press release

In her book, On Photography, Susan Sontag famously described the responces of interviewed suvivors of a plane crash; one on-camera interviewee stated that the terrifying experience had been so real that it was just like watching, or more acutely, like actually being in a movie.

This complex phenoneological perception of, responce to, or determination of ‘reality’ is at the core of Ian Burns’s work. All of Burns’s (born Australia, lives and works New York) practice over the past decade has, to differing degrees, interrogated the screen image, its construction and representation of truth - lens veritas - creating fictional worlds, wherein the elements are more real (in the sense Sontag illustrates above) than those found in the natural world. Burns brilliantly alights upon moments of movie cliché, triggering the viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief, wherein we readily jump to visual assumptions, alchemically transmuting plastic bags into mountains or pitching seas and scuffed motorised wine glasses into passing air, mist and intagible atmospherics, disco balls into dabbled starlight.

Burns, who studied both as an engineer and artist, brings his engineering background to bear on his highly inventive and darkly humorous mechanized sculptural installations (or what can be more prosaically described as closed-circuit kinetic sculptures which generate live-feed digital video footage and audio). His works commonly employ everyday objects and the simplest of means, to re-create highly dramatic faux-cinematic visualizations. The scenarios generated by Burns’s machines, and broadcast to flat screens mounted directly on the sculptures, or adjacent walls, frequently feature life-changing (or even life-ending) moments of filmicly sublime, fake awe and wonder. Weather moves across monumental mountain ranges, the sunsets over a tropical sea, volcanoes erupt, areoplanes travail through turbulent skies or fly over desolate, post-disastor emptied lanscapes. More recently Burns has turned his attention to the notional specifics of geographic place, with both the physical sculptural componants of the video-generating machines and the resultant image relating to an idea of place. Recent works made and exhibited in Australia featured constructional and depictive elements of iconic Australiana, a major example of which, Down under, where… (2008) being acquired for a national museum collection. Similarly, while in Dublin, Burn’s has tuned his sculptural antenna into Irish cultural kitsch…

Burns’ installations are also becoming increasingly self-contained and sculpturally self-aware, with the constructional elements chosen for dramatic irony and comic bathos. Burns considers the equation whereby the more ‘pathetic’ the sculptural components used to generate the awe-inspiring video and audio footage and feed, the more the resultantly ‘grandiose’ imagery is questioned or undermined.

But one should not just assume that Burns is merely concerened with kitsch or visual trickery, nor that his agenda illustrates or underscores Bourriaud’s notion that artistic activety is a complex game whose forms and functions evolve according to historical periods and social contexts. These are of unquestionable relevance to Burns’s artistic concerns, but even his trangressive side-swipes at production values and pretention do not cloud the central issue that his work displays extraodinary rare zeitgist. It is constructed of elements of its time, producing images from its time and making comments upon not only its time, but on the nature of time itself. Burns transforms and manipulates found materials in a search of a relavant hybrid form of expression outside of established expectations to reflexively comment upon them.

Ian Burns exhibits extensively, clocking up more than 35 important international shows in the past few years. Recent exhibitions include The Dell Gallery, Griffith University, Brisbane, a solo presentation at The Melbourne Art Fair (represented by Mother’s tankstation), the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main; Spencer Brownstone Gallery, New York; Espacio Minimo, Madrid and Hilger Contemporary,Vienna. Burns work has notably been included in major survey exhibitions such as; ‘New York: States of Mind’ at The House of World Cultures, Berlin, and the Queens’ Museum, ‘StereoVision’ at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, The Torino Trienalle, (2005) and ‘Greater New York’ at PS1/MoMA in 2005, which brought him to general critical prominence. His work has been recently acquired for the collections of the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

Ian Burns is a 2008 New York Foundation for the Arts, Fellow in Video.

Ian Burns
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