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  • Belinda Keyte

Artist Research - Week 8: Darren Sylvester

When you google Darren Sylvester, near the top of the list are albums. Music. Huh. Turns out he has released 3 albums. A 57 page essay on him published but the NGV describes his practice as ‘staged photography, sculpture, video, installation and music’. I already feel he is relevant to my practice.

It looks like Sylvester’s subject’s that appear in his work of ‘work conundrums’ and loss and longing are relevant to mine not only for this project but also my practice in general.

Sylvester is just so interesting. It seems he uses everything at his fingertips and teaches himself to use them. Instruments, make up on acrylic, composing and performing music, light, installation. I think its this ‘making’ and ‘self taught’ aspect that interests me so much. I have made things all my life, pretty much all self taught. From dollhouses to cakes and miniature gardens to clothes to actually building stuff, music and stencil art.

I think I have seen ‘space blanket’ at the NGV. His musical practice began with videos of himself performing as David Bowie or Kate Bush, and progressed to re-building the Carpenters’ Los Angeles garden for a 2009 exhibition. If nothing else, he sounds so interesting. And funny, this one below titled 'Single Again'

I listened to ‘Off by heart’ on band camp. In this ‘context-heavy context’, Sylvester views Off By Heart as akin to Prince performing the songs of Jeff Lynne (two artists who, like Sylvester, also write and record alone). Another reference comes up with this project. Actually Jeff Lynne founded Electric light Orchestra. A band that, for about 16 years, the recording process included a cast of 1000’s. Actually saw them both perform together, with Steve Winwood, Tom Petty & Dhani Harrison in a tribute to George Harrison.

Im not sure I really dig the musical style. The 2013 album sounds very steeped in the 1980’s new wave. I probably would have loved it back then. I can totally hear Billy Idols “Eyes without a face’ in ‘Don’t do that to yourself’. Strangely enough, the music does not sound too different to that of the band called Japan formed by David Sylvian. Even the name bears an uncanny resemblance.

Clearly we both have a great interest in music. But I don’t want this to turn into an album review. And I cannot see to find video of Sylvester singing Kate Bush like I had intended to look at for performance artist research so just read quite a bit and looked at a lot of his staged photographs.

A lot are very moody. Very Bronek Kozka like (or the other way around). Even Gregory Crewdson and especially David la Chapelle. Is it fashion? Is it art? It is certainly art. His artwork titles are often profound, in that they are trivial.

I did find a good description of You Should Let Go Of A Dying Relationship (the Kate Bush (Wuthering Heights) and also David Bowie (Heroes) video I was researching. Sylvester performs these two tragic love songs silently, as mime, at a pitch of stylised hysteria. “The costuming was like a dare or gag, but the performance was demanding,” he recounts. “I rehearsed every night for six weeks, over and over again, to get the moves and the expressions absolutely right.”

So this is what I got from this extremely prolific artist. Everything is, or is like some other artist or musicians work, almost copied, sometimes appropriated. Yet somehow he has managed to carve out his own niche in the art world. This really heartens me because Im a great mimic if I need to, for a reason. And have a large variety of disciplines to draw from. And are pretty good at self-learning.

Sylvester is interesting and impressive just for the sheer diversity and amount of work. Of the 57 page NGV piece I looked at, 51 were the ‘sheet list’ of works. ‘Carve a future, devour everything, become something’. Indeed.

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