Ian Burns is a clever guy. I first encountered his work in Melbourne two years ago at Anna Schwartz Gallery. The gallery was buzzing with excitement, not only in the form of oohs and aahs from rewarded gallery goers, but literally reverberating from the kinetic sculptural mechanisms that characterise the practice of this New York-based Australian artist. In his latest exhibition In The Telling, commissioned by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, the atmosphere is no different. Conversations are sparked amongst strangers as they share their realisations about the closed-circuit works. Each a discovery provoked by curiosity. Inquisitiveness is fundamental to Burns’ practice. He is quoted on the introductory wall text: "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". And provoke that impulse he does. Movement Image was the first to catch my attention as I entered the dimly lit space-cum-theatre of Gallery 2. Magnified glasses projected fragments of light bulb filaments onto the wall, forming a raw sequence of flashing text. Whilst the humming and whirring of Anywhere And Here was calling me on, I remained fixed.
The slow pace of the projected words forced me to calm myself, enabling total engagement. Each of the subsequent three works also demanded that sufficient time be spent with them. Such command from an artwork is becoming a rarity. In the catalogue interview with ACMI curator Ulanda Blair, Burns states how recent studies have revealed that the average time spent in front of an artwork has dropped in the last ten years from 27 seconds to just 5 seconds. This figure is a shocking reminder of the accelerated pace of life in our uber-techno society, not to mention our heightening levels of impatience. Burns allows the viewer to escape that reality and become lost in the magic of the moving image, if only for a minute or two. The artist’s Duchampian assemblages are composed of objects that range from wheelbarrows and picture frames to salad bowls and vinyl chairs. Despite their banality, the decontextualisation of each is unsettling. At a glance they appear to be simply tossed upon each other like garbage at the tip. Once approached however, it is clear that each object serves a specific purpose set in motion to produce the ever-familiar imagery of its title: Road-Movie.
The road movie is often synonymous with the coming-of-age story: think Bonnie and Clyde, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Into the Wild and On the Road. A typically young protagonist hits the road, abandoning all that is familiar on a journey of self-discovery in the search for freedom. That old cliché. Burns deconstructs this genre, breaking it down into four key components: the opening credits, the journey (with the nostalgic soundtrack of course), the series of obstacles overcome by the protagonist and lastly that wide, open road leading to nowhere but the horizon... and happiness, right? A single tyre spinning atop a treadmill sets the scene of a car zooming down the freeway (Route 101, Route 66, the Monash perhaps?) A rotating salad bowl forms the moving clouds. Was that a plane flying up above? In his interview with Blair, Burns argues that “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”. An exploration of contemporary (moving) image making, the exhibition can be seen simultaneously as a critique anda celebration. It depicts a journey but also takes its audience-participants on a journey. Got a spare 27 seconds? 27 minutes even? Make the time or risk being late for your following appointment. Ian Burns commands your attention. Ian Burns: In the Telling Australian Centre for the Moving ImageExhibition dates: 24 July 2012 – 20 January 2013 Open daily 10am – 6pm (closed Christmas day) Admission free