Writer | Emma Hamilton: At the Equinox | Firstdraft Gallery, Sydney

Catalogue essay to accompany Emma Hamilton’s exhibition At the Equinox at Firsdraft Gallery in October 2016.


The passage of a day, of a night, the constant progression of time through the movement of light defines our lives. From when we wake up, to when we eat our meals, when we work or don’t – this forward evolution of time based on measuring light is one of the basic organising structures of our society.

For most people around the world the days shorten and lengthen with the seasons and there is nothing but a few hours of difference between them. Yet, this is enough to have a profound effect on our mood, our feelings and how we spend our time. Emma Hamilton visited Fleinvær, Norway on the Arctic Circle in July and September 2015 where she made this body of work for At the Equinox. In Fleinvær the sun remains continuously above, or below, the horizon line for at least twenty-four hours each year. It seems in some ways strange to consider that, given the complexity of the algorithms we encounter on a daily basis on the internet, natural, material processes, such as the movement of the sun and the light it casts across the landscape, are so powerful in structuring our lives. Hamilton was confronted with this process in an acute form in Fleinvær.

The position of the Arctic Circle is defined by our perception of the sun, as such it is not fixed, tidal forces resulting from the orbit of the moon influence its position, it is currently drifting northwards. If you look for the Arctic Circle on a map, an authoritative line appears, placed there with a degree of certainty. This conceptual line, like all borders and demarcations of the earth politicise landscape and space. If you venture into the landscape itself these lines and borders are far more slippery and intangible. They are adrift and loaded with concepts that are spatial, political, historical and cultural – they are also not conveniently marked out for you.

The Equinox is the mid-point between the extremes of light and dark, and the summer and winter solstice. It is a point of equilibrium and balance. It is the tipping point, before you are plunged once again into white nights or sunless, dark days. In her work At the Equinox, Hamilton takes the two natural markers of the Arctic Circle and the Equinox and attempts to trap, and document, this tract of the landscape at this particular moment in time. This line of the Arctic Circle, or a possible version of it, is bounced gesturally between two figures. One holds the camera and the other a mirror, the photographer is reflected in the mirror holding the camera in the landscape. By reflecting the light from the sun onto the landscape at this particular moment in time Hamilton is able to capture a fleeting point of balance in our world.

The framing of these images, through the reflection of the photographer in the mirror, which is then further framed by the hands holding the mirror is disorientating. It is also light-hearted and alludes to the games people play with cameras. Its continuous exposure format is reminiscent of the limitless nature of digital photographs, of taking photo after photo until you get the right one. The images are full of movement, their blurriness serving to reinforce the uncertainty of what is being captured, of this line, and the uncertain movement of the figures in the landscape.

Hinting at Eadweard Muybridge’s seminal first photographs of the movement of bodies in space, these medium format slide film images allow an overlap between each shot, creating a filmic quality to the work. The photographs take on sculptural elements and dimensions as they step into a 3D form. Hamilton’s work straddles a space between photography and sculpture, with the tripod structures in At The Equinox being evocative of old large format cameras and film projectors.

Hamilton was able to visit Fleinvær on two occasions to make the work in At the Equinox. When I talked to her about her work in the lead up to the exhibition she discussed how she had done a fair amount of research before going to Fleinvær, but once she got there this all fell away and the power of the landscape took over. Fleinvær is a small grassy, green island which pokes out of the sea above the Arctic Circle. It is one of a group of four hundred islands located one hour away from the mainland city of Bodø; these islands have very few permanent residents but many summer holiday houses. The vivid landscape and Hamilton’s intense experience of place affected the work she created here. In Fleinvær, Hamilton was living in a built structure with no amenities that was exposed to the environment. One side of this structure was composed entirely of windows with the landscape becoming all encompassing and unrelenting. The experience must have been intense – the landscape surrounding you, still luminous in the middle of the night as you try to get to sleep. Hamilton said she was constantly aware of the landscape during the time she was there.

In this ceaseless landscape someone may lose their connection with the concept of time entirely. Without the light-based cues our bodies take from the passage of the sun across the sky, we wouldn’t be able to innately know what time it was. We might not be aware of whether it was night or day, as it could look the same and seem endless. This may work to loosen the meanings of these concepts that structure our lives and allow them to slip away. We are all familiar with that time in the early morning, particularly if you haven’t yet made it to bed, at maybe 3 or 4am, when you can no longer internally guess the time. It could be any time and time itself seems to no longer matter so much. This sense of unconstrained freedom becomes more readily accessible and the demarcations placed on the landscape in the form of measuring the passage of time through the movement of light, or boundaries and lines inscribed on the landscape, become less fixed, less certain, and their conceptual form becomes more evident.