Born in Newcastle, Australia
Resides in Queens, New York
Our world is one of peripherals and devices, gadgets and machines. For every part of the daily routine, there is an app, a digital assistant, or an invention created to automate or ease even the most menial of tasks. Though we may not appear as the amalgam beings represented in the cyborgs of science fiction literature and film, the human experience is now inextricably linked to a cadre of virtual and mechanical processes. Ian Burns highlights this connection through sculptural constructions and time-based works. Working with found objects and carefully-sourced parts, his intricate machinations question the ways in which we view art, technology, and the invisible systems that support our daily lives.
Burns takes note of our everyday reliance on objects and initiates a new awareness of this relationship. Taken out of their useful context, each commodity is reinvigorated through careful juxtaposition with other elements. Interested in the impact of technology on society, Burns endeavors to strip away the prescribed uses of everything from keyboards to alarm clocks to satellite dishes by constructing amalgam systems that function only tangentially to the original application. Often resembling something akin to a Rube-Goldberg machine, Burns’ sculptures integrate kinetic motion with video and audio to create fully-immersive experiences. Rather than remain static objects, works like Blender (2014) actively interact with the environment. Using a timing system, Burns is able to create sequences that shine lights and letters on the wall, activate a blender, and display text on a readerboard. Creating these ever-changing devices, their cords and inner workings on display, gives Burns’ work a futuristic feel perplexingly rooted in the here and now.
Highlighting relationships between the object, its purpose, and its connection to humanity, Burns strips away the fit and finish of commercial commodity to reveal a lack that the viewer struggles to fill. Dismantled and reassembled into forms that resist an easy read, the assemblages take on the look of alien machines that do not concisely fit into current artistic vocabulary. Speaking to this, Burns notes, “The contemporary sublime is found in disappointment.” He relishes the fact that his sculptures evoke a curiosity in the audience because they cannot easily codify what they are seeing. In works like Ghost (2014), the production of perfect smoke rings from an oddly breathing apparatus produces a disquieting dialogue between the viewer and the object. Grasping at the recognizable, we delve deeper into this incongruous system in a search for the life within the machines.
Born in Australia, Burns completed his MFA at Hunter College before returning to his home country for a PhD. Adept at creating self-contained systems that seem to operate on an internal logic, the artist uses his practice to probe at the greater questions facing our society. Rooted in philosophical musings on the “expectations and clichés of art viewing”, his works look for more fruitful ways to approach nontraditional media. Harnessing the readymade as a building block, he mines contemporary society to confront the myriad sides of consumerism, commodity, and the ways in which information is filtered through technology and into our daily lives.