Melbourne-based artist Jane Brown exhibits a suite of photographs, remarkable in their use of light and formal lines in From light, forms, the current exhibition at Breenspace. The series of eight images, collectively titled Not Before Time, have a rich and far-away quality, which Brown achieves using a rare analogue printing technique. Each image is hand printed and toned onto fibre-based paper using aged film stock, allowing for aberrations to appear as the material itself begins to fade.
The result is, more than anything, cinematic. Almost totally devoid of figures, Brown’s images are nonetheless full of narrative; sets on which some great drama is set to play out. The content of these tales varies between scenes. There is the noir thriller unfolding in The Elizabeth Towers Hotel, Melbourne (2011-13), in which we glimpse the spiral staircase of a modernist building sitting gloomily between two ubiquitous stretches of flat façade.
In the parlour drama of Queenscliff Hotel, Victoria (2013), we are offered only an oblique view of a wide porch from a sitting room window, a beaten up old chair awaiting inhabitancy. The rough open plain life of the pioneer in The Bellarine Railway (2011-13) includes the only human incursion into the series; the peak of a railway worker’s cap in front of a great steam train promising vast distances and untold adventures.
There is a fantasy journey waiting to happen in the scene set amidst rows of dusty and forlorn old books in Decommissioned Art History Library, University of Melbourne (2012-13). It seems to be on the brink of revealing its secrets, as though a wise and wrinkled librarian may pop her head out from behind a shelf at any moment, whisking you into her forgotten literary world. It is these tales that give the show its character.
Formally, there’s plenty to enjoy as well. Brown’s strong use of lines – parallel, perpendicular, at angular cross-sections – and her mirroring of particular forms within the images both emphasise the beautiful use of light and shadow in the work. We see almost-but-never-quite blacks, a delicacy of shading presumably achieved by the unusual print technique. We see sublime skies, scarred with the aberrations this technique allows.
Not Before Time is complemented by three sculptural works by Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, which serve to break the revelry Brown’s images evoke and force us to once again situate ourselves in the gallery space, to look again at those formal elements of her work; line, light, shadow, form.
From light, forms, Wed to Fri 11am-6pm & Sat 11am-5pm, until 19 October 2013; Breenspace, Level 3, 17–19 Alberta St, Sydney, breenspace.com