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FuturE GrEAtS
Ian Burns by Jonathan T.D. Neil
It was a matter of bad timing. On the day we finally managed to make it out to Ian Burns’s studio last spring, almost all of
the work had disappeared to art fairs in France and Switzerland, or to shows in Spain, Ireland and Italy. The studio was not
empty, mind you. Scattered among piles of repurposed wood and wires lay various aborted attempts at new pieces or the
cannibalised remains of previous ones. But there was nothing ‘finished’, for which the artist kept apologising.
As compensation Burns began describing, or rather demonstrating, the seed idea for what would become Ice
(Version 3): Ode to Lady Jane (2007), a wall-bound ‘kinetic sculpture’ (a limited label, as we will see) that produces a scene
which appears to be shot off the bow of an icebreaker as it bobs on gentle Arctic swells. “You could see that looking like an
iceberg, couldn’t you?” he asked, pointing a tiny closed-circuit spy camera at a white plastic bag, the now environmentally
vilified kind common to New York City’s bodegas. And indeed, at that moment, looking at the video feed on a nearby
monitor, I found it difficult to think of anything else that could quite so easily ‘look like’ an iceberg at all.
This kind of mimesis is central to Burns’s art, and it’s most effective when live video feeds play a role in rendering, or
representing, his scenes of reality. This was the case when I first encountered the artist’s work in late 2005. Even then I
thought that the diorama works which produced various animated shadow plays remained too couched in, and clockwise from below left: Sanitary
comfortable with, their own ‘contraption-ness’. But the scenes of motion that appeared on the monitors – driving in Here
Gesture, 2007, overhead projector, hand
sanitiser, changed daily by gallery staff,
in My Car (2005), flying in 15 Hours (2005) – achieved something else. At the time, I understood these scenes to arise out dimensions variable; Ice (Version 3):
of so many different ‘reality effects’, those seemingly insignificant details by and through which mimesis operates. But now
Ode to Lady Jane, 2007, mixed-media
kinetic sculpture producing live video and
I see these reality effects in turn as a subcategory of what I understand to be Burns’s engagement with assemblage – that audio feed, 185 x 478 cm; End of an Era,
is, with assemblage as a concept, and most definitely not as a style.
2007, 16 black & white televisions, mixed-
media sculpture producing live video feed,
Thus what those earlier pieces and what Ice (Version 3) or Himalayas (2007) or Pinnacle (2007) demonstrate is how dimensions variable; The Way We Know It
mimesis arises as an emergent property of Burns’s art, an ontological reality that is separate and distinct from any part of
– Surrounded Islands (Version 1) - Keep it
clean and organized, 2007, mixed-media
the apparatus itself. And though it may seem counterintuitive at first, this is exactly what connects Burns to independent kinetic sculpture producing live video and
filmmakers and artists such as Ken Jacobs, Tony Conrad and Anthony McCall, whose efforts from the late 1960s and 70s
audio feed, 127 x 127 x 71 cm. All images:
photo: Etienne Fossard, courtesy Spencer
have been labelled ‘paracinematic’, but which we know, more simply, as avant-garde. Brownstone Gallery, New York
Artreview 92
FUTURE~1.INDD 92 11/2/08 12:24:08
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