Notable grants: Darren Sylvester - Art Collector

Issue 67, January - March 2014

This profile appeared in the Notable Grants feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2014.

Darren Sylvester on his dancefloor work For You. Photo: Janelle Low.

Grant: Australia Council for the Arts New Work Grant and a VicHealth Grant.

As a child of the contemporary period, Melbourne-based Darren Sylvester is among those artists for whom a static material identity is something of an outmoded curio; a tattered flag flown for an art world long passed.

As such it would be wrong to refer to Sylvester as a photographer, even though he first gained recognition for his highly-staged photographic portraits. They pictured the beautiful people for whom the endless possibilities of the modern world seemed to only compound the unbearable weight of their existential malaise.
Since then Sylvester has layered his approach. The almost painful yearning for “something more” that characterised his photographs has remained, yet its forms of expression have multiplied. In the process he seems to have accepted that the endless surface that forms the unbreakable veneer of contemporary life might in fact hold its own kind of content.

This is true for Sylvester’s current project
For You, an ambitious new work commissioned for the sprawling and equally ambitious National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) exhibition, Melbourne Now. Supported by funding from VicHealth and an Australia Council for the Arts New Work Grant, For You consists of a radically decontextualized dance floor that brings the disco into the museum. In an oft-repeated trope familiar from the currents of relational art that wash around the global art world the viewer is invited – in this case through dancing – to become participant.

For you, Sylvester is aiming squarely for a certain warmth. He wants to provide a space in which audiences can “get away from it all”; a kind of still point where, if you are lucky, you might forget you are in a gallery entirely. An accomplished musician in his own right, Sylvester has collaborated with fellow musicians Conrad Standish of Standish/Carlyon and James Cecil of Super Melody (producer of Sylvester’s recent album) to write a unique soundtrack for the work. In this way he aims to tightly calibrate the emotional tone of the piece, and tease out its unabashed nostalgia for the great pop music of the 1970s and 1980s.

The dance floor’s flashing colors will be equally deliberate: Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) has granted Sylvester permission to convert its current make-up range into RGB profiles which have been used as the dance floor’s inner lights. As Sylvester has noted, this careful selection of colours is underscored by YSL’s decades of market research. He expects that, just as YSL lipsticks make people look and feel great, so too will his dance floor.

For You is a complex work, Sylvester notes that a simple intent underscores it. He hopes that all who enter the gallery will be compelled to “get on the floor”. If they do he has gone as far as guaranteeing that “they will smile and maybe even dance”. On exhibition at the NGV from the 22 November 2013 until the 23 March 2014, audiences will have ample opportunity to test Sylvester’s theory.

Quentin Sprague

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