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Jensine Eckwall

Infernal Experience

I am an illustrator. My work now finds its most suitable home in books, appearing most distinctively in fantasy, horror, or historical books for young readers ages 8-12. I style my images after medieval illumination, Victorian picture books, and woodblock prints, taking aesthetic cues from the past that are draped over core early influences of 2000s-era internet and goth art, anime, and popular music. Through their antique styling, these images invoke the past to bring a sense of universal truth across time.

In January of 2021 I found myself entering an intensive psychiatric outpatient program and living in my parents’ home for the first time since entering adulthood. I was accompanied this time by my chihuahua, a rescue and a behavioral rehab case himself. That is where “Infernal Experience” was conceived and began. Something between a short film and a music video, “Infernal Experience” is highly personal, but exists within a framework of the ideas of those who came before me, where my present was their past.

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Early on I sought permissions to use a song by Charlie Looker, a musician, composer, and amateur philosopher. I was offered the use of the track “Speak Until Death Comes,” the only song without vocals from Looker’s 2018 album Simple Answers, a conceptual 16-piece orchestral song cycle with voice. Simple Answers contains aesthetic multitudes, like Medieval and Renaissance-influenced sound flourishes and performance traditions from punk and metal. A concept album, Simple Answers is about the intersections of fascist philosophy (notably the new wave throughout the 2010s), and addiction, analysis and action. “Speak Until Death Comes,” carrying no lyrics itself, is plucked from a larger, vocal-heavy and voice-centered piece on how the human subject is formed by mastery of language.

In the outpatient program, studying Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, I saw an image that struck me as a visual companion to the “Speak Until Death Comes” orchestral audio. There’s an educational tool for DBT patients called the Feelings Wheel. This graphic is a circle. The circle is divided up like a pie chart, each piece the territory of an emotion, like anger, sadness, or happiness. The pie slices are further broken down into strips that contain more nuanced iterations of these emotions: abandonment, inferiority, awe. Just one therapeutic device among many, this Wheel displays the names of each common human emotion. When a patient can impartially observe and give voice to their experience of an emotion, naming it, its enormity lessens and it can be contained. The goal of DBT, stated by its creator Marsha Linehan (a psychologist who herself suffered from mental health problems) is to allow its patient to “create a life worth living” in the face of overwhelming suffering.

The Feelings Wheel evoked in me the image of a top-down view of the Nine Circles of Hell, illustrated many times over in many different editions of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, or Dante’s Inferno. My film and animation approach remains largely self-taught. My hand is guided by the feeling and memory of watching cartoons and music videos, never wanting to let go of a child’s experience of awe.

In “Infernal Experience,” its principal character travels from her desolate town to a room that contains a door to a special place through which she may travel. She descends from the rim of a steep precipice all the way to the bottom of a circular labyrinth that contains manifestations of her emotions, her memories, and surreal environments drawn from her internal experience, interlocking in increasing complexity the further down she goes. Perhaps her descent, guided by a little dog-Virgil, will unearth a new truth and she will look at her old environment in a new way. Perhaps immersion in the abject will help her surmount it, and the only way out is through.

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