13 Roland Gardens
Essay by Dr Slavka Sverakova (2009)
The ‘documentary’ elements of this work were gathered in New York in 2006 and 2007. 13 Roland Gardens was made for Seeing is Believing, at the Photographers Gallery, London, where it was exhibited alongside photographs from the collection of the psychical researcher Harry Price. Price’s collection is held at Senate House Library, University of London.
In 1930 Price held and documented a séance with Eileen Garrett (1893 -1970). The séance refers to the crash of the R101 airship and is described in 13 Roland Gardens by the medium’s daughter Eileen Coly, and through pages of reports. When Eileen Coly talks about seeing her mother in a trance, hearing a change in her voice, one word stands out: resonance.
It inspired me to think about other cases of resonance, not just in the stories about the séance, the description of the flat at 13 Roland Gardens, and their travel to New York in 1931, but about the way MacWilliam layers the video.
Resonance means the quality to be resonant. This video resonates because the personalities interviewed are resonant with normal life, with glorious memories and with gentle belief in continuity between this life and afterlife. It starts, however, by another kind of resonance. The mutual understanding and trust between the artist and her ‘guests’ forges a close connection with the subject - an agreement that is worth paying attention to. The psychic defences fall down, and a vibrant life story about a person with inborn special gift is delivered with humble respect for the unknown. Layering of times comes across in changes of appearances: it is the same time whenever Eileen Coly appears wearing an orange top, but different from the time when she sits opposite her daughter Lisette in a pink chair, with the photograph of her mother on the table, or from her reflections on after life when she wears the white cardigan. Watch for her gestures and timbre of her voice. They are different too. The layering of time, of appearance, of gestures and voice works as resonance with the idea of continuity between now and then in more than one sense. Once it is about memory, when Eileen Coly is not sure of names and places. Then it is about the belief in the possibility of communicating with absent persons. And sometimes, I get the impression that the daughter speaks under some command from her mother. I have in mind the episodes when the excited state of remembering gives way to a voice of authority – “… why shouldn’t there be a continuation…”
The appearance of the two male guests, Dr Stanley Krippner and Dr William Roll offers a resonating thought about the personality of the medium Eileen Garrett, claiming that she could offer evidence and that when she entered a room “…she was the centre…”
It is the creativity of the artist that guarantees that the video is also a story about itself. The artist is there all the time, just behind the lens.