photographer sylvé colless on metamorphosis and female flesh

In her new show Aurelia, Sylvé turns to her lifelong interest in expression through nudity to explore change and transformation.

by Wendy Syfret
30 August 2016, 6:45am

Photography Sylvé Colless

In her new show Aurelia, photographer Sylvé Colless is thinking about transformation. She's teamed up with video artist Daniel Borgman and musician Kusum Normoyle to look at how we carry ideas of metamorphosis with us, and how these fixations play on our bodies and minds. For Sylvé, that specifically means looking at change: her intimate images of female nudity, appearing to hover suspended in the air, draw viewers into an insular world where only flesh exists. Here she is examining her own attempts to be at ease with the past, present and future, counterbalanced by Daniel's counterpoint installation on historical masculinity. 

We spoke to Sylvé about their work together, and how female nudity became her favourite form of self expression.

Were you always drawn to the idea of transformation?
My earlier shows were more focused around dualism, but my current show is more about exploring flow and evolution as a way of moving forward or making peace with the past. This show is deeply personal for me, and I hope through sharing the images and story that other people will find a connection on some level.

Do you see it as an expansion of that earlier work?
Each show feels like a chapter of something bigger. My earlier shows were influenced by the idea of the disparate forces within us and the possibility of finding a balance between them that allows us to exist, at least at times, in a state of harmony. This time I have been inspired by growth and change. I have been interested in these ideas since I was young.

When working on a series that is in many ways an extension of a previous train of thought, do you find yourself having to ask different questions?
Yes, this series offers new questions and has moved in a different direction for me. It's the series of images that is closest to me personally and as a result it has been a lot more challenging to talk about it. I set out with a very different intention. I wanted to make very subtle suggestions with the form and the feeling of the images to explore the themes in a very stripped-back environment where only the shape and texture of the body exists. So both technically and conceptually the show really differed from the previous shows.

It really is just your camera and these bodies, but in the show notes you talk about how light then becomes central. Do you mind elaborating on that?
One of my inspirations for the exhibition was the shape and colours of the butterfly chrysalis or Aurelia - the golden one. I wanted to draw the rich tones out of my images, so that they glowed in a metallic quality of light. For me this also suggests the connection between light and enlightenment.

The chrysalis again ties in nicely with the ideas of personal transformation. Your show is very much about the female experience, but it's joined by Daniel Borgman's installation on masculinity. How do the two play off each other?
Daniel and I talked a lot about how to create video images that are complementary to the stills I had shot. The solution we came up with was to balance the feminine with the masculine. Both the video and stills look at vulnerability and struggle.

Why did you decide to focus on women alone?
It started in high school when my images of naked female bodies wound up landing me in a lot of trouble! I had become really interested in feminine art and I was also kind of rebellious at the time, so I think I saw it as an opportunity to push some boundaries. But I felt my research and my approach justified my artwork. It wasn't a conscious decision but my interest grew from there. 


Aurelia runs till 16 September at Mild Manners in Sydney and is is supported by the RVCA Artist Network Program.


Text Wendy Syfret
Photography Sylvé Colless

Sylvè Colless