Sara Spencer


Digital Animation, 1440 x 1080 pixels


The Spectral Spectator

        Sara Spencer’s creation, Anticipation, is a tension built between two characters. The characters exist in the form of a specially constructed 13’ curved lightbox, imaging tire treads in snow, and a 4’x 8’ cinema screen, rear-projecting a film of surveillance: the artist’s home at night, presumably while she is sleeping. The Traveller is the name of the still image. The Expecter, that of the screened film of the surveilled. The two sources of image and light face each other, but at a distance - an observer would be unable to view the imagery of both characters simultaneously. Forced to turn their back upon one lit image in order to have a proper view of the other, the audience must hold the memory in their mind in order to consider both at once. The screen and the lightbox are not so distant that they lose relationship, however. They create an energetic space in their relation -- one image bright, vast and overpowering, the other unravelling through time in an undifferentiated fabric of near eventlessness. There are long stretches in the film with seemingly no activity. Just the sound of breathing, punctuated by the flash of outdoor security lighting or the movement of car lights across the room’s walls. The tension between the two characters is created in the body of the viewer. The knowledge that there is something behind one’s back, glowing with light, the psychic inclusion of surveillance, and the inability to view the set of images simultaneously, creates vibration within the observer who has now become a shuttle between the two.

      The film, or Expector, is reminiscent of paranormal reality television from the 1990’s and early 2000’s which relived the spirit of childhood dares -- let’s stay up all night in this haunted house, and wait for ghosts to appear! Unlike these spooky challenges, there is no one holding the camera in Spencer’s film, no narrator: the camera creates a pure voyeur. Instead of a ghost appearing on film, the camera’s gaze is the haunting apparition. We, the spectating audience, are transformed into a spectral presence of vision.

       Presented online, this artwork turns into an echoing puzzle. It creates a haunted mental space, and the longer it is considered, the more perfectly delineated yet perfectly hollow is the ghost that takes form. The title, Anticipation, can be defined as a hopeful expectation, but also as a foreshadowing, prescience, the knowledge of an event before it occurs. The future casts its shadow on the present, and the result is an emotional and physical state of expectation. It is this state of suspension Spencer creates in the triumvirate interaction between images and audience, a specific sort of temporality where present and future brush, and a space, or pause is created by the friction of their coincidence. The sensation of potential, the innate bodily knowledge of something about to happen is the gap, a held breath.

         The theorist Mark Fisher expands upon a relevant concept coined by Jacques Derrida: hauntology.      A play on words (ontology is the common philosophical field of study), Fisher uses the term to describe a sense of loss for a future that did not come to pass, yet still haunts the present. It is this sort of ambiguity of time, loss, and expectation that Sara Spencer creates in her work. The viewer of the work is the ghostly embodiment of closure that can only exist as potential-- almost, but never quite, synthesizing these characters of disjointed temporality. The unsealable fissure of the present-future lives in the sensation of the spectral audience.

- Michelle Weinstein

     See Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx . Routledge, 1994. and Fisher, Mark. Ghosts of my Life . John
Hunt Publishing, 2014