MARCO ANTONINI: You usually work at two kinds of pieces. One kind
creates a familiar image that is clearly a fake, the other kind creates a
deeply illusionistic image, that could be mistaken for real. How do you see
this difference?

IAN BURNS: They are both about the viewer and about curiosity, the
puppet ones play with a kind of very simplistic nostalgia.. something like
the enlightenment era optic displays, when this simplistic sense of discovery
was one of the primary forms of entertainment. Both kind of pieces critique
the way the art world views.

MA: What about the pieces where the object of the reproduction is art
itself? Your “Land Art” pieces.

IB: How many people have really seen “Spiral Jetty” or “Lightning Field”?...

MA: ...and yet they know how they look through the reproductions and the
videos... so you create a reproduction of the reproduction of the piece.

IB: It all begins with delusion, the idea that we think so entirely in movie
image clichés now, that our world is entirely built up from processing
information in a highly visual way. What I’m trying to do is enable your
imagination in the most minimal way, indicating suffi cient to reference
experiences which are being pulled from a cinematic trope: the blonde in
a car, the expansive landscape or the wonder of “Lightning Field”. And
that relates to the fundamentals of the art viewing experience... art still has
a relationship to this kind of transcendental idea that when you see art you
have this experience...

MA: In theory... (laughs)... What happens when you see art, especially in
the context of a gallery, where you have this burden of expectation, is that
you pre-see, you look forward into it. Your brain actually works in this way:
the “idea” of familiar objects forms in your mind before the image forms on
the retina. But of course it depends on the originality of the piece.

IB: My piece at PS1 in 2005, “The Epic Tour”, seemed so much fun in
there but if I took it out and brought it down to Coney island it would be

MA: All of your pieces have a strong entertainment component. The moving
parts need to be studied to discover how the image forms... I like the way
they are built, they look very unfi nished, an assemblage of scraps, and the
screws and active parts are all visible.

IB: One of the issues that I was trying to address was the relationship
between new media and sculptural forms. Everything around me was really
nicely made. I have an engineering background, I could build pieces in
aluminum or plastic and they would even be stronger, more effi cient.. but
I am kind of weary of the seduction this implies. I’m coming from a very
working class, Australian upbringing, I was trying to look for an empathetic
approach. I try to minimize every material I use that you wouldn’t have
access to. And to inspire in the people the idea that they could have built
that themselves...

MA: I think this invites the viewer to understand what’s going on. Micro-engineering
and electronics, instead, rely on a sort of invisibility that protects
the processes.

IB: The wonder that they generate is one of distance. It’s like when you
watch a movie and you see all the light and special effects and you go
“Wow!”.. but you don’t feel any access.

MA: Your works create a sort of “acceptance” of their mechanical parts in
the viewer. I remember reading this piece by Umberto Eco, it was all about
the fact that capitalistic societies inspire you only to desire products, and
never product-making machines, which could actually empower you.

IB: This is true. The reason I use cinematic clichés is to represent the banality
of processed information, and develop a small disruption in the viewing
experience. If people could see how their food was processed, they would
be disgusted...


MA: A lot of people would be really disillusioned if they could see how a
movie is done, how stupid the actors are, how many tricks are used... there
would be no magic anymore.

IB: Exactly. Everything is about hiding, we’re a society of dropped ceilings.
We hide the AC, we cover the exposed pipes etc. One of the things that
interests me about New York is that a lot of the processes of what makes
the city operate are so graphic.

MA: When did you move to New York?

IB: It was 1999. At the time everybody was doing video art, but I felt that
a lot of the work was cinematic tropes being strung together with the access
to new transition devices, without actually any self-consciousness about
that. So I started setting up these installations, a whole room full of junk that
would function to make an image that looked like black and white fi lm with
rain drops on water. The image of the raindrops on water came from my
childhood... and it actually was a very cinematic image.

MA: Where you conscious about that at the time?

IB: Oh Yes. I was genuinely feeling it but at the same time I was conscious
that post-war cinema was full of that kind of image.. like.. the Wim Wenders
fl oating plastic bag.. cinematic fi ll points, or like in a Nan Goldin show,
she uses these snapshots of a sunset, or again, raindrops on water among
the pictures of drunk friends, to construct a sort of storytelling.

MA: I’ve always been fascinated by the way she inserts these “break” images,
that are more neutral and innocent if compared to the outrageosness
of the others

IB: It’s a still version of what Deleuze calls an “anytime whatever”. What
she’s really setting up is an idea of the passing of time.

MA: That’s also the way she works, she takes pictures by living situations,
so these images are the real moments in her day when she felt like being
in a transitional moment.. you can feel like that even if you are in an orgy