Stratalimn: or How to See through Rocks
At the heart of our modern imaging and information technologies is the chemical element silicon. Processed into nearly pure wafers (made from 99% silicon) and glass (made from sand, i.e. silicon dioxide, combining one molecule silicon with two molecules oxygen), silicon gives us lenses, screens, microchips, and the optical fibers in submarine cables that form the backbone of the global internet. Tracy Abbott Szatan foregrounds these material relationships in a diverse series of artworks that take sand, glass, and silicon wafers as both their subject and media. 

One of these works, a mound of sand studded with sculpted glass objects that mimic the natural shapes of rocks, evokes a seeming paradox: that what is heavy, opaque, and the result of millions of years of geologic activity is transformed into something light, transparent, and part of technologies that increasingly speed up our experiences. In a set of nonrepresentational photograms (made by shining light through the same sort of glass objects), Szatan captures these ostensible contradictions in another way: the glass objects hover between an opaque rock and a transparent lens, and the photograms – their radiant forms welling up from a rich black void – likewise seem suspended between the cosmic and the lithic.  By abutting apparent opposites, Szatan acknowledges their co-presence and conjures the poetry of their constant, fundamental oscillation. 

Her film Braided Sand offers a further meditation on this oscillation, drawing it out with an exercise in slow durational looking. Captured on-site at a sand extraction facility, a glass manufacturer, and a nanotech lab, the film pays careful attention to material transformations at the timescales of both the industrial and the geologic. We see mountains of sand, great piles of glass shards (the shards in these “cullet fields” will be recycled to make new glass), and white-gloved scientists looking through microscopes at designs etched in silicon wafers. Szatan stages encounters between silicon-based materials, here in her film and elsewhere in her sculptures and photograms, not so much to explain their relationships as to offer an occasion for quiet, stillness, and contemplation in the face of their fundamental complexity.

— Peter Smyth

Artist Statement
strata (n.) a layer or series of layers of rock or sediment
limn (v.) to illuminate; from Latin lumen light, radiant energy

How can we perceive deep time? How do we become present to our embeddedness within its layers? In 1947 photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson enshrines the notion of “The Decisive Moment” into photography’s history. The Decisive Moment he describes, “is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” But how does our understanding of the moment shift if we understand these forms as forms of time, if we situate the decisive moment within the strata of geologic time? The glass of Bresson’s lens is made from sand deposited hundreds of millions of years ago, the result of the growth and erosion of entire mountain ranges, the expansion and retraction of entire seas and glaciers. These are decisive moments 300 million years and more in the making.

This work contemplates a material relationship whose poetry emerges from seeming paradox — that what is heavy, opaque, and the result of millions of years of geologic activity is transformed into something transparent, evermore thin, and part of technologies that increasingly speed up human experiences. In juxtaposing the primordial with the fleeting instant, this work intends to call forth an underlying and constant oscillation.


Tracy Abbott Szatan is a lens-based artist working across video, photography, glass, and installation to contemplate modes of perception and experiences of time. In her practice, she researches histories of imaging technologies and draws from topics in math, science, and philosophy to create works that range from durational documentary films to glass objects to light installations. She’s interested in how perception can be turned back on itself — through strategies of duration, abstraction, optical illusion, and dimly lit lighting environments — to heighten the experience of the body and how this in turn might be instrumentalized in imagining alternative possibilities for how our bodies encounter the world. Movement, transformation, and repetition are hallmarks of the work and exist in service of creating meditative spaces. Within an accelerating informational environment, such experiences offer sites for contemplation and healing.

Tracy is currently an MFA candidate in Art at The Ohio State University. She received her BA from Brown University in Modern Culture & Media and History. She is a co-founder of the graduate-led film program Cinéseries at the Wexner Center for the Arts.