What: Ian Burns
Where: Anna Schwartz Gallery, 185 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
When: 29 July – 28 August 2010
How: Pull open the door

After walking up the pristine concrete steps of one of the most highly regarded and prestigious contemporary art galleries that is the Anna Schwartz Gallery, I make my very first Melbourne art world faux-pas. I pushed open the glass door.

Now, I am pretty sure that everyone who’s anyone in the Melbourne art world knows that one does not push the glass door at Anna Schwartz, one pulls. Once inside, I had to quickly re-position the doormat that I had unintentionally displaced as a result of opening the door the wrong way. I quickly look around me. Phew, no one saw.

As Ali and I entered the main gallery, I was greeted by a warm sense of familiarity. I had not recognised the name Ian Burns prior to visiting this exhibition, but I recognised the work immediately. It was the same artist that caught my attention at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and I got crazy excited.

Ian Burns - Adam, 2010

Adam, 2010
Found object kinetic sculpture, live video and audio
159 x 70 x 60 cm
Courtesy of Anna Schwartz Gallery

Encountering an Ian Burns sculpture goes a little something like this. From afar, the sculpture looks like a cluster of junk that you might find sitting on your nature strip on hard rubbish day. As you walk closer you realise that bits of it move, it’s making strange noises and there’s stuff on a TV screen! Your eye is drawn immediately to the TV that displays a shimmering diamond encrusted skull with white disco lights moving over it at a slow speed. You watch it for a few seconds and you think to yourself “If Damien Hirst and Alexander McQueen ever had a baby, it might be this.”

Five seconds later that day, your mind begins to wander and you question why the TV is attached to such a strange assemblage of ugly random objects. Your curiosity compels you to step around the sculpture and examine it closely. You find correlating visuals and the mystery is slowly unravelled before your eyes. Is it… no, it can’t be… really? Then it suddenly clicks. That incredibly convincing image of shiny, shiny diamonds on the telly was merely an illusion. An illusion created right in front of you, live, by a bunch of old chairs, a $2 shop disco ball, a cloth with a picture of a skull on it, some fluorescent lights, and a tiny webcam.

How can I describe the feeling? It is like being shown an amazing magic trick and then to have someone whisper in your ear how it was done. It is like having these glamorous impressions of Hollywood Boulevard and then finding it lined with tacky souvenir stores, sex shops and tour buses. It was such an anti-climax, yet I was in awe of how easily we can be led to believe in something that isn’t real.

Ian Burns - Well Read, 2010

Well Read, 2010
Found object kinetic sculpture, live video and audio
138 x 105 x 97 cm
Courtesy of Anna Schwartz Gallery

The exhibition had about eight of these kinetic sculptures made from your everyday run-off-the-mill found objects, each creating its own unique illusion displayed on television screens. From mops to squeegees, second hand boogie boards to old shop mannequins; this was garage sale heaven.

There was one that we particularly loved called Well Read. It featured a record player playing “Endless Road” by the Time Bandits. The spinning record rotated the wheels of a toy car. A Ken doll sits coolly inside it, with one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the window. A blue plastic chair forms the backdrop that completed a forgery of scenes on the television screens below that looked like they had been ripped right out of some Californian beach film. The objects used for this were so down right mundane yet the television screens elevated them into untouchable Hollywood glory, at the same time evoking powerful feelings of nostalgia and freedom in the viewer.

Ian Burns exhibition at Anna Schwartz

The television screens presented charming images that subscribe to the nuances of pop culture and seeing the sculpture as a whole provokes us to think about the deceptiveness and pretence of mass media. As negative as this may sound, Burns’ work is never pessimistic or downbeat. It is actually quite humourous in its irony and I found the entire exhibition completely mesmerising. The sumptuous pop imagery on the screens and the incredibly complex and messy sculptures created a visual excess that I just could not get enough of. Like a drug, I was left craving for more.

What I took from his work is that we should take everything we experience with a grain of salt, yet at the same time we have the freedom to choose whether or not we want to be fooled by things, whichever made us feel better. For those few seconds that my eyes lay on Burns’ little television screens, I chose to let him pull on my heartstrings, believe for a moment what I am seeing, and be completely wrapped up his faux imagery of freedom, fame, money, beauty and youth.

I walked out of the main gallery feeling absolutely overwhelmed. I have not seen such a mind-blowing show for a long time. Flustered, I repeat my faux-pas at the very same glass door that we came in. This time both of the gallery assistants saw and had the most horrified look on their faces as I quickly kicked the doormat back into place. It was time to leave… quickly!!

2 thoughts on “Fool me, Ian Burns

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