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art talk:
Daniel Burkhardt: Urban Roundabout

The Wuwei Creative Space is a grey and foreboding place; avenues of derelict warehouses stretch in all directions, the skyline punctured by mammoth chimneys that one can imagine still smouldering during the days when this textile factory complex was still operational. There is little life, no greenery and only a few indications that this is an art district – scattered large conceptual sculptures and small gallery signs posted on the walls signify the inhabitants. This is the ideal setting for German video audio artist Daniel Burkhardt, here to promote his debut mainland exhibition, Urban Roundabout.

Sitting in the café opposite Zendai Gallery, Burkhardt is amused by the gaudy Santa Claus posters adorning the doors. This being late February, and nestled in the middle of an industrial art space, the irony of the image is obvious. “One thing that I discovered since I’m here is that there are very different elements that are very close next to each other, and I like this.” Pointing at the poster, he adds, “Such a strange mixture here of things, for me they are strange fittings together.”

Queer association is a theme that runs through Burkhardt’s work, and is the foundation of his ideas on life. Odd couplings, incoherent images, overlapping messages and concepts – his work is fragmented. It’s a wonder if he feels the same about society as a whole. “Yes. Definitely in these urban surroundings, because I think in urban surroundings there are so many signs. Everything is full of signs. Every sign, every architectural element is a piece of language. So everything is speaking all the time, although no-one is saying anything, but everything is speaking all the time. I’m trying to create a visual language and I hope people get into it, that people understand this visual language.”

Time and space are concepts that are manhandled in his work. Asking him why he plays with these apparently rigid governing rules, he says, “I think it’s really a personal observation of my state of mind. I discovered that my perception of the world was not very continuous – my way of perceiving is changing all the time. In my way of perception there is a lot of blindness, and I try and get this blindness into the pictures, so people see that they don’t see everything. That is an important point for me.”

Altered perceptions feature heavily in Urban Roundabout. The exhibition venue is a bleak, white-washed room. Projected onto the walls, or through monitors, Burkhardt’s work is skittish under observation. One piece, a close up image of a Venetian blind, is layered with over 300 images constantly shuffling and looping. The effect is a reverberating set of lines, which when studied closely begin to bend engrossingly. Facing this is a piece that focuses on a high-rise apartment block, the camera drawing back slowly as traces of traffic shoot across the scene at unnatural altitudes. The visual effect is a promenade of Babel towers, scratched by the passing traffic. Emotionally the juxtaposed pieces invite introspection, viewers are asked to consider their own place in time and space, on a mental and physical level.

“There is this struggle for form – I’m trying to get a very certain form in the arrangement of space and time in the video,” he says. Structure and form is bent to leave the viewer disorientated, but this is systemic of our relationship to our surroundings according to Burkhardt. Video is a malleable apparatus suited to creating this effect. He muses on the medium, “I’m working with video but I’m not so much interested in video art, just for me it’s one field of another. At the moment it’s my medium of expression, but that doesn’t actually mean it’s also my main interest. I take the rhythms from music, I take the colours from painting and I take the structures from literature and theory.”

Never without his camera and laptop, he is constantly prepared to capture his next piece. But in an age where everyone is an amateur artist, capturing images and video for YouTube consumption, where is his place as a professional video artist? “I consciously decided to work with things that everyone can use, and to be in a competition that everyone can get into,” he says. “But I try to make things a bit different, spending a lot of time and taking care, because that’s maybe missing in a lot of cases. It’s very easy to get stuff on YouTube, but what is it?”

“To film everything is political, in the case of surveying, but just filming everything doesn’t mean a lot,” he continues. “People forget that sometimes. If you really think about pictures and how we are related to pictures then that is a totally different point.” And that is the point of Urban Roundabout – images are important, they speak to us and we can communicate with them – the whole process is circular. But also that they help us understand our place in, and our perception of the world. Burkhardt’s work suggests that these concepts and vistas are constantly shifting. His final comment is cautionary and playful. “You have to constantly fragment your perceptions, otherwise you would go mad.”

Urban Roundabout runs until March 20 as part of the JUE Festival

Zendai Contemporary Art Exhibition Hall, Wuwei Creative Space, 1436 Jungong Lu, near Xiangyin Lu. Tel 3512 0988,

By Liam Singleton


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