Like many others, at the time of lan Burn's death I was working on a project in which he had agreed to participate, and to which his ideas and work were pivotal. To hear of his death while immersed in responding to his ideas was like suddenly being cut loose from an anchor, losing the point of reference to which one could reliably return. And it was not only a point of reference in relation to ideas, it was a barometer of integrity, of lack of ego, of how one could be involved in artistic life in a way that had real, substantial value in human terms. He was both a mentor and a friend , and his loss is irreplaceable.
Ian came to Townsville in late 1992 to run a critical writing workshop at Umbrella Studio, and r'e all fell for him in a big way. On a recent visit to Townsville I spoke with many of the people who had participated in the workshop, and it was clear that the sense of loss everyone felt was disproportionate to the time we had known him. How was it that a group of such disparate individuals each felt that he had provided them with something unique, and felt his loss at such a personal level?
His ideas were wonderful-they were complex, challenging and subversive, they opened up the possibility that our position on the outskirts of contemporary discourse was potentially a position of strength rather than weakness. They suggested ways of seeing through the structures with which we were dealing, and engaging with them on our own terms. His putting together of contradictory systems, in order to create a vulnerable and hybrid space within which to work, provided a framework for an art practice which could both engage with contemporary concerns and use the local, regional and personal as a vantage point from which to reflect on and to challenge them.
But I think that above all we felt he could be trusted. The ideas and ideals he expressed in his work were reflected in the man himself, in his generosity, humour, scepticism and integrity. The towering reputation and intimidating list of credentials did not overshadow his essential ordinariness (there was a day when we had to cut short a heavy session on post-colonial theory for Ian to watch Geelong play a football final).
He made the world of high art and contemporary theory seem a friendlier and more accessible place, and shared his ideas -with a generosity that assures their continued influence and evolution across the spectrum of Australian art practice.
Still Writing to lan
Seeing, looking, perceiving ... I read the words, recognize the meanings for the words. But how well will my memory recall the meanings your PRESENCE gave them? How will we make sense of our seeing when you are not not-reading seeing for us? How will those merely reading your words understand them in your absence? Is this a trick? It doesn 't seem fair. Even within your love for discontinuity and paradox.
Seeing, remembering, recalling ... At your memorial service. Flickerings of black and white film. Reflections of a life lived. The audience recalls. Skates across the surfaces of the images.. Giggles in recognition. There you are. Off to one side, whistling in the perimeter. Leaving us like this, bobbing like corks. Having to
think for ourselves.
lan Burn Family Trust
The Ian Burn Family Trust has been set up to provide
assistance to !an's family and for the education of his
children Rebecca and Daniel. Donations are tax
deductible. The Trust is being administered by the
Australian Visual Artists' Benevolent fund through
the National Association for the Visual Arts. For further
details contact Ann Stephen (02) 308 433; Pat
Hoffie (07) 395 9170; Ann Newmarch (08) 269 3137