435 King Street East, Cambridge, ON
Our bodies affect our selves in such intricate and complex ways. Marianne Burlew’s research focuses on the body’s connection to identity and uses the language of sensation to bridge abstract concepts of self into tangibility. Featuring two recorded memories as installations, Twinning is an open invitation to experience and reflect using presented fragments in partnership with your own body. Sisters centres around two sisters on a couch while one plays with the other’s hair, while I Miss lays you down beside a girl who longs for someone while in her bedroom. Each installation combines video, sound, sculpture, and furniture in an open arrangement.
Marianne Burlew is an installation artist whose work focuses on themes of embodiment and the senses. Burlew holds an MFA from the University of Waterloo and a BFA from York University. During her graduate studies she was able to travel to London (UK) under the Win Shantz Scholarship to work for artists Saskia Olde Wolbers and Anne Hardy. Since 2011, Burlew has participated in a variety of artist residencies and exhibitions. Such residencies include the textile studio at the Harbourfront Centre (2012-2014 Toronto) and more recently a collaborative residency with Jacques Samson for an installation at Regart, centre d’artistes en art actuel (2016 Levis, QC). She has exhibited all over Ontario as well as in Paterson (NJ) and Alexandria (VA). Her work is part of various private collections as well as the Textile Collection at the Idea Exchange and the City of Ottawa Art Collection. Burlew currently lives in Ottawa and is part of the Enriched Bread Artists.
Embodiment and Reverie in Marianne Burlew’s Twinning
By Natalie Hunter
Marianne Burlew’s Twinning, an interactive sculpture and video installation, provides a viewer the conditions for experiencing their own body within space and time. Employing tactile furniture, textile objects, and sculptural video screens, Burlew offers a multidimensional meditative space for deep contemplation, comfort, and silence. Viewers are invited to interact with each work by resting on hand-built pieces of furniture, observing carefully positioned video screens, caressing a sculpture, or exploring an object through touch and its weight against the body. This rare glimpse of being in an age saturated with moving images, screens, instant communication, and constant background noise temporarily transports us out of ourselves.
Through silence, tactility, and the senses, Burlew transcends our experience of the white cube and reimagines our relationship with objects and the video screen. In essence, Twinning enables us to understand the rhythms of our own bodies in space and time.
Each installation included in Twinning engages multiple senses at one time. Touch, sound, and site awaken a viewer’s body to the space they inhabit, and the space the artist inhabits too. Burlew appears in each of her video installations in Twinning. In one participatory video work titled Sisters, she is seated on a couch braiding her sister’s hair. The screen, installed on the floor, tilts up toward the viewer engaging the body from the ground. A bench is provided for viewers to rest and peer down at the screen. A weighted furry object is placed on the bench next to the sitter. Headphones emanate spirited conversation between the sisters, soft ambient noises, and the textures of hair rustling between fingers. At first it seems the viewer is intruding on a private moment between siblings, however the floor seating and soft object invites us to participate in this intimate exchange between sisters. Sitting cross-legged on the bench in front of the screen, I find myself transported in time to my own experiences of sisterly affection. The braiding of hair can be seen as a gendered practice learned by young girls in childhood. But it is more importantly a gesture of closeness, human contact, and tenderness as the body understands the boundaries of another.
This intimacy in Burlew’s work brings to mind Anne Hamilton’s multimedia textile and video installations where embodiment and the body are ever present. Burlew’s practice is also reminiscent of Lygia Clark’s participatory sculptures like Air and Stone (1966) and Breathe With Me (1966) that intimately engage a viewer’s body through the stillness and mindfulness of a breath. With this in mind, Burlew confronts installation art’s theatrical and aggressive beginnings in favour of a passive, understated, still, and intimate physical experience for the viewer. The participatory nature of Burlew’s work enables a viewer to converse with the artist through physical gesture. Her installations become sites that allow a silent conversation to exist between artist and participant. For example, in I Miss, Burlew is seen on a video screen resting quietly on a bed holding a textile object resembling a pillow. She slowly caresses the pillow object with eyes closed, her head tilted slightly away from the camera. Similar objects are placed on a large fabric covered platform that resembles a bed. The platform is adjacently placed in front of the video screen, enabling a clear view of the screen for the sitter. Crawling on the bed and holding the object encourages me to mimic Burlew’s subtle movements, quiet breaths, and soft caressing of the object. The pillow is heavy with sand and presses against my body with considerable weight. A physical feeling that is both comfortable and yet allows me to understand the gravity of my own body in relation to the surfaces, objects, and space around it. By mirroring Burlew, I encounter the screen not as a picture, but as a physical object in which to receive visual and physical cues for mimicry.
In her article Visual Pleasure In Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey describes the cinema screen as a mirror; a complex gendered device through which an audience unconsciously obtains pleasure in looking1 . Although not cinematic, Burlew’s thoughtful video installations consider the body’s relationship with the screen. Her videos, subtly performative, engage the viewer's body in participation while breaking down the mirror barrier. In Burlew’s non-narrative experiential work I Miss, a viewer is invited to participate and mimic her position and actions on the bed. A gesture reiterated in the careful placement of the platform bed and weighted sand pillows in front of the video screen. In this work, the viewer mirrors the screen through mimicry. The screen becomes a bodily object and an extended space of the gallery. In his article Other Spaces, Michael Foucault identifies a mirror as a kind of utopia; a “placeless place” that is both real and not2. In Twinning, Burlew uses the screen to transport us to another place, while keeping us grounded in the present by engaging our senses. In this way, Burlew’s work looks at perception and experience through the lens of video as a sculptural physical experience. Instead of a separate moving picture for the screen, Burlew provides us an extended space; another space in which to contemplate conscious being. A space that allows a viewer to become lost in reverie. Ultimately what we experience in her installations is what we bring with us to the gallery in body and mind.
1 Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure In Narrative Cinema”. Originally published in Screen. Vol. 16, (Autumn 1975), pp 6 - 18.
2 Foucault, Michael. “Other Spaces” in Utopias: Documents of Contemporary Art. NewYork: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press.Edited by Richard Noble. 1967. pp. 60 - 68.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure In Narrative Cinema”. Originally published in Screen. Vol. 16, (Autumn 1975), pp 6 - 18.
Foucault, Michael. “Other Spaces” in Utopias: Documents of Contemporary Art. NewYork: Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press. Edited by Richard Noble. 1967. pp. 60 - 68.
Natalie Hunter is an artist and educator from Hamilton, Ontario. She holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Waterloo, and a Bachelor of Art in Visual Art with a Concentration in Curatorial Studies from Brock University (First Class standing). Her multidisciplinary practice is rooted within the medium of photography, and also extends to material investigations in sculpture, installation, video, and drawing. She has shown her work in Canada and the United States in numerous exhibitions. As a sessional instructor for the University of Waterloo’s Department of Fine Arts she has taught Introduction to Digital Imaging, Contemporary Art, and Digital Photography.