Tom Burr
Annual Magazine - N°5, 2012
Archistorm - N°57, November - December, 2012

Timothée Chaillou: In your work, which kind of relationship links two pictures when they are joined or juxtaposed?

Tom Burr: I am not entirely sure about what happens in general. There are specific instances of course that are easier to point out, but it is some collapses between what is actually depicted in the images, the nouns they speak, in a sense, and the formal qualities of the images as objects, the paper, the size, the colors, the age and condition. I am trying to make them work like collages, and apply the same considerations as other materials and elements in my work, whether it can be wood, fabric or paper.

TC: Do you recycle, appropriate or steal?

TB: I use what is in front of me, things I have gathered, piles of leftovers from other projects, and then something will occur to me that is not there, or is implied by what is there but is missing, and then I have to use certain channels to acquire it. But I think your question is more about methodology. And what I just said as well, actually. But I think the appropriation artists broke this down for us at a particular time, and media changed. So now there are just large piles of leftovers, from everyone's projects.

TC: Do you feel connected to the collage tradition itself?

TB: Yes. I am comfortable working this way, attaching disparate things. Fragmentation is a familiar frame of thinking for me. I think there is an adolescent libidinal energy in gluing and pinning and pasting together things and images that I identify with in the Dada and Surrealists when I was younger, when I was an adolescent. It persists. There is a careful craft element and a brutal tearing at the same time, rip it apart and put it back together, differently.

TC: Who owns the images you use?

TB: Is this a copyright infringement investigation? "I didn't do it, no one saw me do it, there's no way you can prove anything!" (Bart Simpson)

TC: Do you feel close to what Barbara Kruger says about her work as ‘more about pleasure, desire only exists where there is absence. I’m not interested in the desire of the image (...) I am basically interested in suggesting that we do not need to destroy difference.’

TB: I like the notion of pleasure in work, and I understand how desire is fraught with regard to images. I think my sporadic and sparing and somewhat reluctant use of images, in the popular sense of pictures, comes from this. I think that images, photographs of things, of people, of bodies, is an easy route to visual appeal and identification, a simplification and a summation of a more complicated scene. It may not be how we really feel, and how we really think. Images are an easy fix.

TC: Elad Lassry says there is something ironic when appropriating contemporary images. What do you think of that within the framework of your own work?

TB: I am not sure what he means. Does the irony stem from the use of the word 'appropriating,' and that, as I said earlier, those designations and delineations of place, origin and authorship have slipped and slid with regard to ownership. Something that is simply floating around cannot be appropriated... but maybe that is all a hazy media illusion meant to dazzle and daze us, this notion of public domain. Maybe things still do belong to certain contexts and individuals and stealing does exist. (Bart Simpson needed again)

TC: Do you try to treat all pictures in an equal and democratic way?

TB: This time I'll borrow from Mayakovsky:
‘If you wish, I’ll rage on raw meat like a vandal
Or change into hues that the sunrise arouses,
If you wish--
I can be irreproachably gentle’

TC: What is left from the original context of the images you uses? From the ensemble they belong to?

TB: Much is left, maybe not always immediately spotted, but the context lingers, it is like a residue. When I use a picture of Walt Whitman or Kate Bush, there are many reasons that converge to make me grab it, but I like that it can be a particular moment, a particular picture of Kate looking a particular way at a particular time, while at the same time the images simply ushers in the idea of Kate Bush, so that she and everything she drags along with her, associations, known things, etc, become part of the piece. That ensemble to use your word, is at least partially present, possibly reconfigured and looked at anew.

TC: Do you refer to (or describe) the actual (or past) circulation of images?

TB: The process of using magazine images, ads, books from libraries, pre-owned books, images from the internet, describes this I think. Circulation. I like the term "out of circulation," also, especially when things continue to circulate, willfully, just at different levels.

TC: What do you think about Barthes’ statement when he says ‘whatever the sense: things are not what matters, but the place of the things is’? ‘Things are not important, but their relationship is’ (Georges Braque)?

TB: There is something interesting in both of these quotes. Bringing up Roland Barthes, Barbara Kruger, Martha Rosler... it evokes a time and a place for me, New York in the 1980's, and this time was extremely productive not simply with regard to the formal practice of collage, and working with images, but the investment in a sort of debunking of a master plan, and issues of authenticity. This had a big impact on me during those years. I love Braque’s quote, his de-centered view, not fixating on the icon or the singular image but on the connective tissues between things, and between objects and other objects, and the subjects who look at them, (or make them, or sell them, or write about them...and on...).

TC: Are you collages ‘metaphors of fraternity’ as Jean-Luc Godard puts it; metaphors of dependence or a love encounter?

TB: Sometimes they are an orgy, sometimes they are a lone act of jerking off.

TC: Are your collages a praise to diversity, to fragment or to contagion?

TB: Not diversity. Definitely to fragment. Contagion, not sure. If you mean the idea that certain images, objects and ideas can destabilize and pollute the pristine space of other images, objects and ideas, then I would say yes. But I don't think of any of it in the sense of praise.

TC: What do you think about Keith Tyson’s statement: ‘The world with which I am confronted is dynamic complex, mutant, and speeded up; and if I want to be somehow "honest", then my art must reflect it, and try to resist to a still predominating modernist inheritance, which seeks for a form or a significant and reproducible style.’

TB: To me, it is different, not so plotted as a method to reflect "our times." I am usually suspicious of this, of the idea of being synchronized with the effects of the media world around us. I respond to this of course, and live in it. But "speeded up" from where? this is the modernist sensibility speaking I would think, art responding to the machine dynamics of the world. This is to me, a sort of charming, old fashioned proposition.

TC: Do you think collage is a dirty medium, infected as it is by waste when using residues, leftovers, rest of images?

TB: I like to think so!

TC: Is collage ‘thinking with your hands’ (Denis de Rougemont)?

TB: I don't think of it this way. And if I were to think of it that way, it would not be specific to collage, but to all art making, but, I don't think of it this way.

TC: Does collage talks about fragility?

TB: It does, mine does anyway. Because much of what I do is fragile and is the antithesis of other more bulky aspects of my practice. The paper is fragile, it tears and it changes color and is pinned in a way that is difficult to change, a conservator's nightmare. Many parts of my work could be made again, renewed or rebuilt. These collage elements generally speaking resist that.

TC: For Martha Rosler, collage talks more about space than time. What do you think?

TB: I wonder what sort of space she refers to: the distance or closeness between images within a frame... I doubt it. Or maybe the spaces the images come from, and where they are now. I think of the places my work is seen in, that is always on my mind. What walls, what rooms, what city, what people might be looking at them, what works are nearby... and what it all means. I have a lingering obsessive compulsive tendency towards site specificity that I am trying to shake without complete success.

TC: What is the importance of the materiality of the images you are using compared to their informative contents?

TB: Very important. I love different surfaces. I love the distress on easily reproducible objects, like vinyl records, and magazines. I just gathered together over 60 copies of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and I love all the variations in the materiality due to age and wear, and varying degrees of use. It carries where these objects have been. Even a digital print has this factor. People are still always dazzled by technology though, its aging is sort of denied, repressed or overlooked.

TC: What do you think of that: ‘In their everyday circulation, images “disappear into their use.” In obsolescence (the death of the commodity), they appear. The collection gives visibility to the image; it is a kind of after-life of the commodity-image.’ (John Stezaker)

TB: Bingo! Right on Mr. Stezaker. This is what I was just thinking about with the above answer. I find myself dwelling on things and images (and images as things) that have been slightly removed from dominant circulation, that are a little past their prime and are less dazzling, less blinding, less disappearing, because of it. Ghosts of images and commodity-images exist in this sense, and are very real, simply less valued in the sense they were put on the planet to perform. This devalued status seems to make them available to other kinds of meanings and performances.

TC: What does the pedestal/the podium recall for you? What does it allow? By using the podium, do you think that presented objects increase their coefficient of visibility? The plinth, the pedestal, and the podium are areas of power, competition, emphasis and authority. Why do you use this typology?

TB: The pedestal is a convention, so it's there to use, abuse, accept or reject, as its been throughout the last 100 years, from Brancusi forward, in a meandering trajectory. It is in the same family of things as frames or mattes or bright lighting, and it is one of those things that hovers around art objects to nudge them towards a remove, a distinction, from their environments.
That said, the frame, the matte, the bright lighting, and the pedestal are by now all implied. To place art on the floor, off its pedestal is an illusion of transgression. I work with this too. We bring all the conventions to the object as viewers. When I use a pedestal its similar to using a quote, its a self conscious toying with conventions of elevation, isolation and valuation, (and devaluation). (and when I place something on the floor its similar to using a quote as well, self consciously toying with the language of place and placement, there is not a neutral place for an object to reside).
Similarly, the pedestal, and its extended family of framing devices or tools of exhibition, can entice and arouse interest, by suggesting the boundaries and restrictive parameters of the object in relation to the bodies and brains circulating around them, look/don't look; touch/don't touch; take/don't take; buy/don't buy.
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