Spotlight on Fringe artist Russell Burden

Fringe artist Russell Burden runs a graphics studio while developing his eclectic art that includes audio-visual and kinetic installations...

Spotlight on Fringe artist Russell Burden

Fringe artist Russell Burden runs a graphics studio while developing his eclectic art that includes audio-visual and kinetic installations...

Russell Burden likes scientific history and several times mentions the notion of the Renaissance Man. However, his very neat studio in Sandgate also bears witness to a much-nearer period of history – the Victorian era – with its many items of furniture for cataloguing and ordering specimens.

It also demonstrates Russell’s voracious interest in science and the possibilities this has for creating an art of the future. He describes his studio as half laboratory “with a bit of the mad antiquarian”, adding that he used to study palaeontology and has a detailed collection of material. There is also an enviable collection of technological items for the creation of sound.

Russell introduces me to Cymatics, the study of sound and vibration or, in his words: “How you create form in matter through sound. This is observable in nature, in land formations and ocean waves which are created by pressure.”

I ask Russell what are the possibilities and constraints on working with sound. “Sound is like an addition: it’s a primal medium. It’ll enter you with less mediation,” he tells me. “Our culture is very visually dependent so it’s great to use more than one sense in experiencing art. On the other hand, we’re so used to making noise and it is difficult to be still, so it takes a very quiet space to deliver the emotional content of work.

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“Often sound pieces are very loud. It’s nice to work gently, but it’s hard to do that.”

Russell’s parents were both musicians, father played in big bands, mother was a jazz singer. “So from an early age I collected music and now I listen to a lot of sound works. Since I’ve been listening for years it feels natural for me to work in this medium.”

As a dyslexic, Russell is avowedly an autodidact. “School was awful, but I’m a natural-born student and have studied in my own way: it gives me an informal way of looking at things. I’ve never regretted not having a formal education. On an artistic level I was shooting photographs from the age of 16,” he says.

Because of this self-education, it has always been hard to label what he does. From school Russell travelled, then worked with a master builder.

A review of his early work appeared in Creative Photography and Russell has also worked with ceramics. His design business, Nebulo Strata, in which his son Wes is partner, has been running 12 years.

“We like to label it a ‘creative design and imagery agency’, with very specific criteria, supporting principally cultural and educational sectors and creative industries,” explains Russell.

The question of the size of Russell’s works came up. There seem to be no limits: an installation he created for nearby Saga was 300 metres long and two metres high, over six floors. Yet his smallest image could be an inch squared.

He tends to work on one piece at a time for a show, but has many ideas on the backburner, often inspired by his in-depth readings of philosophy or poetry.

His recent work for the Folkestone Triennial Fringe comprised of recordings from the lighthouse. “The mix had four channels listened to in the gallery. The fifth channel drove a floor-mounted speaker holding a container of seawater. Standing wave patterns were produced in the water then filmed live and projected onto the gallery wall,” he says.

“The sound mix had a mildly musical quality, rhythmic rather than melodic. This was accompanied by a series of photographs and the sound rhythm was in relation to the flash of the lighthouse.

“I called it Boundaries, the subscript being that the container is as important as the contained. You can extrapolate this to all our cultural systems, for instance, education, which can also create boundaries.”

Inspired by nature and natural processes, as well as poetic thinkers such as Kathleen Raine and David Gascoyne, Russell also cites Goethe and Steiner, towards the more mystical edge of literature and science.

His artistic heroes include Gary Fabien Miller, who had a recent show at the V&A, and James Turrell, an artist of light and space who showed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, as well as Susan Derges, who worked nearby at Stour Valley Arts in King’s Wood.

Is art important? “That’s an interesting question. For me it’s what I breathe. Without it, life can become uninspiring and artists have a huge amount to give society, but the platform they are given is constrained.”

Russell is currently working on a piece from Point Lobos in California which may show in Monterey. A project to do with Earth Science and Cymatics, using colour and sound derived from site-specific locations is next.

Russell Burden, Nebulo Strata, The Yard, North Lane, Sandgate  CT20 3AS 01303 210600 or 07880  and twitter: @starbathing 

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