Absence and Presence

“Absence and Presence” is the fruit of a creative co-operation between the artists Claire Burbridge and Matthew Picton. In this exhibition their contrasting approaches and media converge, resulting in a distinctive view of of humanity and civilization.

Two of the works represent Dresden, a city emblematic of European history. Dresden, with it’s rich cultural tradition was known as the “Florence of the Elbe” disaster struck, (as it had 200 years before) in February 1945, when the military bombing of the allied forces destroyed more than ninety per cent of the city centre. The floor installation is based on a city plan from that time, reminding one of the irreversible results of the tragedy. On top of the cartographic form the artists placed multiple wrapped figures by Claire Burbridge. In the context of the city-like relief, they are reminiscent of the casualties and singular lives lost during the attack. The wrapped figures evoke a sense of life beyond death, human presence lying in a state of suspension far beyond the absent lives and ruined structures of the civilizations that contained them. Entirely created from life models, the statues emphasize that great historical events are a synthesis of any number of human tragedies.

The work mounted on the wall depicts Dresden using a score from Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” The composer had an ambiguous relationship with the city and his life offers an interesting insight into the often contradictory role that great art has when confronted with seismic changes in civilization. In 1849 Wagner was sent into exile for the participation in a revolt that was brutally suppressed by the saxon regime. Less than a hundred years later, his music became a tool to illustrate the Fascist ideology of Adolf Hitler. Although all this belongs to the realm of history, neither the moving operas of Wagner, nor the common consciousness managed to avoid the trauma of the great conflict. the delicate structure of the work demonstrates how art and individuality are vulnerable amongst the insanities of civilization.

The sculptures of Tehran, Washington DC and San Francisco were assembled from paper and subsequently and systematically burnt. In the first case the covers of books banned by the censorship construct a meticulous image of the about to be destroyed city. It shows how totalitarian states influence the the appearance and fate of agglomerations. Opposed to a similar treatment of the United States capital, the work makes a powerful comment on world politics and the status of global ideologies. Without jumping into easy conclusions and accusations, Picton manages to emphasize the potential danger of global conflict through the iconic capitals of competing polarities.

The work representing San Francisco focuses on the great fire of 1906. the sculpture is constructed from the covers of the 1936 film about that event. In this way, layers of history, fiction, interpretations and reaction merge into a multi-faceted and retrospective image, which also looks forward in time to the future.

Matthew Picton and Claire Burbridge combine their distinctive approaches in an exhibition which illuminates the changes in relationships between civilizations. Using a variety of visual languages, from the engineered cartographic lines to the natural form of the draped human body, they show the condition of particular human beings in the theatre of historical change. The work combines the mortality of the human form with the impermanence of the man made civilizations and points to the enduring capacity of humanity for renewal and resurrection.