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Janet Burchill's praxis is of significance within her art: she conceptualises and designs the work and then "directs" its production. She employs professional tradespersons to produce the object, and much of the imagery she presents has appeared elsewhere in other contexts.
This physical distance between the artist and the work allows Burchill a space in which to produce incorporeal phenomena: gestures of unknown origin and indeterminate trajectory; symbols without moorings; unexplicated icons; enigmatic emblems; impossible, exploded metaphors.
Edward Colless wrote in 1985 of Burchill's tendency to employ a "minimalist reduction" to "aesthetic reflexive autonomy" (i.e. "a rose is a rose is a rose") in order to arrive at the "inoperative aphorism ... an impersonal monogram"1 Burchill's successful deployment of this trope was still in evidence at her latest show at Yuiii/Crowley.
Burchill has made significant stylistic shifts in the intervening years - from the lettered canvases of the mid '80s which spelt out emblems through the flat metal oblongs embellished with loaded "Antigonean" imagery which were prominent during her period with Mori Gallery, to her most recent adoption of the triptych.
But she has never slavishly adopted any of these modalities exclusively as signature, - rather it is her imaging of interpretation which has become her hallmark. The shifting role of the title in her works tells of this emerging image of artistic "persona": whereas the titles of earlier works was iconically motivated ("Aporia", "Return", "Equivalence", etc., taking their titles from the words which the works spelt out), the titles of the more recent works are much more interpolative and evocative (Anything To Get You Back", Slaves of Probability, Manifesto, The Bye .... ). Burchill now produces representations of enigmatic interpretations rather than "de-individualised" totems.
These newer works deny the viewing subject the opportunity to interpret, thus foregrounding the will to create meaning where none may reside, or, at the very least, the recognition that interpretation is necessarily a creative act. This is not to imply that her recent work is in any way morally or artistically superior to her earlier work. Indeed the overarching success of Burchill's oeuvre is its ability to resist not only the critical tendency to "compare and contrast the artist's work then and now", but also the desire of many to cite the quotation, or name the appropriated work in the hope of being carried to a Valhalla of deeper significance.
Still, there exits a certain demeanour which automatically dismisses such passionate elusiveness as evidence of a general decline, and that artists who appropriate and quote are actually plagiarising, and indeed are attempting to mask their technical inadequacy, and/or creative moribundity. This attitude exceeds even that other prejudice which assumes that all that is involved in accounting for the work of such artists is a quick round of "spot the reference".
But those who fall prey to this desire for origin, pro- duce only historicised values - valuable only to historians, and other obsessive hoarders of intellectual produce; those who package the present as if it has already happened, those who want only to remember.
Janet Burchill's art doesn't lend itself to any of these readings, indeed it resists a privileged communion with the spectator and refuses to construct the knowing subject. Instead of positing even a mirage of exchange, Burchill is radically uncommunicative; her art doesn't express - it functions- which, impossibly, expresses a temperament I can only appreciate.
1. Edward Colless, Australian Perspecta '85 Catalogue, Art Gallery of N.S.W.