Listening to an influential theorist talk about his work is the best way to grapple with intangible concepts
Seeing the recent Victor Burgin exhibition currently on at the P3 gallery in London and listening to a talk given by him, chaired by the exhibition’s curator David Campany, gave a useful insight into the mind of this highly respected artist and academic, and made sense of many of his more profound ideas.
Central to his practice – according to the literature – is an ‘on going inquiry into spaces which become ‘places’ through the mediation of image and text. The result is a hybrid form producing a virtual, psychological, image.’
In his early career Burgin used the codes of advertisers and marketers to subvert the images’ message, thereby creating a shift in perception which could be filled with the viewer’s own interpretation. It was insightful to hear him describe this process and re-affirm it by saying that he expected no two people to have the same experience while viewing the work.
His early painting career, he recounted, ended in paralysis when he realized all brush strokes had been made before by other, more ‘masterful’ artist. Photography he called the ‘painting for our time’, but without the inhibiting history in which painting was seeped. With a rye smile he conceded there might have been some pleasure in trying to continue for the sheer joy of it.
He went on to describe his passion for architecture and the visualization of new buildings through virtual reality. He saw this as a natural progression of photography, considering all photographs to be fundamentally ‘virtual’. His tromp l’oeil work comprising of photographs of wooden floorboards, printed life size, then replaced back on the boards and re-photographed gave an insight into his methodology, and seem to be a link between his past work and the moving images which have come to define his more recent pieces.
The talk ended with Burgin criticising further education institutes whom he accused of turning into marketing departments – a clear swipe at tuition fees and the need for broad international appeal in order to justify courses and departments. Yet, Burgin himself declared that he was ‘no longer trying to change the world’.
In this rarefied field he has found a way to subvert industrial design practice into something which draws attention to some of the psychological aspects of a place and opens up the possibilities of what John Berger called ‘New Ways of Seeing’. This in itself, I would argue, is as anti-establishment as anything.
Victor Burgin’s ‘A Sense of Place’ runs at P3 Gallery until the end of the month