Announcing the third commissioned artist for STAGES: photography through the pandemic

Artist profile: Jane Burton

Art Announcement from Australia. Published by Monash Gallery of Art on Tuesday 18 August 2020.

Announcing the third commissioned artist for STAGES: photography through the pandemic image Announcing the third commissioned artist for STAGES: photography through the pandemic image Announcing the third commissioned artist for STAGES: photography through the pandemic image

For almost thirty years, Jane Burton has sustained a profoundly poetic practice, suffused with a deep melancholy, a fascination with mortality and the natural world alongside her interest in feminine desire.

  • Nominated by:
  • Helen Frajman
  • Director M.33

Nominator’s statement:

For almost thirty years, Jane Burton has sustained a profoundly poetic practice, suffused with a deep melancholy, a fascination with mortality and the natural world alongside her interest in feminine desire. In these days of turmoil, fear and uncertainty when so much of our lives have been focussed on the concrete and practical, we need more than ever to maintain a connection with our imagination, our psyche, our interior selves.

- Helen Frajman

Artist’s practice statement:

My work has for a long time explored mortality, female desire, isolation and loneliness within a personal lived experience. These explorations have been played out in domestic spaces, in the landscape and within suggested psychological realms, through an ambiguous kind of story telling. The imagined photographic stories are subjective ones, dreamt up by myself, but they do speak to a wider human consciousness. I am very aware of myself – alone – in the world. This is comprehended with varying degrees of acceptance and sadness, or ambivalence. By taking photographs – always on location in the real world – I attempt to seep into environments that are foreign to me: environments sometimes desirable, sometimes dangerous or disturbing, even banal. It is a means to break through a proximate membrane of self into otherness; to find a way into connectivity with others.

I have very often imaged this desire for psychological immersion within the motif of a window, which acts as a kind of portal or liminal threshold between planes of existence – not towards an after-life, but towards a deeper experience of self and one’s place in the world. These thresholds, often veiled with curtains, allude to worlds hidden, mysterious and unseen; to theatrical play and to feminine display and concealment.

In the last months of the pandemic I have felt my isolation, and that of others, more profoundly. I have not enthusiastically embraced online or virtual connection, rather I have felt closer to people by encountering them – at distance – in the streets around where I live and work. Because most of us have been recently home-based, there is a greater sense of one’s immediate community. This has been an unexpected comfort. And it has prompted me to look closer to home as a way to tell stories.

- Jane Burton

Artist’s proposal:

My recent pictures have depicted closed-up shop windows by night, their interiors and contents lit with ethereal light. Like a moth I’m drawn to the glow of light in the dark; drawn to the promise of what lies within – contents always out of reach that I can only gaze upon. I understand on reflection that these windows, for me, operate as metaphor for the promise of the unattainable and unknowable.

The desire to enter a world that is withheld during the time of the pandemic is what I wish to continue to explore through photographic stills. I propose to discover shop windows and photograph them at night. I will be searching for windows that are theatrically and atmospherically illuminated and which display characteristics or contents that evoke something of the uncanny. I will seek glass vitrines that seduce the eyes, arouse curiosity and recall formal taxonomies in an old museum.

I will photograph these windows with a medium format camera so that I can produce large-scale photographs with fine detail – the detail a record of this period – of what we desire, or need, or discard. (I’m particularly drawn to windows of opportunity shops for their eclectic displays featuring every example of cultural taste).

I have long been compelled to document places that are in threat of disappearance: a very real possibility in the wake of the pandemic – many businesses will not make it; many leases will not be renewed.

The words of Louis Aragon have a particular resonance for me here, when writing in ‘Le Paysan de Paris’ (1926) of the destruction of the shops of the Passage de l’Opera, he described them as “the secret repositories of several modern myths… sanctuaries of the cult of the ephemeral, places that were incomprehensible yesterday, and that tomorrow will never know”.

- Jane Burton

About the commission

Responding to the unprecedented social, environmental and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic on Australian artists and society at large, Monash Gallery of Art has commissioned five artist projects.

Photographers image the spaces between us, whether physical or psychological, be it through portraits or landscapes, within the domestic sphere or the public realm. The significance of work and leisure routines and the liberty of everyday behaviours we take for granted is never better understood than when the right and ability to do them is taken away.

STAGES: photography through the pandemic will see Jane Burton, Cherine Fahd, Phuong Ngo, Van Sowerine + Isobel Knowles, and James Tylor respond creatively to the unprecedented social, environmental and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The resulting bodies of work will feature in online and gallery-based exhibition outcomes as part of MGA’s Luminaries exhibition series in 2021. A selection of the commissioned works will also join the MGA Collection to contribute to the cultural record of this time.