Sholto Buck is a Scorpio. Whilst I am tempted to begin and end this piece here, this may or may not mean anything to anyone.
Buck’s work as an artist and writer has long been infused with a scorpio sensibility. Scorpios are, according to the preeminent astrological publication that is Cosmopolitan, the “zodiac’s enigma”. They are the clandestine ones and passionate ones; the wave’s crest that crashes down with both delicious emotion and absinthe-like sting. Buck has a particular talent for communicating this subjectivity in his work.
Whilst his writing is queerly candid and devastating his photography is more diaphanous. In past, Buck has explored queer ecology and belonging in a mise-en-scène of overcast greys, swimming pools and lank trees, with these being familiar but not suffocating. So, when I remind you that Buck Buck is a Scorpio, what I mean to say is that he knows how to deftly hold you at arm’s length.
Surfaces Without Shadows is a dialogue between Buck and the late French writer-photographer Hervé Guibert. As Paul Sehgal describes in his recent New York Times article, Guibert was a figure bound to the violent and profane dimensions of queer desire. “[Guibert’s] candor,” notes Sehgal, “can be so extreme as to feel like provocation, and his love of provocation can tip into outré pornography.” His body of writing is more graphic than Buck’s work might tease and Ghost Image, the essay collection that Buck has studied here, is a treatise on the erotica of photography and photographic failure.
Surfaces traces what Guibert describes as the significance of unrealised, missed, or failed photographs. A moment lost to unwound film. A memory muted by dark room error; a corruption of proof that photographic evidence might otherwise provide. Hence the writing, then: a record of the unrecorded and therein proof of failure.
Buck’s exhibition comprises thirty photographs of handwritten passages from Ghost Image. These are not accidental or coincidental figures on a grey plane, nor excerpts chosen at random. These are tokens of cursory, sometimes opaque desire lounging on the page. There is a narrative or curatorial style to these selections. I’m reminded somewhat of Duane Michals’ Dr. Heisenberg’s Magic Mirror of Uncertainty (1998) with its witty play on imperfect reflections and handwritten marginalia. In Surfaces, phrases dip below a creased horizon whilst others dodge carceral shadow. Some sentences trail off one plane of folded paper into the next and shifts in the light reveal the fine textures of their canvas. The tails of each ‘y’ and ‘g’—even some lucky ‘j’s’—flit off into the next letter like damselflies.
As the use of pencil suggests, these are drawings in logo form addressed to an unknowable lover or preludes to midnight escapes that dance across purposeful landscapes. The folded paper and use of focus begets vital depth and sense of place. Whereas Buck’s earlier works, particularly his 2018 art book Forest of Ladders, have played with a collage of location and text Surfaces achieves the ‘fictive space’ of Guibert’s memory by creating space through the subject itself. Buck manages to lend tremendous volume to the text whilst carefully excising its weight—sublimating the pornographic flavour of his muse in favour of a wistful flatness as if we were staring into a fog-lit morning. More so than just drawings though, these are photographs of drawings. The layering that Buck explores here references the lovely failure of Guibert’s own Ghosts. These are epithets by way of aphorism; a careful stacking of dislocations and losses otherwise unknown.
Buck himself described this interplay best to me, noting the shared “image making capacities” of photography and writing. He suggested that one could account for the limitations of the other—that the two, together, could offer a fragile opportunity to know another’s life. Buck’s marriage of Guibert’s text with his photography reveals a crisis of this intimacy. Here we have a matryoshka of want and lack: Guibert’s prose by way of Buck’s hand by way of his eye, by way of your own.
I find myself lingering on this erotic transfer given the context of Surfaces. Here, Guibert is invited into a fausse réunion by Buck’s stylistic choices.
Freud highlighted a very human need to connect when describing erotic transference. He suggested that within the synthetic confines of the therapeutic relationship, with its boundaries and ethics and expectations of conduct, the therapist and client might realise something meaningful. That is, the therapist might embody a historic lack in the client’s life—their artificial relationship scaffolding a ‘real’ relationship wherein an unconscious desire might arise.
At face value, Buck’s selection of Guibert’s prose is an academic exercise used to construct a shared sensibility (accounting for shared failure). Within this artifice of selection and curation, we imagine the possibility of erotic transfer: by choosing these passages Buck reveals a metaphorical desire for Guibert’s ‘body-parts’. In this, Buck takes Guibert’s ‘body’ (of work) and lays it out; he adorns it with his eye and his hand and proposes a real, sensuous relationship between his form and Guibert’s. In doing so the text becomes the analogous subject of Buck’s erotic transfer. It is his lack; a longing for Guibert bound by the formalism of choice, capture, and exhibition, making Guibert’s body a part of his own through signifying a sexual exchange.
The secret therein, is the ghost of this pairing: the failure of Buck and Guibert’s ‘love’, as in many queer loves, to breathe and be real beyond this imperfect archive.
HAMISH MCINTOSH is a queer, Pākehā artist and dance researcher based in Naarm Melbourne, Australia. Originally from Whakatū, Aotearoa New Zealand, he graduated from the New Zealand School of Dance in 2015 with a specialisation in contemporary dance. In 2017, he completed a PGDip and Masters of Dance Studies at The University of Auckland in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. McIntosh is currently undertaking his PhD(Dance) at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. His research and creative praxis draws on queer theory to understand queer populations and meanings within dance, with particular interest paid to notions of the Self, queer subjectivity, materiality, and sexuality.