New York based, Australian artist Ian Burns brings his inventive sensibility to bear in his latest ‘meta-cinematic’ exhibition, In the Telling. Presenting a network of closed-circuit kinetic sculptures that work together to create live video footage inside the gallery, In the Telling invites audiences to suspend their disbelief and behold a moment of cinematic cliché and excess.
ACMI curator Ulanda Blair spoke to Ian Burns in the lead up to the exhibition.
UB: In the Telling explores contemporary consumer culture. You have used mass-produced, domestic objects to create cinematic scenes that are likewise part of mass culture. How did you choose your materials for this project?
IB: I always have a narrative in mind before I start. This narrative directs the sort of objects I look for when developing my sculptures. For this exhibition I was thinking about the modular nature of much contemporary image-making, such as the software kits that videogame designers and animators use when constructing their virtual landscapes and scenarios. In this exhibition I was also making ‘virtual’ images, but by real-world means. For In the Telling I have used various prefabricated objects that fold, collapse and are transportable, as well as objects made for the DIY design and renovation market.
UB: Your convoluted objects appear to set technology against itself. Rather than adhering to the prescribed logic of modern technology, you improvise and repurpose it in absurd and ridiculous ways. What is the role of technology in your art?
IB: Contemporary technology overvalues invisibility in the delivery of the screen-based image. I find this a bit sinister. For me, this cult of the virtual is often the antithesis of the embodied experience that art viewing, when at its richest, is often about. The structure that supports the contemporary screen is not just a technological one, but a social and political one. I try to emphasise technological presence in my work, not just to relish its possibilities but to also expose its limitations and flaws.
UB: I enjoy the way you slow down the audience’s consumption of televisual imagery. Can you tell me about the physicality of your objects and the audience experience of your work?
IB: I value the power of curiosity. Like the eighteenth-century philosophers Rousseau and Burke, I see curiosity as the first of all passions. I believe that by provoking the investigative impulse in the viewer there is scope to challenge their expectations and self awareness.
Ten years ago a study suggested that the average time spent in front of an artwork was around 27 seconds, which was then considered to be a ridiculously short period. A more recent study places this timeframe at around 5 seconds. Contemporary technology has made it all too easy to devour moving images, and to move on quickly. My work tries to subvert this viewing efficiency. I try to deconstruct and expose viewer expectations, frustrating their desire to sit back and wait for a narrative to play out.
UB: The moving images in this exhibition are all inspired by the road movie. The road movie typically addresses themes of freedom and escapism, of disrupting normal behaviours and of embracing change. Is there a reason why you chose to explore the road movie genre for this project?
IB: I think the road movie genre has been so powerful over the last few decades because it offers this kind of a belief in the possibility of change. I would also say that in doing this, it provides no real impetus in that direction. These days Route 66 is mostly a dull multi-lane highway, with franchise chain outlets spaced at regular and frequent intervals, yet the mythology developed around it leads to traffic jams of travellers believing that a trip down its tarmac will lead to enlightenment. In my mind, the genre has served far more commercial ends than it has ever enabled a particular individual’s personal growth.
The dominant clichés of the road movie have come to define image consumption as metaphoric of consumer culture. In the Telling uses these fetishised images to deconstruct the simple mythologies that cinematic language often relies upon.
UB: Is making your own work something you get pleasure out of? Is it something you need to do?
IB: Like most artists I continue to be somewhat amazed by the power and freedom of the studio process. It is a unique kind of research. The artist’s studio is one of those rare places where knowledge can grow and investigations can continue, unhindered by pre-established practical goals. This can give great pleasure and cause great frustration. I cannot say if I ‘need’ to make my work, but there is a never ending and addictive ‘what if’ to studio practice that continues to draw me in. Things happen in the studio environment that continue to surprise and fascinate me.
Ian Burns is an Australian artist based in New York. In recent years he has held solo exhibitions in Dublin, Vienna, St. Louis, New York, Melbourne, Paris and Madrid. Group exhibitions include the Liege Biennial in Belgium (2012), the Anne Landa Award at the Art Gallery of NSW (2011) and Housebroken at the Flux Factory, New York (2010). Burns’ work is included in a number of public collections, including the Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; the Berge Collection, Spain; the Chartwell Collection, Auckland; and the 21C Museum, Louisville, Kentucky. Burns is a current recipient of a Queensland College of Art, Griffith University Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship.
Ian Burns is represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery, and mother’s tankstation, Dublin.