is barely affected by the passage of decades. In contrast to Eckhert’s work, they are in fact protected, both materially and critically, from the wear and tear of time and the damage that comes with the process of reproduction.

In addition to this dialogue, the photocopier itself is a significant tool that has been exploited by many artists in history, even becoming popular enough to warrant the creation of the International Society of Copier Artists. It is an accessible, familiar, and often creatively underrated technology with potential that is still untapped, even almost 60 years after its invention. Through Over Time, Hazel Eckhert is adding her voice to the pioneers of both photography and photocopy art by using tools known for creating quick snapshots and mass reproductions to instead pause and meditate upon time's transformative powers.

The slippery nature of time and the warping of memories emphasized by Over Time trigger different responses from different viewers. As new meaning is created through the abstraction of Eckhert's imagery, someone may be brought to mind of the change in a parent now unable to remember their name or a partner's recollection of a shared experience that seems incomparably different than their own.

Not only has Eckhert created an exhibition that will not be experienced the same by any two viewers, just as no two recollections of a memory or two trips around the sun are ever the same, but she has achieved the awakening of our awareness of this fact. We are faced with a poignant reminder that experience becomes memory, a singular vulnerable thing that forces us to forgo control and simply allow its transformation to be revealed over time.

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