Christopher James Burns (b. 1988) is a Belfast based artist whose practice draws upon the particular context in which he lives. Working predominantly in sculpture and installation, Burns explores the complex relationship between memory, place and the construction of identity, with his works often challenging the meaning and value of the objects around us; particularly those that purport to commemorate or communicate our past.
With this exhibition, Burns presents a landscape of sculptural forms assembled from both personal and found artefacts. Arranged across three islands within the Sunken Gallery, these objects are imbued with the history, culture and visual codes that have come to define Northern Irish identity, and speak to the peculiarities of a place once aptly described by Seamus Heaney as a ‘limbo land’.
A visual consortium of fallen monuments, disfigured memorials and votive offerings, Burns’ works map a place that is both physically and psychologically caught in a state of liminality. A key concern within Burns’ practice, the liminal – from the Latin ‘limen’, meaning ‘threshold’ – can be understood as a boundary between one state and another; a condition of prolonged uncertainty; or that which does not fit or find form. Limbo, in the theological sense, may be the ultimate liminal space: the threshold between heaven (salvation) and hell (damnation). However, crossroads, borders, no man's lands and disputed territories also occupy this state of ‘in betweenness’ under investigation in Burns’ work.
Hewn from a range of different materials, the sculptures on display are in themselves liminal objects. Drawing on the visual languages of cartography, Christian iconography and national monuments, they bleed together multiple different sources and reference points. Culturally recognisable codes become suffused with the artist’s own personal symbology; scrambling our reading of these small, almost devotional objects.
Arranged in manner that at times feels provisional, teetering, in a state of suspension or dissolution, these works are imbued with the sense of precarity and unease that inherently accompanies liminality; that threshold state between one thing and another. Occupying and responding to the architecture of the Sunken Gallery – a space that is itself liminal, set between the ground and lower floors of the building – Burns’ works ask us to consider our place within this odd territory.
A reliquary of sorts for the objects, codes, customs and rituals that create the society in which we live, Limbo Land presents a vision of a place that constantly seeks to find its form, with little resolution.