When Dorothy and her friends stumble upon the Emerald City after their long journey, their quest to meet the great and powerful Wizard of Oz is realised. He appears to the travellers as a larger than life, explosive, telegenic delight; inducing enough awe to form a stutter. His face, engorged and angry, screams in sync with pyrotechnic flames. Toto explores the Great Hall and its surroundings, while Oz exclaims to ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.’ Behind the curtain reveals the ‘real’ Oz, a small in stature, humble man who wished to appear elongated, powerful; perhaps in a way like most of us. This enigmatic scene encapsulates so well the role of the artist, who spins a tale larger than life, larger than themselves.
Darren Sylvester is an artist who works across set design, construction, furniture and a very cinematic style of photography. This combination of such specific disciplines conjures thoughts of the artist as Engineer, akin to Oz; somewhat shrouded, twisting knobs, hammering and drilling into the night. Who is he? He is generating smoke and mirrors, and in turn a little bit of magic. He manufactures scenes and worlds, in the hope of ascertaining meaning, humour, and comfort.
The term telegenic pertains to a charismatic moving image portrayal of a person. Could a person be enigmatic on film but perhaps not elsewhere? Sylvester’s 2 Telegenic 2 Die opens up a considered discussion of this 21st century conundrum, asking if the power of the image can incite the everyday object to stray far from reality. The show asks how closely cinematic memories are immersed within our own, and why performative culture elicits such enduring wonder and curiosity.
Landscape Architect Dean MacCannell reflects that, ‘The current structural development of society is marked by the appearance everywhere of touristic space. This space can be called a stage set, a tourist setting, or simply, a set depending on how purposely worked up for tourists the display is.’ The construction of Sylvester’s elaborate sets for photographs is reminiscent of a touristic desire, an expectation to see something, and to be wowed, just as you had imagined. To be Telegenic.
Two works in this show, Made up in the vanity and Body be a soul play between both (self) infatuation and (viewer) voyeurism. We, the viewer, get to see what we usually do not, an in-between moment. In this case, the act of getting ready for an unknown performance, and a performer glancing into a mirror, the look is reminiscent of the hall of mirrors in Return to Oz, where one cannot escape multiple copies of their own image.
Star Machine focuses attention on an everyday and utilitarian object—the staircase—and finding that small line that departs it into the realm of the absurd; the fantastical. The resulting photograph depicts stairs leading up into the universe, surrounded by a starry void. You don’t want to climb ‘too high,’ as to ascend would be to enter the realm of stars. To step down is to descend to an unknown depth, the netherworld, or onto the everyday, human level. Micky Avalon’s rendition of Beauty School Dropout in Grease (1978) takes place on a perfect white staircase, and as he descends, he calls upon Frenchie to change the direction in her life. Staircases are often a conduit for change, indicative of glamour, escape, and for movement. Star Machine presents an uncanny match to the staircase used in Powell and Pressburger’s 1947 film A Matter of Life and Death. These stairs aptly connect earth to the afterlife, representing true limbo, cognizant of so much—indecision, uncertainty, falls from grace, and of course chance.
Wind Whips the Arrows attempts to freeze the wind, presenting gusts, arrows and leaves in neon glass; illuminated, yet frozen. Wind and its detritus, the element that is always in motion for if not it ceases to exist, has been solidified. The attempt to break from the surge of chronological time, and hold dear the psychological, is at work here. If only we could freeze a moment—or stop the wind, which so often is destructive and inconvenient. Aesthetically, one is reminded of Disney—specifically the stylistic nature of earth’s elements in early animation, akin to the dancing metronome of Fantasia (1940). The wind, arrows and leaves, glowing and illuminated in bright yellow neon take on this notion through the indication of movement alone.
At Disneyland there is an attraction called The Snow White Grotto, which hosts a prominent wishing well. Walt Disney states that, ‘Wishing has long been a favourite subject of mine. Wishes have come true for many of the characters in my motion pictures...and for me, too. A wish is really the first step in the realisation of a dream or goal. Down through the ages, people have used different symbols to wish for things. Sometimes they looked at the stars, and other times the symbol was something else—very often wishing wells.’
The final work in 2 Telegenic 2 Die, Wishes in the Wells, is a photographic depiction of a specially constructed well. Wells appear made to almost be fallen down into, and the space whilst falling, the ‘place’ of the well, is a non-place, simply nowhere; again, relating to the notion of ‘limbo’ as per other works in this exhibition. As Disney so fervently relates, wells are also a place of hope and wishes, a site of longing and optimism. The fact the well itself is but a construction, almost a fallacy, makes the image presented here seem all the more magical, and the artist seem all the more an Engineer, a spinner of tales, a trickster.
Through photography, construction—and arguably a little bit of magic, Sylvester spins a tale larger than himself, larger than the physical works, entering us into the realm of dreams and stars.
Sullivan+Strumpf acknowledge the Indigenous People of this land, the traditional custodians on whose Country we work, live and learn. We pay respect to Elders, past and present, and recognise their continued connection to culture, land, waters and community.