The following interview was originally published in Artslant in September, 2014.
Chicago, Sep. 2014: Robert Burnier has a large body of work on display this fall at multiple locations all over the city. In addition to Inland Delta, a solo show in the West Loop at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, he is part of The Chicago Effect: Redefining the Middle at the Hyde Park Art Center on Chicago’s South Side, and presents a separate collaborative project, Inside Space, with artists Jason Lazarus and Molly Brandt at the Riverside Arts Center. As Burnier describes it, this latter project “investigates what is hidden and elusive” in material experience, isolating “what is activated for us by voids and gaps.” It’s a bundle of themes that reoccurs throughout his work. Finally his IN/SITU presentation will open at EXPO Chicago this week where the artist was curated by Renaud Proch.
Clearly Burnier is having a moment. It is exciting to witness. With a background in computer science and painting, his sculptural works interrogate material and philosophical concerns. In one ongoing series, he begins with a flat piece of aluminum, folding it methodically until further folds are no longer possible. The resulting elegantly crumpled objects are covered with a layer of matte paint, and thereafter appear like crumpled balls of thick paper; they evoke the residue of vibrant energies — sitting like cast aside experiments whose original purpose is not longer accessible. Burnier’s work reintroduces the process of thinking as a final object in and of itself.
Caroline Picard: Is there any synergy between the different contexts and sites where you are currently presenting work?
Robert Burnier: Given the theme of Inland Delta, my solo show, it’s been serendipitous to have different views of my work in disparate locales. To me, it all gathers around the solo show at the gallery, which becomes a kind of central node. I hope people will get something special out of piecing the different locales together if they happen to see my work in more than one place.
CP: This fall I noticed a new development in your work, where you started to install modified and deconstructed crates. Where did the inspiration for those works come from? Were you looking through your storage unit when you suddenly felt obligated to use them somehow?
RB: There wasn’t one moment where I decided I’d work with the crates. It’s been on my radar for some time. Still, one of my favorite moments in thinking about them happened a few years ago when I was talking to David Dobie of Heaven Gallery. While unpacking work for a show there, he admired the crates I made to house the work. As soon as he said that, he immediately apologized — he didn’t mean that he didn’t like the work in the crates! I was happy to agree, saying that I definitely wanted to explore that issue someday. Whatever happened and wherever I lived, I’ve been dragging the crates around with me, even paying to store them until I felt ready to figure them out. Now they’re back! But in a way I kind of “disappeared” them again with my modifications.