Photo: Zan Wimberley
Darren Sylvester’s photographic works depict scenes that are meticulously constructed like film or theatre sets to emulate reality. His pictures, many of them now quite iconic, are stylised portals to moments between people that often manifest intimacy and alienation in equal measure. Their titles are full of poetic yearning and existential torment – Forgotten and alone but trying (2008) a case in point. The artifice of life under the seductive spell of late capitalism is amplified as illusion. Within Sylvester’s hall of mirrors we are reflected as empty vessels of false consciousness adorned by product placement, eternally desiring desire itself.
For The National 2021, Sylvester has made three sculptural interventions into the gallery space of Bay 21 at Carriageworks. Recessed into the walls are windows with text and symbols advertising psychic services – stars, moon, crystal ball and candle burn bright like neon emojis. Sylvester sees the gallery as an oversized street, like a film set that a viewer will stroll through, recognising the windows from afar as somewhat realistic, their artifice writ large up close. On Instagram, where everything inevitably ends up, snapshots of these windows (placed within the window of a screen) will undoubtedly trick us with their lie.
Dispensing with photography over sculptural installation, Sylvester presents a range of universal symbols, designed to entice into its flytrap of colour and light. Each window represents an upside-down world, the window as vortex and portal to be looked at and looked through. We are not outside looking in, but inside looking further in. Once inside, what we will find? Possibility and aspiration on the one hand, a gaping abyss of false promises on the other.
In foretelling spiritual knowledge, Sylvester’s psychic windows offer glimpses into futures entangled with the burdens of the past. As a former railway workshop during the late 19th-century heyday of the Industrial Revolution, Carriageworks is haunted by its history. Everything inevitably is. All speculative futures are inextricably linked to their past. Cutting windows into the otherwise hidden passageways of Carriageworks offers a threshold to imagine what went before as we anticipate narratives of what is yet to come.
Beginning with Leon Battista Alberti’s Renaissance theories of perspective, the window has long been regarded as a metaphor for looking. Whether it is through painting or photographs – or architectural wall sculptures in this case – representation is conceived as a window that determines ways of seeing reality constructed from an artist’s perspective. Windows are passages that link us to the world. The barrage of screens that express our contemporary hypermediated experience reveal how representation itself is windowed. The blinds open on to other forms of seeing – windows within windows. Like relentless web browser pop-ups that spring back to life as you close them, Sylvester’s psychic windows are clickbait promising all and nothing, dreams within a dream.
Exhibition text for The National 2021: New Australian Art at Carriageworks, Sydney, 26 March – 10 June 2021.
Published by Carriageworks in 2021.