Grotesque Desire: Edwin Burdis at VITRINE, Basel

Edwin Burdis, AutoLaque (2016) (installation view). (Courtesy of VITRINE. Photographer: Nici Jost)

By SUSIE PENTELOW, Aug. 2016   

Edwin Burdis, AutoLaque
15 June 2016 - 1 October 2016

Edwin Burdis’s work has a history of taking on the trappings of modern life – his previous solo exhibition with VITRINE, London (2014) explored, in part, the relationship between clothing and identity through a diverse troop of plywood figures, "The Plumbers," whose individual personality traits were expressed through their clothes and props.

In contrast, cars, the artist suggests, bring individual drivers together into a homogenous movement of collective consciousness. In his current exhibition AutoLaque at VITRINE, Basel, the artist presents a new body of work that questions our troubled relationship with cars: objects of desire that seduce with promises of freedom and choice. When driving, Burdis says, people become “like ants or a hive or something – everybody is connected in this joyous movement of flow. When you're on the motorway it's like why isn't it complete carnage all the time? Everybody just seems to lock into this thing.”

Edwin Burdis, "A Man About Town" (2016). (Courtesy VITRINE. Photographer: Nici Jost)

Traditionally, cars have been sold as innovations that offer freedom and choice: a seductive machine that taps into our desire for autonomy and adventure. Burdis questions this assumption, arguing that the pattern of buying, insuring and driving cars in fact tightens society’s grip on an individual.

“I don't think cars give people freedom. There was the original American idea of freedom of the car, you know, you get in your car and go… but I think now it's mixed up in a lot of things – you're part of society if you own a car – it's all the tax, everything that comes with it… So I don't know if it's freedom anymore – desire, yes: there's plenty of desire involved and that's something that I wanted to put into the paintings, a sort of grotesque desire – ugly desire – that is cars.”

Edwin Burdis, "Groupie Bloom Drinking" (2016). (Courtesy VITRINE. Photographer: Nici Jost)

Burdis’s studio in Abergavenny overlooks a car repair shop, and he found that increasingly, this environment overlapped with his work. “Watching these damaged, beautiful things coming in and then them fixing them and then them taking them out affected what I was doing, so I ended up using a lot of their materials and using their paint.” He began employing the hard sprays and pigments used in car maintenance in his own works. “They're more sculptural paintings than paintings, they're actually bits of sculpture. You know, you can touch them and be with them – they're very robust… to a point – like a car.”

The paintings have a surface hardness – a rigidity and gloss – but there is no denying that these machines-cum-figures are vulnerable, too. One side of the gallery space is dominated by three freestanding pieces, their paint bleeding onto the floor, while electrical wires protrude from the chest of one. As objects, they are compromised, equal parts flamboyant and pathetic.

L to R: Edwin Burdis, "Mechanically Good Natured" (2016); "Brightens and Tightens" (2016). (Courtesy VITRINE. Photographer: Nici Jost)

Edwin Burdis, "Maintenance (Rabbit, Tooth and Organ)" (2016). (Courtesy VITRINE. Photographer: Nici Jost)

Burdis describes all his work to date as “props for a film”, and the works in this exhibition will appear again in a recently finished film work which includes footage of him interacting with the work in VITRINE’s space. Their transition from limelight to supporting role emphasises how tenuous the division can be between roles like prop and sculpture, and gallery and stage set. It’s a reminder that the way we view things can entirely change what we see. Shift your vantage point, and that freedom you’ve been sold might just start to look like captivity. WM


Susie Pentelow

Susie Pentelow (b. 1991, UK) is an artist and writer based in London, UK. She studied at Goldsmiths College (UK), The Siena Art Institute (IT) and Camberwell College of Arts (UK). She exhibits internationally alongside running and editing her online arts publication, Traction Magazine.

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