Untitled Again, Esa Jaske Gallery, Sydney




Catalogue essay by Ann Finegan

In our current age of digital convergence screens are aglow, day and night, in varying degrees of luminosity: on telephones, tvs, computers, billboards and even illuminated lightbox bus shelters. We slide from one finely pixelated surface to another, like so much of Kittler’s eyewash in a world at sea in transmission. Unanchored, barely attuned to the noise of images, and certainly barely tuned in unless the image is noisy, aggressive and sexy enough, we shy away from being barked at.

In contrast to this sliding away of the eye from the screen’s surface, the quality of touch, of an authentic tactile surface of matter, comforts in a deeply psychical way, settling us in as beings inhabiting a world in which we cohabit with things as they are. As Merleau-Ponty made us so acutely aware, we are beings who participate in what he called the ‘flesh of the world’, and seeing, as such, is an act of palpation by the gaze, a kind of eye-feeling which reflects our kinship with things of matter. For, from habits deeply ingrained in childhood, we learn to see as we touch, moving from knowledges of palpable sensations to discernments of discreet and distinct visual elements. Sight and touch are imbricated in layers of material circumstance, which Merleau-Ponty called the ‘texture of the world.’ Perhaps, it could be argued that the hard glowing substance of late capitalism’s screen culture is also part and parcel of the collective assemblage of things in the world, in the manner in which Paik attempted to humanize TV by embedding the television screens of Global Groove into the literalized Nature of leafy foliage.

He barely succeeded; screen culture still has a tendency to set itself apart, to never bridge its millimetre thicknesses of glass which resolutely removes reality. Even Paik’s most intimate engagements with television’s simulacrum, so proximately imaged in the faces of the audience mirrored on the cups of Charlotte Moorman’s TV Bra, only emphasized the infinite reserve of telepresence, even when the tv screen was at eye-level, in your face, and worn against the skin. The screen intervenes. And likewise Paik’s TV Buddha ends up as a gag about telepresence, unable to collapse its infinite loop into a closing of the gap. TV sends: it displaces into its dual functions of sending and receiving no matter how close. It can never manage to be there—Heidegger’s Dasein—in the way that mere matter presences so intimately in the manner of drawing works, for example, those by Terry Burrows.

Thus this preamble on the screen serves to mark distinctions and differences which have gone unnoticed. The making of marks, of the contact of pigment and ink on the surfaces of paper, canvas and other more traditional templates, impacts as affect through the shared body of matter: the real thing, reality as affect, self-presencing, rather than the infinite carrying off of image-relay.

Burrows saturates the visual field of his canvases with images, with impressions. But, instead, his images never have the possibility of transfer, of being carried off. They are too deeply imbricated in material substrate; too deeply of the thing itself, communicating proximity and intimacy.They draw us into the world instead of opening the possibility of carrying us off. Which is not to say that they don’t open to meditation and dreaming. The difference is this contact of a more proximate dreaming. His depicted touch resonates with the contact of the making of marks and gestures. They soak into the material fibres of the canvas, fixing his characteristic figures which float, seemingly ungrounded, in a palpable matrix.

As in non-Western cultures his work has never expressed the need for any of the anchors of classical three-dimensional perspective. The material matrix is itself the ground which yields his often ethereal figures [many of which are no more than abstracted gestures] the intimacy of immediate proximity. This same principle of contact through an emotional depth remote from any concern with depth of field, is experienced as spirit or shamanism—like Beuys’ use of fat and felt which similarly attests to directly manipulating states of affairs through the manipulation of matter. Burrows probes and explores texture through drawing it out to translucent layers, radiantly akin to emotional states, which stack up against denser opacities, more redolent of coarser feelings. Like Barthes’ “grain of the voice,” there’s a timbre to touch, a quality which Deleuze, in turn, described as affecting and being affected.

Because of this direct connection, the material quality of pigments and inks works on us differently to images on screen swimming under glass in its acquarium effect. Therefore, the tactile layers and embrasions of the worked surface of Burrows’ canvases—even the transparencies—carry traces of the world as lived in and touched. The electronic simulation, by contrast, hollows out to a kind of ghost under water, and remains remote like Pipilotti Rist’s ‘Sip My Ocean’. Rist places you underwater, drowning, unable to directly touch the everyday objects which slip or fall to the bottom of her ocean. The screen is liquid, uploadable, mutable, and ultimately elusive, foregrounding a reality which remains an alternative, virtual world, a precarious ghostland [as argued separately, and under different guises, by Virilio, heralding the danger, and by Manovich questioning a spurious tendency of computer compositing to a freaky realism]. Burrows works up close; emphatically, the tactile element manifests literally in degrees of matter.

As such Burrows has never had any need for realism, which, in passing itself off as real, always negates its substrate. Though, ironically, much of his imagery is sourced from his experiments in electronic drawing—he frequently tries out and tests the efficacy of drawings which originate on screen—the ultimate ground is fixed material imprint, and the fixing of spirit. As Heidegger said of the fourfold, the meeting-place of spirit, earth, people and sky, the call must be answered through a grounding in material substrate.