Photographer Jane Burton and her husband and filmmaker Fabrice Bigot recently purchased a new television. Standing in the corner of their living room, it is black and glossy, and its high-resolution display is jarringly sharp. But that’s the problem.
The artists, whose film Là-Bas [Down There] will be projected onto the walls of the Degraves Street Subway space – a tunnel under Flinders Street – as part of White Night Melbourne, crave the imperfect, flawed images of the pre-high definition age.
“We’re not into that type of clarity,” says Burton, a Melbourne-based artist whose work is held by institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria, and in private collections throughout the country. “I don’t aspire to slick, or sharp. I’m always chasing mood and atmosphere.”
In fact, Burton has eschewed the use of digital cameras throughout her career, and her upcoming April exhibition, In Other Bodies, features photos made with a pinhole camera – essentially, a box with a hole in it.
“You can’t look through a viewfinder,” Burton says. “You just have this box that you point at the subject and you hope for the best.”
For more than 20 years, Burton has explored female sexuality and psychology. Her photos often feature a nude female whose head is shrouded, and uncanny urban landscapes. Her photography has been described as ethereal, nostalgic and melancholic. But her images are also about elation, she says, and a “sense of the sublime.”
Là-Bas, the film she made with Bigot, certainly evokes this. Shot in one afternoon, Là-Bas is a 4-minute and 40-second black and white film that depicts the silhouettes of a woman and man, seemingly naked and separated by a shower screen. At times the figures seem to move in tandem; at other times they gesticulate independently of one another. As the artists point out, it’s unclear if both figures are real, or if one is simply the figment of the other’s imagination – a memory or a dream or a desire.
Burton and Bigot, who met at a dinner party in Paris, made the film during an artist residency in China in 2012. Beijing’s brutal summer heat meant there were times when they simply couldn’t leave their apartment.
The film was a response to “being in this gritty, alien, isolating city, and feeling a sense of oppression and claustrophobia,” Burton says. “We had this really interesting bathroom and I kept thinking – ‘I must use this’.” Tiled in black with an industrial pipe running around its perimeter, “it was really quite bleak.”
The shower is “a psychological space,” she says. It is a space where a person can be at their most vulnerable, both Burton and Bigot point out. There’s nowhere to escape. At the same time, “you’re alone but you’re cocooned, so you’re safe to experience and reflect and dream, and wash away something you don’t want to do deal with.”
Là-Bas will be showing at Campbell Arcade at 8 Degraves Street, Melbourne from 7pm to 7am on Saturday February 22.
Jane Burton’s In Other Bodies at the Karen Woodbury Gallery at Level 1, 167 Flinders Lane, Melbourne from April 2 until May 3.
For more on White Night Melbourne for 2014, see our 12-hour dream itinerary here.