Marie José Burki

Galerie Lehmann

In her new video works, Marie José Burki enters into a silent dialogue with nature. From the frontal perspective of the video camera, a parrot sitting on its perch, unaware that it is being watched, can be observed for several minutes on the monitor. It makes a noise now and again, growls occasionally, and cleans itself, looking around while a scientific commentary about flying, about nutrition, and about the courting rituals of various species is delivered in a monotone.

In the obvious difference between the object and its representation, the image and the tone of voice, the certainties of representation or scientific description breakdown. The parrot, often an excellent imitator of human language, retreats from representation without physically pulling away. This dialogue with nature is of necessity a silent one. The silent presence of the parrot—talkative in fiction—mocks the blather to which it is subjected, just as the viewer is quickly bored by the lessons on birds worthy of a filmstrip. Over time, the static image of the video approaches a depiction of the ineffable way in which animals measure time.

At the last Documenta, Burke installed two monitors at the entrance of the Ottoneum that reflected each other. The frontal, almost static image of a man’s face was confronted by sequences of images of animals, and a voice periodically uttered the word “animaux” (animals) into the empty space. The site-specific work for this exhibition was a double, synchronized large projection. At the entrance a video showed a large vitrine of birds filmed in a museum of natural history. At the same time the back wall was dominated by an almost stationary image of an owl silently but intensely staring at the viewer. Raising the question of who’s watching who, the bird’s eye became the lense of the camera, just as the third piece in the show Hibou II, (Owl II, 1994), is a montage of street scenes and the owl’s eye. An old symbol of truth and deception, the owl becomes the mirror of images from a city street and his wisdom remains secret.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.