M.33 Three books series

M.33’S Three books series is an impressive achievement in the light of series editor Helen Frajman’s commitment to presenting contemporary photography in book form. As a trilogy designed by Darren Sylvester, the books immediately look gorgeous in their muted tones and have a pleasing tactility in their cloth-bound covers.

Jane Burton’s Other Stories presents a world of half-light, silhouette and silvery surface reflections on glass, water, clouds, paint and flesh. In five short chapters, each a series of images toned in a different colour, Burton invites us into a waking dream that has the feel of the Mediterranean of antiquity, a landscape where the ill-defined borders between permanence and transience confuse the senses and confound time. Burton is adept at casting the female nude in a role that is ambiguously caught between object of desire and the embodiment of a seemingly private self-regard in repose, achieved with the kind of formal photographic qualities and psychological potentials in sequencing that are reminiscent of the work of French master Sarah Moon. Ingrid Periz’s accompanying text is a model of succinct proposition, its reach not exceeding its grasp in its interpretative musings, refreshingly assessing that as far as some images are concerned ‘no amount of looking can identify their content’. As in the memorable phrasing of Ted Hughes, for whom the indistinct light and lines of the English moors held similarly potent imagistic and elemental power, in Burton’s Other Stories we find ourselves ‘stumbling in the fever of a dream,' never desiring an end but instead a perpetual anticipation.

Simon Terrill’s Proscenium presents a selection of the artist’s work from the past five years: scenes of public spaces (streets, train stations, sports stadiums, dance floors) marked by the indexation of human presence as manipulated by multiple and long exposures. His Double Nelson (2010), a masterful layering of the monument and its surroundings in London’s Trafalgar Square with the spectral-like mass of bodies in motion, is especially evocative of the liminal space between Empire and its subjects. The inclusion of a suite of images showing a figure caught in multiple exposures undertaking some kind of performance (identified as Scottish artist Bruce McLean in the notes) is an unnecessary interruption of the otherwise slow burn of the considered sequencing. Edward Colless’s essay, while overwrought in its circular verbosity, ending with the ominous warning to ‘treat this book with caution’, is elucidating in its articulation of the idea of the proscenium as more than just a framing device for the human comedy.

A mesmerising pink flamingo, striking in its saturation of colour and elegance of line, introduces Darren Sylvester’s Compass Point. It explores the eponymous recording studio based in the Bahama’s capital of Nassau that, from 1977 until 2010, was the crucible from which some of the world’s most innovative popular musicians and producers forged magic for Island Records. ‘What was it about this location that worked?’ asks Sylvester, as both musician and artist, in admiration of the innovations made in the early 1980s on such classic albums as Talking Head’s Remain in Light, Roxy Music’s Avalon and Grace Jones’s Living My Life. And so we enter a world of cerulean hues, poolside sun lounges, cocktails and details of the studio itself—microphones, amplifiers, mixing desks—as Sylvester’s eyes wander in conjuring a kaleidoscopic imagining of the sexy tempo of the sounds that once enveloped this landscape, a disjunction in contrast to the silent oblivion of photography. It is a marked departure from Sylvester’s practice to date, where a highly controlled aestheticism combined with a rigorous conceptualism has been strung so taut in his tableaux of contemporary life that it has sometimes stifled the unpredictability of the content’s emotional import. This is Sylvester letting his hair down and losing himself in the music—turning up the stereo. As the wonderful Ms Jones sings on her classic hit My Jamaican Guy: ‘Laid back, never holding back.’

Jane Burton: Other Stories, with an essay by Ingrid Periz; Simon Terrill: Proscenium, with an essay by Edward Colless; Darren Sylvester: Compass Point; all published by M.33, Melbourne, hardcover, 72 pp.

Published in Art & Australia, vol. 50 no. 1, Spring 2012, pp. 154-155.

© Pedro de Almeida 2012.