FINDINGS (catalogue essay)

You’re walking along the street on your way home after work one evening, and on the footpath lies a small bundle of fabric. On closer inspection, it’s a glove. The fingers are a bit crumpled, and it’s a bit grubby, so you know it’s been worn, perhaps even loved by its owner, but there it is, sitting all by itself in the cool night air.

Not many people would stop to pick it up, but someone like an artist who has assigned themselves an art project, to maintain the discipline of observation, interpretation and representation, and which pertains to the stories of their local environment, would.

This is just what Peter Burke has been doing. Every day on his way to and from work for over a year he‘s been gathering these curious abandoned objects and diarising their details: their shape, colour, material, what lines, tears or holes they bear, which position they lay in and when and where he found them. Now, on the walls of the gallery, we see a series of delicately rendered, often poetic, images of dozens of gloves, all different and all silent but each imbued with their own character, their own stories to tell.

It’s up to us to fill in those stories: who did the gloves belong to? What kind of life did their owners have? How did the abandoned gloves get there? Do their owners know the gloves are missing? If so, are they aware they now have another life?

One has to respect the artists in our community. It is they who watch, listen, observe and record life – from the momentary to the eternal, on local and global levels. Some say this process started in the seventeenth century, when Velasquez painted his revolutionary Las Meninas (1656), with his irreverent depiction of the Spanish royal family – alongside himself. Almost two centuries later Goya depicted horrifying images of what man is capable of during the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in his revolutionary The Disasters of War (1810-14). Both court painters, they exemplify artists who wanted to separate from the demands of their patrons – the Church, the aristocracy, the merchant class – to question, challenge, report on what was going on in the world. Early Modernists such as Courbet, Manet, Daumier, Lautrec continued breaking with convention, fighting against the rules of the salon, the expectations of society, and not only depicted the stories of life they wanted to tell but in the manner, or style, they wanted to depict it.

Meanwhile Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) articulated the appearance of a new industrial populace: the flâneur – an urban wanderer – and the Rag-Picker – outsiders who collected and reused discarded and dirty objects to liberate them from their fate as a commodity. Later the Situationist Guy Debord (1931-94) articulated the dérive – a way of ‘drifting’ through a city in order to encounter all it contains. And today we witness a contemporary flâneur, ‘dériving’ in his local area, encountering these remnants from another life, now glowering, ghost-like in the gallery, from which we are to derive our own stories.

© Kirsten Rann, February 2011