148. Sarah Burger

Sarah Burger ‘New Continents, Light Lines,’ 2017. Image courtesy of VITRINE and the artist.

Swiss artist Sarah Burger discusses the work made for her current solo exhibition at VITRINE, London, her first in the UK. With an onus placed on the materiality of sites and architecture, Burger uses physical spaces as the jump-off point for her process-led investigations. Combining two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements created using both analog and digital techniques, Burger develops complex works which make reference to the topics of presence, duration, time and the history of material. 

 

Your practice has a large focus on architectural spaces, often the social spaces of cities. What is it about these sites that drives your practice and piques your interest?

I understand this world as an ongoing sculpture, an ongoing transformation of interacting entities, non-human and human ones together.

I’m interested in the sculptural presence of architecture, in its’ time and endurance through time. I understand this world as an ongoing sculpture, an ongoing transformation of interacting entities, non-human and human ones together. 

The materiality of architectural structures (mainly stones in ancient times, more recently iron, steel) makes them last and degrade over a long period of time. Whether you look at an urban or a country landscape, it’s presence is always a coexistence of different times and duration of this.

The work created for ‘New Continents, Light Lines’ was created with the unique architecture and positioning of VITRINE in mind? How did you utilise and contextualise the space?

The VITRINE space is a demanding one, one that doesn’t please a possible white-cube desire of anonymous interior walls. The space itself is an entity with which I somehow worked - although from a distance. Besides its unwieldy dimensions, which intrigue me, it was also the fact that it is embedded in a public situation that made me think around the tension between its’ limited exhibition area and its’ actual site-taking presence. The shows at VITRINE happen outside. It’s not given where the exhibition starts, you can see it from far away when you walk towards the square. People who work or live in the buildings around see it when they look out of their window. When there is the market on the square, the VITRINE becomes the background scenery of a daily life situation. 

Sarah Burger ‘New Continents, Light Lines,’ 2017. Image courtesy of VITRINE and the artist.

The wide format of the vitrine is cinematic. The process for ‘New Continents, Light Lines’ was to find and evidence how my practice can add something to the given situation of the gallery. I often work with material processes, with raw materials like soil and stones and chemical reactions between different color qualities, which I then enlarge by digital means of image generation. The result of this process is a series of large-scale prints, each showing something that might remind of a cross-section through a continent, somehow the hidden parts of a mass of land.

Having read a little of how you describe your work, there seems to be a consistent anthropomorphism of the spaces you are working with and around. Is this a conscious decision? Do you feel that this way of relating to, and accessing the space, effects the dialogue created by the work?

I do not see it as anthropomorphism but rather as encountering others and collaborating with spaces and materials. As I said above, I understand them as entities, as things, as beings with which I join for the duration of a work. Each space, each matter, has its’ own forces; abilities, restraints, and idiosyncrasies, which do have an influence on the work, of getting to the resulting work.

Your works appeared to me to act as relics of the materiality and history of the site; markers combining the various understandings of the spatial; the spiritual confronting the temporal. How do you feel about this reading of the work?

Language is such an enigmatic matter that allows endless combinations. Sometimes I do encounter combinations of words that do open up a new space, a surprising glimpse into a different velocity accompanied by a somehow physical impression. “The spiritual confronting the temporal.” If someone creates such a glimpse with words accelerated by my works I feel acknowledged.  

Sarah Burger ‘New Continents, Light Lines,’ 2017. Image courtesy of VITRINE and the artist.

Alongside Fine Arts, you have studied Philosophy, Comparative Literature and Linguistics. Your answer to my previous question touched briefly on your relationship to language. Do you feel that these areas of your education have had an impact on your practice? If so, in what way?

Art and philosophy are two different practices… I guess what they have in common is to work on the rim, on the edge, there where there are still unknown lands and oceans.

Art and philosophy are two different practices. They are both reflexive but with different means and decisions. One creates worlds, the other one reflects and argues conceptually relations within this world. I guess what they have in common is to work on the rim, on the edge, there where there are still unknown lands and oceans. Some philosophical texts, concepts, and ideas accompany my artistic practice in an associative way. They became part of how I live.
Literature is one of the arts, but studying literature means to work with works of art in a scientific way. I got to know a wide range of great texts, but I never felt completely comfortable with analyzing literature. Still, I learned some interesting skills for how to work with a text. In the meantime, writing became part of my artistic practice.

I was wondering about the level of agency you give to your materials. You have already mentioned that your materials influence the work, how far do these material investigations determine the outcome? Is there any point where you have to delay or recall a process-led decision? 

It depends on the works as to how far the chosen materials determine the outcome of the work. The “New Continents” which are now shown at VITRINE are based on gypsum and pigments which I mixed. The structures they created together were their own process. After that, I continued the work in a very determined way. 

However, for example in the work ‘(un)earthed’ I buried nine objects made out of degradable fabric in nine different places and unearthed, observed, photographed and buried them again every two or three weeks. In the meantime, all the nine objects have disappeared. In this work, I did decide a lot of things, for instance how I want the photographs to be and how I write as part of the work. But all that I could only decide on the base of what the objects in their surroundings, in their earth, with their mushrooms and insects did and were doing.

Sarah Burger ‘New Continents, Light Lines,’ 2017. Image courtesy of VITRINE and the artist.

You stated that you see the world as “…an ongoing sculpture, an ongoing transformation of interacting entities, non-human and human ones together”. It brought to mind current discussions regarding the Anthropocene, in particular how our human-centric actions and thinking regarding the world has impacted upon it. Do you see your work as participating in this dialogue? 

I see my work in a contemporary neighborhood to these thoughts. We live in the same world with and around the same information, knowing about human influence and dependency. But as I said above, conceptual reflections and artistic ones are different practices.

My work is neither an illustration of contemporary concepts nor do I use them to explain my work. 

I find it interesting that you take the three-dimensional and, with your prints, render the essence of that space into a two-dimensional form. Could you talk more about why you choose this mode of production? 

Indeed, each continent is a scan of an object, but this is also, in geography, archaeology and also tomography, how you look into an object.

I loved how you referred to the prints for VITRINE as being reminiscent of “…the hidden parts of a mass of land”. Would you say that your engagement with materials and spaces is a romanticisation of the hidden and quotidian? 

Romanticism is often naively connotated, but indeed I’m very interested in the period of Romanticism as the period that follows the Renaissance. 

First, the world was measured, objectively described and investigated, and then followed by a period of imagination, creative introspection and invention of worlds. These two intentions are not something contradictory to me but rather two intensities of the same vitality. In my practice both aspects of this force are important. During the process of making a new work, sometimes one is more present and then again the other.

Sarah Burger ‘New Continents, Light Lines,’ 2017. Image courtesy of VITRINE and the artist.

I’d like to go back to something you said earlier: “Whether you look at an urban or a country landscape, its presence is always a coexistence of different times and duration of this”. Could you expand on your interest in this? In particular, I’m intrigued by the way you view the relationship between temporality and materiality.

If you look at a rural landscape with trees, then these trees have a certain age. You see rocks which were formed millions of years ago. Probably, you see the trace of an airplane in the sky and a plastic bottle somewhere thrown away. The origin of this plastic material is the oil of this planet, organic waste from the time of the dinosaurs and earlier. 

In a city, you look at buildings that are made out of stones and concrete. The technique of making concrete goes back around 10'000 years b. C. First traces were found in Turkey. The plants in a modern office building often come from tropic areas, for example, the rubber trees. Where they naturally exist they are huge, beautiful trees that grow over a long period of time. 

Right now., I’m sitting at the airport answering your questions. I look at the stone floor in order to find some ammonites. In this specific floor, I can’t find them, but they often can be seen in airport floors, in Miami for example and also in certain areas of the Zurich airport. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions. I’’m going to go and grab a coffee now, this old Ethiopian drink. 


‘New Continents, New lines’ is on view at VITRINE, London until 3 September 2017. More information here.

To see more of Sarah’s work and keep up to date with her upcoming shows, visit http://sarahburger.ch.