Marie José Burki

The interior of the Helmhaus in Zurich, ordinarily sun flooded, was almost hermetically sealed off from the outside world during the course of Marie José Burki’s exhibition. The all-encompassing darkness, combined with a silence broken only at intervals, created the feeling of a place outside time. Entering the black cubes of the gallery rooms, one was irresistibly drawn in by seven video projections that filled the walls, panoramas of an eternal holiday: Images drifted slowly past, at times almost static, depicting moments leading up to or following a wild party, its details left to our imagination. Gentle pans and intensifying zooms drew the viewer’s attention to apparently insignificant objects and overlooked details, as if the lens itself were in search of a new reality, strolling optically across isolated body parts or the surfaces of things, either in interior settings or outdoors in a public park, as if the passage of time might be forgotten. People stand up, sit down, go outside—there is no drama in these images, scarcely any action of consequence. But the viewer’s gaze was imperceptibly guided during this prolonged siesta by moments of anticipation that at times became utterly absorbing. These six- to fifteen-minute sequences—projected not onto the wall but onto slightly overlapping Styrofoam panels placed on the floor—are imbued with a latent, ineffable sense of danger.

De nos jours (These Days)” is the title Burki has given to this series of works created between 2003 and 2007, sections of which were also recently on view at Galerie Friedrich in Basel. The subtitles for specific works, provided in parentheses, insist on the here and now: ici même, là, un matin II—“here,” “there,” “one morning II.” What gradually revealed itself in the projections and stills brought together in this show points to something inescapable yet indeterminate. The images are interrupted both cinematically, through cuts in the video, and structurally, via the gaps in their support. The presence of these images is simultaneously all-encompassing and uncertain.

The Helmhaus exhibition is framed by two older video portraits, Exposure: Dawn I and Exposure: Dawn II, both 1997. In the former, we see a woman sitting perched on a high stool in one of the countless display windows of the red-light district surrounding the Gare du Nord in Brussels. The camera takes the viewpoint of a potential customer walking past her, recording how the woman presents herself, her gestures as she waits. Just as Burki once explored the gaze of animals, she now observes people at moments that lie in an in-between realm of existence. Her work prompts me to return to John Dewey’s Art as Experience: “Because the actual world, that in which we live, is a combination of movement and culmination, of breaks and reunions, the experience of a living creature is capable of esthetic quality. The live being recurrently loses and reestablishes equilibrium with his surroundings. The moment of passage from disturbance into harmony is that of intensest life.”

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Susan Bernofksy.