Writing a blog is all new to me and seeing as mine is about one to one conversations with artists I cannot help but worry about issues concerning the personal and the vastly public (that’s of course assuming that anyone reads this stuff). However, I am reminded of reading with great interest a journalist’s account of Ralph Fiennes being really quite angry about not being able to get a cream tea before 4 o’clock at the exclusive hotel in which he was being interviewed. I admired him all the more.
My actual lunch (pictured) with Bill Burns certainly had an architectural quality not dissimilar to his models of paper galleries with signs we had just been looking at. The lunch venue featuring recipes from the Baja peninsula was a favourite of his because he had spent a period of time on the island where he came across metal flat-pack style churches courtesy of Gustave Eiffel.
Burns’ interest in models, kits and survival guides which ask us to imagine a narrative of the vulnerable yet plucky individual – be it animal or human – set against incredibly harsh odds, have usually found expression in the miniature, but I wondered aloud whether he would consider up scaling. I had read Susan Stewart’s “On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection” lately, and understood the narrative of the miniature to be the forever out of reach world echoing the ludic space children create of which they are the omnipotent rulers. He said that he does do big and indeed for Art Basel Miami in 2013 he had planes going over Miami Beech trailing prayer petitions to museum directors and collectors.
Like many of the artists I have met who are involved with story telling, Bill had a religious upbringing, and a literal literary one strangely enough: his father travelled the continent selling books, mainly Roman Catholic, and Bill often went along with him. His current project “Hans Ulrich Obrist hear us” is a humorous yet serious acknowledgement of the artist’s fantasy that the curators are all powerful, they only have to say the word and we will be lifted out of the purgatorial lake of anonymity and gain everlasting bliss.
Meeting Bill Burns was a real pleasure, he was gracious and showed interest in what I am doing and although we were at his gallery MKG127 in the middle of Toronto he managed to look as if he had just arrived from the prairie. Indeed, he told me that bringing the wild into the city is something that he is very much concerned with, earlier he had had a goat milking session at the gallery and the next day there was to be a honey extraction therein.
I had asked him about whether being Canadian had influenced his sense of narrative, and to my pleasure he pointed me in the direction of Margaret Atwood (always a joy), whose book “Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature” is insightful on the subject of the pioneering spirit of Canadians, and he felt there was a lot of truth in that. Harold Innis’ “The Fur Trade in Canada” was also mentioned. Added to this, in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis was taking place, Bill and his siblings set about making nuclear shelters not for themselves, but for animals. Perhaps they felt we humans deserved all we got.
My partner, who also admires Burns’ “Safety Gear for Small Animals” wanted me to ask whether the kit is as functional as it appears. I thought this was a little unfair but towards the end of our meeting I asked it. Apparently, some cats did try the life vests but found them somewhat uncomfortable. Life!