For several years Ian Burns has created sculptures assembled from an assortment of everyday objects which take on new resonance as live video feeds. The artist responds to our often passive acceptance of media imagery by constructing makeshift viewing apparatuses that invite us to discover how the image is created backstage. He chooses affordable consumer goods and transforms disparate materials into functioning systems like an amateur inventor; this should come as no surprise given Burns’s training in engineering. The artist’s ‘trademark’ is the trompe l’oeil video image where elaborate constructions created from any number of disparate objects coalesce into a realistic image when fed to a video monitor via a small camera. The viewer is confronted by a low-tech special effects studio which showcases not only the image in its final state, but the wonderfully clumsy means that the artist employs to create that image.
Down under where … includes tables, an ironing board, fans, cooking spatulas, lighting, carved plastic, a Barbie doll, two video cameras and two video monitors, among other objects. The ironing board supports two video monitors that relay images based on diorama-like assemblages anchored to upside-down tables located beneath. Anchored to one table is a children’s play-landscape carpet on which a carved plastic rendition of Uluru is attached (actually carved from a cutting board). A video camera is trained on the carving and the live video image is transferred to the video monitor, which presents an image of the Australian icon. A fan blows onto a plastic cup (not visible in the video image) and the turbulence generated inside the vessel generates an ambient soundtrack mimicking the sound of desert wind.
The other sculptural tableau consists of a Barbie doll attached to the table by cooking spatulas. On the table, folds of fabric have been arranged to simulate a sandy beach. A video camera is also trained on this arrangement and relayed to a video monitor, which presents an image of a woman’s legs as if the subject is reclining on a beach. An oscillating fan creates the sound of crashing waves and a mechanised blue scroll located in the rear of the diorama creates the illusion of water in the video image.
In Down under where … Burns asks us to question the often simplistic notions that inform our sense of place. This clever work presents two iconic representations of the Australian landscape: Uluru and the surrounding desert, as well as the popular image of the Australian beach. Humorously, both tableaux featured in the sculpture have been created upside down, as if to comment on Australia’s antipodal geography.
By imploring us to carefully examine how images of Australia are literally created in the context of the work on view, Burns invites us to look more deeply into the contrived images that confront us regularly regarding our sense of place and national identity – from tourism advertisements to Hollywood film. In his balance of sculptural form and video image, he has explored a variety of topics including the War on Terrorism and the horrific treatment of Iraqi prisoners, as well as less politically charged issues.
Alex Baker, Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, NGV (in 2010)