Carl Burgess Is Gonna Find You, And Take it Slowly
Carl Burgess is a fimmaker and artist whose work is full of surrealism, absurdism, and the abstract appeal found in mutating, shimmering forms. Above is his video piece, A Turn for the Worse. A former Art director at Hi-ReS!, and part of the Blinkart collective, Burgess spends his time between commissioned work and creating pieces that explore the dark humour found in our media-saturated times, when what’s “real” is often unwittingly distorted into a hyper-real parody of itself.
There’s often a sense of mischief in your work. What draws you towards it?
Carl Burgess: I suppose there is a bit of mischief going on in my work. It’s not really intentional, I think it naturally just works its way out during the creative process. I don’t like my work to be too dry; and I always think a touch of humor helps make your work more accessible.
You seem to enjoy playing with reality, to create a sort of hyper reality. Or distorting reality in some way. Your work reminds me of the music videos of Chris Cunningham, and Chris Morris-type absurdism. Who are your influences?
My influences are people like Erwin Wurm, the The Chapman Brothers, and Chris Cunningham. I suppose they all have a dark comedic aesthetic to their work, it almost comes across as if they don’t take it totally seriously and they’re just having a laugh, which I admire.
Both in Talk Show and Disappointment you capture the human face and its expressions (or lack of them) in its goofy, gurning glory, or sullen unattractiveness. They remind me of old Punch magazine cartoons. Would you say your work has a satirical bent?
Definitely. Talk show and Disappointment are both very satirical, they are just taking a closer look at reality and smiling a bit. I haven’t done all that much extra with the footage, I’m pretty much showing it how it is, it’s more a curated observation. I suppose that’s the Chris Morris influence coming through, I’d never really made the connection before you mentioned it, it must be those hundreds of times I watched The Day Today and Jam at university. I just love what’s happening right now, things that people see every day; only when you stop and look at the details do you realize how absurd it actually is. If you watch ITV for more than 5 minutes there is going to be something great going on. The horror of all of this is a big influence on my work, the people on these shows are naturally far more disturbing than anything I could come up with. The piece Talk Show was made for an exhibition in London. I recorded Jeremy Kyle every morning a week before the exhibition. In the evening I’d edit the clips and take out the backgrounds. So everything that was shown on the launch night was from the previous week’s TV, so it retained a freshness that you wouldn’t have with archive footage. All the clothes and styling were right there in the moment, which was important to making it work.
Can you tell us about your project The Most Beautiful Swiss Books? It alludes to vanitas paintings in some way, right?
Yes, that was a collaboration between Laurenz Brunner and Thomas Traum. The Most Beautiful Swiss Books is a prestigious design award that showcases the best in book design that year and this was the catalog for 2010. Laurenz, who was designing the book for 2009/10, came to us with the idea of recreating traditional vanitas paintings with 3D software. Instead of showcasing the books in the regular way of photographing them in a location we painstakingly remade all of the books that were winners that year and placed them within a 3D scene. It was an especially tricky process as the books that were in there had something extra special about them, they were all precisely crafted and this was something we had to get right to accurately portray the books. The default 3D idea evolved through the process. At first we were remaking old wooden table tops, candles, skulls, and grapes – just copying the old paintings, but it ended up looking a bit naff. The concept was still strong so we evolved the idea to embrace more of the things that were traditionally default 3D, like checkerboard backgrounds, reflective spheres etc, with a bit of the old fashioned vanitas thrown in.
I very much enjoy your blog Pictures From The Daily Mail. How did you start it?
Pictures From The Daily Mail slowly happened over time. Every time I saw a cool picture on there I’d save it. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them, it was more just a personal collection of images. Only when I saw them as a whole did I realize that they were saying something more, and that I should put them on show. It’s kind of an extension of As-Found where I’m a contributer, but instead of being able to show images from anywhere it was just restricted to the Daily Mail. Lots of people have had a pop at the Daily Mail in the past, it’s nothing new, they’re an obvious target. That’s why I wanted Pictures From The Daily Mail to be more of a celebration of this stuff as opposed to a cynical critique on the paper, as deep down I love it far more than I hate it. I just leave the images as they are, I don’t feel they need to be made to look any more ridiculous.
Your latest piece, a frightening yet compelling music video for electronic music duo Ratatat’s single “Drugs” (above), is made using stock footage from Getty Images. It could be seen as a companion piece to Three People Trapped in Infinite Politeness. What is it that appeals to you about stock images being manipulated?
I had the idea to make a video from stock footage long before Evan [bass player and producer] got in touch about making a video for Ratatat. Getty Images is something I’ve worked with in the past, and I knew it had legs to become something more. In a similar way to the wayPictures From The Daily Mail came about, I’d been scouring Getty for a long time — saving up a library of these clips. I was captivated by how surreal they were, the long stares into the camera, the fake smiles and the bad acting. I’d think “Who the hell buys these clips”? A good example of this is the woman at the end of the Ratatat video who’s stroking the dog, that one is so weird! I’d love to know what purpose they had in mind for that one.
You’ve made a film for Advanced Beauty, a project that is an “ongoing exploration of digital artworks born and influenced by sound," and were involved with the first collection which sought to “produce “video sound sculptures.” What software do you use to realize these projects, and is technology an integral part of your working process?
”http://advancedbeauty.org/blog/" target=blank">Advanced Beauty was a project curated by Matt Pyke from blank">Universal Everything, and in some respects it was the first full length motion piece I had worked on. It was my transition between more graphics based work and film making. I guess that explains why it doesn’t move all that much. A lot of my personal work comes together through the exploration of process, both with digital software and real life technical processes. One of the things I’m exploring at the moment is getting objects chromed. I saw a technique in the news used by a Manchester City footballer who gets his cars sprayed to a mirror finish. So I got in touch with the mechanic and got him to spray some things for me. It’s a great process, it instantly beautifies any object no matter how horrible looking it once was. I’m really interested in this kind of thing, looking at scientific processes and seeing how it they can be applied to my work.
Do you use technology as a tool to manipulate reality as a form of social critique or commentary?
I think there are two sides to my work, there are the more abstract pieces that focus on beauty and technology, and there’s the humorous side which is more satirical. I kind of bounce between the two — whenever I’m bored of one, I lean towards the other.
Susan. Still life sculpture. Photographed by Tamin. 2007.
How does your more abstract work tie in with the satirical stuff?
Even though the two are different, I try to retain a visual thread that hopefully ties all of this together into a coherent body of work. Quite a lot of my older work has an ambient slowness to it. It took some work from the viewer to get it, almost like a Douglas Gordon piece. I tried to hold their attention as long as possible with the minimum amount of action, seeing how long I could push it.