Derek Sargent’s multidisciplinary practice investigates themes of adolescent sexuality and identity within the formative years of development. By reinterpreting space and objects and subverting popular culture material, his work is motivated by queer theory and the exploration of reinforced standards in gender and sexual roles. Sargent disrupts seemingly hetero structures by reworking this imagery to formulate a statement on the lack of adolescent homosexuality representation in mainstream media.
Sargent’s practice is informed by a number of historical and contemporary modules. He notes Michael Warner as a source of inspiration as the first queer theorist to coin the term ‘heteronormative’—a belief in people falling into distinct genders that align with ‘natural’ biological roles in sexuality and identity.
Gay and lesbian studies are a relatively recent construction, with the term ‘queer’ taking on different levels of value in society. From its origins as a slang term for homosexual (both in a positive and negative sense), 'queer' now represents the culmination of marginalised self-identifications. The term itself is widely distributed yet it still remains unaligned to a specific identity, aiding its use across a number of considerations. The ‘product’ of this contextualisation of queer culture is an amalgamation of gender, identity, and homosexual studies that emphasises the incompatibilities between these theories and heterosexuality in current society.
Allure Me, 2015, a solo presentation of Sargent’s at Project Space, Contemporary Art Centre of SA, is an immersive installation of multimedia and sculptural works indicative of the artist’s research into subverting mainstream media into suggestive environments of desire. Sargent explores sexuality through images of adolescent boys merged with steel sculptures that bend with refinement and purpose. The penetration of tightly wound fluorescent thread juxtaposes masculine and feminine ideals to counteract established stereotypes. The work is forceful, overwhelming, and almost unbearable in scale if not for the imagery of tenderness between the young. Sargent presents a series of reflective, sincere ‘moments’ that reveal an honest portrayal of masculinity stripped of prescribed meaning.
Presented at Fontanelle Gallery in 2014, I Wish I Could Be You is an 8-channel video and sculpture installation that envelops the space with moving images from nostalgic and contemporary feature films, punctured by fluid, steel forms. The film footage is sharp and fleeting, void of its original context, leaving the viewer with only a sense of the characters' intentions. Its luminosity and quick pace flash across the room, maintaining its voyeuristic stance whilst creating a kind of restlessness in the space. We’re given only a short glimpse into these beguiling human relationships, stimulating a heightened sense of allure and mystery.
Through sculpture, installation, photography, and moving image Sargent constructs interactive and suggestive environments that confound and obstruct archetypal readings of hetero and homosexual descriptions within pop culture media. Through the lens of queer culture, his artwork motivates audiences to reread heteronormative media. His practice revisits personal experiences sited around current motivations within gender and sexuality theory. His work questions our relationships, regardless of any particular sexual orientation, focusing rather on our shared understanding of attraction, yearning, and connection.
Text by Rayleen Forester, independent curator and arts writer, Adelaide.
2016 – Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarship
2013 – Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours), First Class, South Australian School of Art
2012 – Bachelor of Visual Arts (Specialisation Sculpture), South Australian School of Art
Artist's website: www.dereksargent.com.au