It’s not another shout-out from The Simpsons, but a recent article in the Toronto Star extolling the virtues of Bill Burns is still pretty impressive.
Burns has exhibited at the Dunlop Gallery in Regina several times in the last 15 years (some of you might remember his 2005 show Safety Gear for Small Animals — a body of work that, as the Star mentions, caught the eye of Matt Groening and was incorporated into an episode of The Simpsons).
In his latest show at the MKG127 Gallery in Toronto he’s exploring the relationship between art, labour and value in contemporary society through the presentation of a pile of logs in which he’s hand-carved the names of the 100 most important people in the art world. Oh yeah, on Dec. 11 he also plans to shear a sheep in the gallery.
As a culture, we have long tended to privilege certain types of labour over others. Art-making and other creative endeavours invariably rank pretty far down on the appreciation scale.
The problem with value in consumer culture is that it’s determination is not an exact science — far from it. Especially in this day and age, when transnational corporations hold immense power, markets can be manipulated. Through massive media hype, some activities, like pro sports, can attract all sorts of support while other less glamorous pursuits languish in obscurity.
In economics there’s even something called the paradox of value that riffs on the relative nature of value determination. Suppose you had a choice of a case of bottled water and a carton of k-rations or a 2011 Porsche? Most people would probably choose the Porsche. But suppose you were stranded on a desert island with uncertain prospects of being rescued. Which would be more valuable to you then — the water and food, or the luxury automobile?
Burns, by the way, is the brother of former punk impressario Mike Burns, and the uncle of Rah Rah and the Lonesome Weekends’ frontman Marshall Burns.