7. Aug, 2015

Initially I want to start with a brief ‘de-centred’ analysis of me by Professor Donald Brook who by his observation and surveillance celebrated the conceptual ‘interiority’ of an art world resisting the co-modification of the art object and the artist. He was one who started the Tin Sheds art studios while at the power institute, Sydney University and went to Flinders University in South Australia as professor of Fine Arts and initiated the experimental Art Foundation and the importing of Noel Sheridan to direct it. He also set up one of the first official Artist in Residence programs at Flinders and invited me. So I was privileged to get the gig as there was a number of talented artists that could have been chosen before me. When I was compiling a survey of my work Donald wrote this for it


        Tim Burns and the metaphor of contested change. Donald Brook

Argument is ultimately about what is or can or should be said: contention is about what is or can or should be done. On the face of it this might seem to be a comprehensive way of sorting all differences. If it is truly exhaustive, then the argumentatively inclined can be given a lectern each and equal time; the contestants can be left to rip one another apart, according to impulse. Raffertys rules. Unfortunately the epistemic Eden, where everything was natural, and therefore contentious, is inhabited by a serpent with a subversive agenda. Why, it hisses sweetly, should we not challenge the Great Dispenser and argue about what is or can or should be done, instead of contending over it? There have always been artists who were not seduced by the rational serpent, even hidden under its postmodern skin. There have always been artists whose work is the residue of ongoing contention, nonverbally conducted for no particularly good reason. Their lives and products are shaped very much as the postures and physiques of the birds are shaped by endless territorial contention. To say that Darwin showed us the (arguable) logic of survival is not to say that Darwin showed it to the birds, or that they paid any attention. In a similar way, to say that art criticism might show instructively how Tim Burns (for an example of the kind) returns contentiously, time after time, to metaphors of crossing and transport is not to say that criticism might assess the outcome, or guide him to do better.

Failing to cease loitering was one of his earlier engagements with the theme of contended position, of crossings and of transport (in both senses of the word). Failing to cease to loiter was, for him, an active engagement with the stuff of the manoeuvre for which there was not much to be said. To have ceased loitering when called upon to do so world. It was a contentious would have transported him from the realm of contention to that of debate. It would have kept him out of the magistrates court. It would have been a crossing in the wrong direction. His losing territorial contest was about who shall do what: it was not an argument. It is an important point about territorial disputes that like arguments they are as regularly and as ruinously lost as they are won, but not as conclusively. What is argued can be settled: what is contested is endless. From the hazards of the pavement-stander to the hazards of the street-crosser  ‘through a punning appeal to the double-metaphor of pedestrian crossings’ and on through several metamorphoses over the last twenty-five or thirty years, the marks of contested placement and displacement have always been close to the centre of Tim Burns’s life and work. Most recently, he has summarised his obsessive themes in a vast spectacle of Armageddon: part installation, part performance. The territorial battle between nature and culture ‘instantiated here as a contested right to the highway, and fought out between the motor vehicle and the kangaroo’ occupies the length of a factory building and spills destructively outside.

In my grandmother’s account of the world (she was a Jehovah’s Witness) the outcome of the cosmic battle is pre-ordained. She ‘and those who see the light’ might expect to be saved. Tim Burns’s ongoing strife is much more like the Mahabharata: nothing will be settled; there will be terrible flashes of lightning but the illumination will be deceptive, and there is no promise at all of victory to the righteous.[1]

Firstly I go to my mothers favourite reference work ‘The Secret Language of Birthdays,” edited by Gary Goldschnieder and Aron Goldschnieder[2] that she used extensively as a fast and accurate summation of who ever she was councilling and or advising at the time. She noted everyone in the family and whom ever she came across at the top of the page as a constant surveillance and knowledge base. The analysis of each birthday in the year combined all references through out time and disciplines to arrive at a total understanding of the individual born on any given day. I used moms book in a interactive broadcast TV performance, ‘ This is I.T. in 2001 and unfortunately lost it and all moms notes which is of great regret to me  both because it embodied both the elements of surveillance and interactivity and because it was a testament to my mothers understanding of all those she dealt with incredible compassion and understanding. Anyway, Ok, Ok… here goes…   So who am I? ..I was born 29 th august 1947, Mom thinks later in the day but cant remember exactly what time, at Cunderdin hospital western Australia.

29 /08 = 5 – 7% Virgo 1 period,

MUTABLE EARTH The day of structured action

But as has been said...

Remarkable how specific the birthday day sign collection is. Thousands of years of accumulating information on the individuals born on any particular day. This must be the non specific or not related to one person but, specific to all those born on that day from all forms of horoscopes, I chin, tarot etc., but with the proviso that there is always a negative or positive outcome, the Ying or yang, but never the less a surveillance over thousands of years.


“They hate chaos above all else and seek to bring structure and clarity to their work. But they are not rigid and dull….. They are impelled to action… and may have a great fire in the belly…Improvisation is a reoccurring theme…they will think there way out of a problem situation by thinking up new solutions on the spot. ….they are positive thinkers always searching for a more efficient, elegant or consistent function.”



But they don’t have a firm grip on their feelings, very emotional they often can’t keep their private lives together… often highly successful public lives but tumultuous private lives. and they inevitably lose control causing no end of trouble…  the conflict between the need for their work and letting their private life go hang…. but their need for family friends and affectionate mate is strong.

It may be difficult to capture their attention…they can be lonely … direct emotional appeals work best …they are very physical. .sex life is important…and all forms of physical expression …they make exciting partners but unreliable.

Don’t stand up well to the pressures of life…with bizarre habits and fantasies and with associations with strange people as an outlet for their frustrations… [If] they opt for the 3 rd way tragedy and disintegration follows.

Improvisation and adaptability is the key…

Ruled by the number 2 and the moon, with good group orientated values… good co workers and partners rather than leaders but can lead to stopping individual imitative and action producing frustration….mercury imparts a tendency to ruminate too much.

In tarot the 2nd card of the arcane , the priestess on her throne… calm, inpenatratable…..revealing hidden forces and secrets ….empowering with knowledge……….favourable qualities are silence, intuition, reserve and discretion…. Negative are secretiveness, mistrust indifference and inertia.

Addictive and annoyed by personal chaos, they must go with the flow. Good food is the answer.

Lighten up get to know thyself... Make easy Trans public private avoid making impossible demands on one self …. Take frequent vacations with loved ones.

People: Charlie Bird Parker, Richard Attenborough, Michael Jackson, W. Freidkin, Preston Sturges, Jean Ingress, Dinah Washington, Peter Jennings, Tim Burns”[3]


The year of turning 60 the year when you get your seniors card, free admission to the pool reduced rates cheaper movies etc.

"It seems, according to some interpretations of the Chinese calendar, that you, or you’re chinoise originators are very interesting types:[4]

"Pigs are models of sincerity, purity, tolerance, and honour. ... Pigs are the people everyone admires most. ... The Pig is a splendid companion. ... Like the Monkey, the Pig is intellectual - a character with a great thirst for knowledge.  ... Some people claim that Pigs are snobbish. ...  In fact, pigs are aesthetic. Pigs are born with an excellent nose for style in everything. Food is another of Piggy's little sins. Pigs adore food, and after-dinner chocolates. ... People born in the Year of the Pig have a taste for la dolce vita. ... The Pig is a splendid companion, so much fun, and game for a risqué evening. ... Pigs can be very practical, logical and down to earth. They may at times be considered somewhat cool and reserved because, blessed as they are with composure and self-control, they don't usually allow emotion to cloud the issue."[5]

On the advice of one of my supervisors and good friend Kathryn Trees I will augment these astrological prediction by filling in some auto-ethnographic background to my growing up in the next chapter.

1       The Boy They Tried to Put Back

He was born on the 29Th of August 1947 at Cunderdin hospital Western Australia to Elsie Joan or ‘Joy’ and Charles David [Charlie] Burns, wheat and sheep farmers 5 miles west of Cunderdin.  He had three elder brothers, Letham, Christopher and Robert and 2 younger sisters, Nicole and Mary.

Mum and Dad were ‘Church of England’ religion, Dad had gone to a C of E school and was a church council and lodge member, and mum’s father was a Plymouth Brethren preacher and large land owner who's wife was a Methodist but who sent mum to a C of E School and then she became C of E when she married dad. I could never quite figure all that out. In any case mum taught Sunday school and was one of the early members of the CWA and also the “Guild’ I am not even sure what that was, may be the female equivalent of the Lodge. Mum teaching Sunday school meant that we were forced to go every Sunday but my buy off was to get to drive the car on the home roads. I never embraced the whole idea but loved the bell hanging from the top of an old windmill tower. After Dad died Mum went through a series of transformations from president of the liberal party to a labour voter and she became a transcendental meditation master with a social activism that she developed around food and hospitality, ‘it is better to give than receive…’ was her mantra and her meditation was ‘…to facilitate the endeavour of those around you’.

The first thing that comes to mind about growing up was, because I was the fourth boy born to farmers who after me had two girls I was told often but as a running joke ‘that I was the one they tried to put back’, i.e. that I should have been a girl and the gender balance would have even because they had set their sights on six kids.[6] The next thing I remember was wriggling under a fence to escape my aboriginal nanny, Molly Ginger (nee Maruder) who had me by the ankle and who had arrived at the farm from the infamous Mugumber Mission on the Moore River. She was put out to domestic service as an Orphan but later on mum discovered she had a mother and family at Sandstone, which she had been removed from as part of the stolen generation. She eventually was reunited with her family who remained in close contact with Mum over the years.9 I remember hanging upside down, my pants hooked on the barbed wire as I tried to climb that house fence in another escape. A pet Kangaroo who I was forcing to carry kindling knocked me out up the hill [7] I was [am] always in trouble of one sort or another. Much like my own son Ezra who emulates a sound effect record on constant play I was constantly clicking my tongue that makes a sound like horses galloping and it drove everyone crazy. I would be warned to stop but without realising start up again and was sometimes put out of the vehicle to walk home.[8]

Apparently when I was one and a half a shearer asked my father what was wrong with my eyes and they discovered I was short sighted with a stigmatism and a lazy eye which meant glasses from my earliest memories, but with the nightmare of having my good eye covered with tape and the glasses taped, wired or tied on to my head to avoid the inevitable loss of same. One time coming home from school after the usual abuse I threw them in to a tree and then had to go through the unsuccessful search for them for what seemed like hours. The accidental loss has been repeated hundreds of times since, where now I tie them on voluntarily to avoid that situation in a crisis where the first thing that happens in an altercation is you loose your glasses and just when you need it most you cant see. Later on I was blinded by a haemorrhage in my good eye after a kick in the head while playing football cause I couldn’t really see with out them, but loved Aussie rules so I used to charge the situation and just played in the backline where I tagged my opponent like a shadow and the job was to stop him getting the ball. The three months I spent blind and tied down in Royal Perth Hospital gave me an appreciation of the value of how sound and hearing is accentuated to compensate for lack of sight, my favourite nurse McFarlane’s lisp would be the payoff of discerning her walk wards away and it was with great anticipation that I awaited her sponge bath. Later on when plastic lenses were introduced for glasses I was the only kid I ever saw who wore glasses playing football and I got a lot of stick for that and it was hell when it rained, but at least I moved to the forward line where finesse was required. Funny thing about myopia is that there seems to be an unusually high percentage of painters, photographers or directors of photography that have bad eyes which leads me to believe they have a greater desire to ‘see’ so they are desperate to compensate. I am constantly taking off my glasses to see the big picture or light values in a scene to get an overall design, being out of focus simplified contrasts. Because my eyes are outside the range of commercial dioptres I have had special lenses fitted to cameras and particularly goggles for swimming where inadequate sight is felt most acutely. This lack of vision has probably led to a fascination with surveillance or the examination of the secondary or captured image that has fascinated me, as has drawing, painting, and later copy machines, cameras, projectors and now Photoshop11.

According to Petkovic the invention of photography and subsequently film has made it possible to objectify elements of our interiority - our thoughts, desires and fantasies – and to reduce them as elements of our visual exteriority and then to cycle the process again through an audience – it becomes evident that there was surplus value in objectifying the desirable interiority which has lead to associated use of images in advertising and pornography. This has accelerated with the use and refinement of film and television and now digital computer mechanisms that copies without generational loss to infinitely reproduce fantasy, visual data or documentary information.11

Today more and more of our communication processes involve object/images therefore more and more interiority can be found in exteriority where our thoughts are objectified as exteriority, where the images of ourselves have become signifiers of who we are, proof of our identity and as Josko eloquently puts it, ‘where nature once stood more and more now what we consider to be nature consists of visually packaged corporate culture which beckons to us from “exteriority” in all kinds of implicit and explicit signifiers which hold out a promise of gratification’ [9]

This process has developed over time and is based on desire – the fundamental need or dependency of man that has been exploited by making our unconscious desires conscious by objectifying the subjective which has fuelled the transfer of interiority to exteriority[10].

Ironically I think through speech which may have emerged through my sight issues or be associated with My ‘improvisational ‘ abilities but it as my mouth is my inspiration its also what has got me into a lot of trouble, that is speaking before thinking

Petkovic develops the historical process at the intervention of photography shortly after which there was an immediate explosion of pornography - much of which was centred on the images of women and therefore predominately produced by men.

Josko points out the possession of a pornographic picture could be compared with the actual possession of another body.

Which raises the questions fundamental to property (capitalism, and control). It was also the beginning of the age of visual mechanical production. What started in the darkroom with multiple reproductions can now be achieved with the touch of a button crossing distance-space instantaneously. Now however the explosion of pornography on the Internet has become a traffic in images of children and more difficult to obtain fetishist hard-core images. The ability to copy, disseminate and trade the images has increased exponentially over this century and provides a fertile value surplus for the 21st century.

The control over other people’s subjugation in an age of increasing frustration, alienation and lack of control over ones own life looms increasingly large here. Sex remains the first and foremost commodity in the development of new technologies and surveillance the means of obtaining it.

As the fourth boy of farming parents it meant that you were too far down the pecking order to inherit the farm and as a result I think I was encouraged to seek other avenues of interest and for me that was drawing and painting. In fact as far as school goes it was the primary interest and later the only interest if you discount Aussie Rules football. In the beginning I drew trucks turning corners with exaggerated perspective then in later primary moved on to oil pastels where I would shave bits onto the paper making impasto versions of Namatjira’s landscapes and Drysdale’s romantic but desolate desert parables. My mother was incredibly supportive then and right through my life and was the only uncompromising supporter of what ever I did culturally or artistically. My Father and mother were great entertainers and at times there were as many as fourteen people living on the farm, lots of odd balls, for example a retired brick layer and remittance man and even including two Italian prisoners of war who didn’t go home when the war ended, but the biggest influence in those early days was a Czechoslovakian refugee painter named Peter Rohan who travelled around the wheatbelt painting scenes from the area that he would sell to the local shires (then called Roads Boards’) for their office walls. When he was in the area he would stay on the farm as the travelling salesmen, priests, vets, insurance men all did, partly because we served alcohol in an area where there were a lot of teetotallers and my parents were especially hospitable. Peter would take me out painting with him. In the beginning with watercolour and eventually he was my first introduction into oil paint.

When I was in second year high school I was sent away to college in Perth. With six kids to educate I was sent one year later to save money but as I arrived in second year I was out of sync with all the other kids. First of all they put me in the bottom academic stream without a test and even though I had come in the top couple of kids academically in the Cunderdin Junior high School. As it took me the best part of the year to move up to a somewhat academic class that taught languages but it was too late because they started in first year. This resulted in one of my greatest regrets, which was missing out on the language classes that may have actually helped me through the world and has left me out of numerous conversations and opportunities in my travels as I have never been able to master even the simplest exchanges which is largely to do with my lack of discipline but was not helped by school.

 My brother was five years older than me so he had left school a year before I arrived. He was fairest and best in the football and a prefect and he obviously exerted enormous power over other students because the day I arrived a group of big kids [seniors] isolated me in the day room and beat the shit out of me with army belts in revenge for the crimes of my brother the prefect. I followed a mantra of picking the weakest looking one in the circle and as I was pushed towards him I leapt at his head and attached myself to him trying to bite his ear off. He went screaming around in circles with me hanging on while the belts did as much damage to him as me until he hit the ground and a master showed up to see what all the screaming was about. I didn’t know that and wasn’t letting go but all the kids around had evaporated. So it didn’t look to good with blood all over us and I had lost a couple of teeth, teeth that I put back in my mouth in what turned out to be a revolution in dentistry at the time. At least four times in my life those same teeth where knocked out and put back and I went to a few dentist conventions and put my head on to a overhead projector to show how they had taken the nerves out and recovered adult teeth. They are finally gone for good now after a road rage incident in 99. From that first day at school on it was hell, in the first three months I was the most shot [caned] kid in school, everything I did was wrong, off kilter or out of whack. The senior’s revenge was unwavering and the prefect’s torture and control over every aspect of your life reminds me of ‘Lord of the Flies’ only more sophisticated. I had a fascist house master who was a repressed gay man who channelled his sexual energy into discipline, so my arse was bloody most of the time, and I averaged 3 to 4 canings a week, often ‘bacon slices’ where the cane is bought down vertically to cause the most damage and on occasion a fencing sword was used by the gym master. The Homoerotic brutalisation was celebrated and my absolute relief at the end of the day of making it successfully into bed which was on the veranda and open to the elements was only tempered by the knowledge that the torture barefoot on the cinders started at 6 the next day. I complained bitterly to my parents but they thought the discipline would be good for me. By the end of the year I was grounded and unable to even leave the school on Sundays when it was standard practice that you could go visiting relatives. I was standing in assembly when I saw my number two brother, Chris walking across the lawn and I thought finally they are going to bust me outer there and hopefully he would give the fascists a piece of his mind. I watched as he had words with the masters and I was called out and then told that my father was dead and I was to go home.



[1] Donald Brook p2-3 ‘Against the Grain’ a Tim burns survey catalog curated by Terri Hoskins, Australian experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide October 2010

[2] The secret language of birthdays, Gary Goldschnieder, Aron Goldschnieder editor, a Joost Elffers production  Viking Studio Books  [penguin] 1994

[3] The secret language of birthdays, Gary Goldschnieder, Aron Goldschnieder editor, a Joost Elffers production  Viking Studio Books [penguin] 1994

[4] Email from Michael Zerman [ long time friend and mentor, a publisher and part of the ‘Digger’ collective]

[5] http://pages.infinit.net/garrick/chinese/pig.html> 2007

[6] see gender debates in ‘A Change of Plan, 73’

[7] see Broome Icon, 96, Godard de Fiddes, 96  verge 99, Margaret river 99,  Roadkill Retablos , york06,   Sculpture X Sea,  Cottesloe and Bondi 09 and Fremantle Art Centre ‘ Hoods’ 09

[8] Special audio for‘Rancho Notorious’ theatre, Pyramid club, NYC, with lindzee Smith and others mid 80’s?

[9] Ibid. p135

[10] Ibid 135