30.09 – 30.10.10

against the grain / tim burns / survey

Opening 6pm Thursday 30th September.

6.30 launch by Professor Donald Brook & Glenn Barkley (Curator, MCA)


Tim Burns claims the distinction of being one of the most provocative amongst the provocative of participating artists during the heyday of the Mildura Sculpturescapes. He made an indelible mark in 1973 and 1975 though he exhibited in neither: in '73 Minefields was pulled at the last moment ('Either it goes or the entire event is cancelled'); and in '75 he "couldn't think of anything to do." 

Against the grain \ Tim Burns surveys the artist's 40-year practice and includes works on paper; documentation and archival material from news media and art press; film (super-8 and low-budget 16mm), and live installation performance. 

Tim Burns is one of Australia’s true avant-garde and socially engaged artists whose use of interactivity, surveillance, performance film, TV, video and painting often broke new ground in its innovative capitalization of media affects. Burns lived and worked out of New York for 20 years, where he is mostly known for his film and theatre work. The guerilla footage that characterizes the style of (for instance) Why Cars? CARnage! (1977) has a definite resonance with the on-the-fly digital video shot and distributed with such ease today. 

Although he grew up in the WA wheatbelt – where he now lives again – the majority of his works remain unknown to an Australian audience. This is unlikely to be the case for much longer as his place in the recent history of Australian art begins to surface amongst the current resurgence of interest in the often socially engaged wit of 70's art practices. 

The arrest of his work A Change of Plan at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1973 became a platform for artists' rights in public galleries; his successful postcard campaign in Mildura to have crosswalks installed won the American institute for Graphic Arts book award in '77; and his super-8 feature film Why Cars? – CARnage! won the New York Creative Artists award, and predicted the destruction of the World Trade Centre by Arab extremists long before 9/11. His use of super-8 as a serious medium predates any of the movements either in the States or in Australia.  The extremely low budget 16 mm film Against the Grain took the writings of Jean Genet on terrorism and state control and contextualized it within an Australian context. The film has been translated into Japanese and Spanish, and "he is probably the only white man to make an international award winning comedy – Luke's Party, '86 completed '91 – about the stolen generation and get away with it." 

Excerpts from Tim Burns' press release have been used extensively in this copy; self-promotion and do-it-yourself culture has long been another key factor in the practices of artists working parallel to, and intersecting the paths of the institutions of art. 

In 1978 J.Hoberman of New York's influential Village Voice wrote "Although Why Cars? CARnage is an aggressive jumble of car wrecks, TV (interviews), scenes from loft life, and some Chinese propoganda shot off of (sic) the screen at Film Forums, Burns is at his best as a filmmaker when shamlessy resurrecting corny site gags." 

Burn's propensity for corny site gags was mostly convincing when, on Sunday 19th September (as a participant in (to) give time to time: mildura site*) he orchestrated the explosion of a car and a couple of TV's, complete with missing remote control, CFS fire crew and the arrival of the law in a police car, sirens blaring. The smokey explosive theatrical event signalled historical and more recent political events (including the rhetoric and affects of 'War on Terror'/ fear of terror). Equally resonant was the way the 'installation' in the sculpture park amphitheatre heightened the irony of the overbearing and necessary negotiation of OHW&S regulations to avoid litigation against public safety and property loss that threatens to stop a thought/event before it can even begin (or an institution before it can continue). 

Against the grain \ Tim Burns \ Survey at AEAF will include a selection of documentation, installation performance & screenings of key films including Against the Grain; Luke’s Party; Why Cars? CARnage!. The artist will be in-situ in the noelsheridanprojectspace and the main gallery.  


Teri Hoskin, AEAF Curator

*(to) give time to time: mildura site was devised by domenico de clario in collaboration with mildura palimpsest


invite invite

Further reading (a short list)

Lindzee Smith, Interview with Tim Burns and Jim Jarmusch, BOMB 2/Winter 1982

Tim Burns, ‘TV Provera: interactive real-time TV’ RealTime issue #65: Feb-March 2005

Interview with Bette Gordon, Whitehot Magazine, August 2010



tim burns CARnage

Tim Burns, Why Cars? CARnage poster for The Furnace, New York, 1977

tim burns CARnage

Tim Burns, Why Cars? CARnage!, billboard for the World Trade Center, New York, 1977

tim burns CARnage

Tim Burns, Why Cars? CARnage!, billboard for the WTC, New York, 1977

tim burns CARnage

Tim Burns, Why Cars? CARnage!, crew, 1977