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- David Burdeny
These works present my abiding interest in the thresholds that divide and connect the sea to land. I am fascinated with the quality of light and the spatial immensity of the ocean. I have enormous reverence for feeling so small in the presence of something so vast, where perspective, scale, time and distance momentarily become intangible. Photographing as a process of clarifying this quality, I work towards creating formalized, liminal spaces. The glory lies not in this act of clarification or reduction, but in the experience of what is left - sublime experience located in ordinary space: a slowly moving sky, the sun moving across a boulders surface or sea foam swirling around a pylon. Exposed under the light of dusk and dawn, the shutter is held open for several minutes, recording the ocean and sky as it continuously repositions itself on the negative, a process both dependent upon and vulnerable to chance. The resultant image is an accretion of past and present. Each moment is layered over the moment immediately preceding it - a single image that embodies the weight of cumulative time and unending metamorphosis.
David Burdeny’s photographs breathe; and they remind us to breathe as well. These temporal studies of human-made and nature-made structures sharing space together in a unique habitat -- on or about the water -- have the power to invite our single-mindedness elsewhere. Usually square in format, the photographs most often bring our initial gaze to the centre of the composition, but not to a floating point around which compositional elements sit in quiet equilibrium; rather, to a particular detail. Compositionally, Burdeny’s works discard the simple distinction between figure and ground because quality of light and attention to the periphery play an integral role in this balance. His acute architectural sensibility evokes the lived space that surrounds and comprises structures within their context rather than the simple reduction of meaning to figurative forms and their internal coherence.
The attention to the formal aspects of each composition makes me aware of the camera’s perspective, Burdeny’s perspective, underscoring the intentionality of his compositional choices. The combination of his images’ ability to compel viewers to enter, and to bring their attention towards the axis of detail and movement, light and dark, inorganic forms and so-called natural landscapes (for even an idea of nature is a human construct to some degree), suggests that, for Burdeny, our relationship to the world is not a passive one. His notice goes to the ease with which constructed forms, even improbable ones, co-exist with, and even decrease in significance to, shorelines, water and horizon. Massive concrete piers and pilings, the end-products of will, machinery and brute force, acquire a comic lightness in their incongruity and latent lack of confidence. Breakwaters and piers become lookouts and thresholds onto ourselves. The estranged beauty of these subjects, which seem to have captivated the artist, consistently resonates a particular ambient tonal arrangement that is discernable across the whole body of work.
Burdeny’s architectures, emplaced between shoreline and the inevitable horizon, create an immediate environment that evokes limits, both formal and existential. Yet these photographs are not static, analytic pictures of a particular time and place. And the limits are entirely secondary to a greater process. The images contain a quality of time fleeting and time stopped, together. They simultaneously depict a slice in time – static, constructed forms captured in more detail than would normally be afforded the eye – and a movement through time, extended exposures yielding convoy-like cloud formations in the skies and shifting light effects on and off of the water. Standing before Burdeny’s photos, I am inspired to regard, reflect and remain self-aware all at once. It is the two-fold aspect of human time, one that tries to fix experience within memory, and nature’s timeline, one that evokes the unfathomable, that I am consistently drawn to consider.
“Where is he bringing me?” is the question that arises. There is a clue in where he is not leading: towards grandiose images of human disdain for our environment - awe-inspiring and haunting - that can also be paralyzingly sublime: evoking superstitious powers beyond our understanding, Gods behind nature’s wrath. Instead, Burdeny’s attentive regard, for coherence set amidst apparent incompleteness, for estranged and anachronistic spaces, and of the co-habitation of inorganic and organic forms, bespeaks a meditative exploration into meaning that is entirely contemporary: nature is not just “out there” to be bracketed off, captured, and used up. The human scale, of utmost relevance to Burdeny, invites one to enter, to remain, to consider and to act.
It is the ratio of human time, the brevity of our lives, in relation to nature’s time, which extends beyond our understanding, which has the power to instill in us the humility necessary to call us to action, to care for our world within the time we inhabit it. Burdeny’s photographs are not as much about our relationship to time and space as they are about the ratios of times to places.
“In Darwin’s work, time moves at two speeds: there is the vast abyss of time in which generations change and animals mutate and evolve; and then there is the gnat’s-breath, hummingbird-heart time of creaturely existence, where our children are born and grow and, sometimes, die before us…The space between the tiny but heartfelt time of human life and the limitless time of Nature became Darwin’s implicit subject. Religion had always reconciled quick time and deep time by pretending that the one was in some way a prelude to the other—a prelude or a prologue or a trial or a treatment. Artists of the Romantic period, in an increasingly secularized age, thought that through some vague kind of transcendence they could bridge the gap. They couldn’t. Nothing could. The tragedy of life is not that there is no God but that the generations through which it progresses are too tiny to count very much. There isn’t a special providence in the fall of a sparrow, but try telling that to the sparrows. The human challenge that Darwin felt, and that his work still presents, is to see both times truly—not to attempt to humanize deep time, or to dismiss quick time, but to make enough of both without overlooking either.”
Excerpted from “Rewriting Nature” by Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, Oct 23, 2006 issue
UPCOMING EXHIBITION; 2017 Oceans, Bau-Xi Photo, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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