A solo exhibition of London-based artist Edwin Burdis.
Burdis’s exhibition uses VITRINE’s two spaces in Bermondsey presenting new paintings and exploring themes of identity and character through the lens of the artists’ loosely woven narrative.
Burdis realises work via a diverse spectrum of production that spans painting, sound, sculpture and drawing. Increasingly, his physical work then lays down a platform for building narrative or performance, as seen in his recent series of operettas.
‘The Plumbers’ is a new series of paintings, in which the artist carves life-size figures from MDF then in his signature style, using household acrylic paint; he brings a spectrum of characters to life. A tribe of plumbers with names and individual characters, waiting to enter centre stage.
Concomitantly each one is a self-portrait of a young man in all his contemporary guises. These works are also the first series to incorporate collage within the paint; eyes, pearl earrings and clothing embellishments. Burdis describes his “own cast of characters – The players. the singers. the losers and the winners. a band. a bunch. a group. clean water in to the home. clean water forever. boiling hot and ice cold. clean good water for all.”
Having clean water in your home is the height of contemporary sophistication and innovation, a reality that Burdis is quick to point out and threads through these works. Drinking, taking a shower, using the toilet or running a tap; these everyday tasks are depicted by a number of the paintings. The tools of our luxury – spanners, pipes and violin playing cats – are hung amongst them, also painted and cut from MDF. As in Burdis’ recent works ‘Mega Dairy Pig Farm’ and ‘Fruit Machine’ the workings of Britain are explored with an intelligent combination of sincerity and wit; the worker, the farmer and the plumber form the highest priesthood.
Just be yourself Text by Kathy Nobel The Plumbers:
Paul Wipe Wonder is really sexy and she/he knows it. She/he struts around the others, eyeing them up as they work, knowing they would do any thing she asks. The Plumbers: Hong “N” Ming don’t care for her/him much. They can see right through the high heels and long legs, they know her game. But they let her/him be, as they are too busy getting up to mischief, or slicking Hong’s quiff. The Plumbers: Signor Oro is a little bit in love with himself. And a little bit in love with Paul. He has seven suits all made by his favorite Italian tailor, each a different colour for each day of the week. The Plumbers: Mr Crowley thinks Signor Oro is a bit of a dick. But secretly he is just jealous of his suits, as he lives in his dressing gown. The Plumbers: Plumbarius U Bend wants to fuck The Plumbers: Flecher so badly, but he is way too shy to try. The Plumbers: Baby Donna finds the rest of them hilarious, especially when they get all pissed off when she cranks up the volume on the Makina, dancing as she/he works. The Plumbers: Lazarus Long really loves his job and gets high fixing complex pipe problems. He knows he is the best. The Plumbers: Mr Lover Man and The Plumbers: Boy Bradley might act like enemies, but they’ve got each other’s backs. They’ve also both got into Paul’s knickers. But that’s Paul’s special little secret. ‘Just be yourself’ is a piece of advice regularly handed out to me when I am nervous or anxious about doing something that involves ‘performing’, such as a public talk or a job interview. And each time someone says this cliché, I think that if I was actually ‘myself’, rather than do something magical, or extraordinary, I would probably be put in an institution. As being ‘myself’ involves many, many different selves, that are performed or enacted, depending upon where I am, who I am with, and how I am feeling.
The protagonists in Edwin Burdis’s exhibition The Plumbers (Hygenic Gaze) could be considered to be the manifestation of one person, with multiple characters, that are to be performed, interpreted and imagined differently by each viewer who encounters them – just as I have done here. To Burdis, The Plumbers are the embodiments of the characters of a contemporary young man. Yet they are all ambiguous, either sexually, or physically; elements of their bodies are composed from, or resemble animals or slabs of meat. They hang out in the gallery, looking at us, and one another, in a slightly menacing fashion. Their ambiguity is intrinsic to their dynamic, as both a group of people (that Burdis describes as a band of players of singers) interacting with one another via their gestures, outfits and looks; and as a visual deconstruction, and celebration, of how we form multiple personas and identities. Feminist philosopher Judith Butler famously argued in her book Gender Trouble (1990) that gender is constructed and thus performed, rather than ‘natural’ or ‘authentic’, inherent in our beings from birth; if this is the case, surely every aspect of our different ‘selves’ is constructed and performed to some extent. Artist Mike Kelley wrote the essay Cross Gender: Cross Genre (2000) tracing the history of the publicly performed self – via the radical street theatre of protest in Detroit, drag as art work in the work of The Cockettes in Los Angeles, and David Bowie’s own form of drag, or gender ambiguity in Pop music – in order to address the relations between cross-disciplinary performance and gender. The idea of the authentic ‘real’ self, espoused by Body Art made in the 60s and 70s, has slowly been debased over the last few decade, in both art and pop culture. Over the last five years, artists such as Ryan Trecartin and Rachel McClean have created high octane videos, presenting multiple characters, of staged and ambiguous gender, which are deeply influenced by the way we perform ‘selves’ online via Instagram, Twitter and Youtube, in the post-Internet age. Why are they plumbers? Clean water is essential to us to survive: we are made of water; we are physically connected to one another by water; water enables every single thing on this planet to live. The ability to have access to the network of water, running from rivers to our pipes, drains, gutters and sewers is only made possible by this profession – one that Burdis has termed the ‘highest priesthood’, along with farmers and other workers. It is interesting to consider the network of water and our dependence on it, in relation to the network of the Internet. The network of pipes, connected for us by plumbers, probably seems deeply old fashioned, or archaic, in comparison to the speed of connection and information enabled via the Internet. However, aside from early experiments with aqua ducts by the Romans, it was only in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, that the system of plumbing we have in cities across the world today was begun. As such having clean, running water from taps, is a fairly recent occurrence in the history of humans and equally as radical and life altering as the revolution of the Internet. The influential art historian Aby Warburg was diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression, leading to him being institutionalized early on in his life. He managed to leave by ‘performing’ his sanity in a lecture he gave on the Hopi Indian’s ritual snake dance, done to bring rain. He later wrote that he believed “All mankind is eternally schizophrenic” and that his psychological states led to his approach to art and life, thus his unique and influential body of work, in which the traditional hierarchies of culture and identity were disbanded. ‘The Plumbers’ are schizophrenic, both as a group and as individuals. Each character has multiple personas, alluded too by the way Burdis has formed their bodies and the outfits that dress them: Paul Wipe Wonder has a kind of chicken leg, or animal rump for his/her head, on top of a more glamourous body, clothed in a puffed up white mini skirt and fitted blazer, leading one’s eyes straight to her voluptuous man/woman legs. The Plumbers (Hygenic Gaze) once hung out in Burdis’s mind: now they float on the white walls in the collective conscious of the gallery space – as if frozen in a moment of animation, waiting to come alive again.
Kathy Nobel’s text ‘Just be yourself’, was written to accompany the exhibition. Kathy Noble is a writer and curator, who is currently Artists and Programmes Curator at Wysing Arts Centre. She was previously Head of Exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary, and prior to that, Curator (Interdisciplinary Projects) at Tate Modern. There she co-curated The Tanks programme, Tate Modern Live, the online programme Performance Room, and a number of exhibitions and projects. She writes for magazines such as Frieze, Art Monthly, Afterall, Artforum and Mousse.
VIEW/DOWNLOAD TEXT PDF here: http://www.vitrinegallery.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Noble_Burdis_The-Plumbers_Vitrine-Gallery-28-April-2014.pdf