The Inner Guide: Victor Burgin’s Exploration of European Topoï

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Harold Hinsinger, Université Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV)


    Since his photographic debut in the mid-1970′s, the British artist Victor Burgin focuses his interest on memory, places (topoï) and representation. In his latest works, he goes further in explorating the relations between intimate or collective stories and the places ‘housing’ them. Most of his video works were commissioned by official institutions all around the world, and more specifically in Europe : Burgin did his artist residencies in Italy, France, Germany and Turkey. The stories he elaborates in his videos take their sources in a widened chronology. Classic ‘European’ culture (mostly Greek and Roman myths), 19th century romanticism and 20th century essays, such as Freud writings, collide with historical investigations on the very nature of the topos represented. Thus, the filmed or photographed places can be considered as pretexts for making discursive, sometimes entirely fictional, stories. What is at stake here is to blur the spectator’s gaze, to make him navigate between the factual physicality of an archive or a building (that is to say History) and the related content housed in his mind. The places depicted by Burgin can be quite different from one to another : Pompei ruins, an aristocratic domaine in Weimar, British landscapes, the Bibliothèque François Mitterand in Paris, the Mies Van der Rohe pavilion in Barcelona or a destructed villa in Istanbul. These sites embody our ability to construct stories, by integrating our own fantasized images to the place’s history. In his most recent videos such as A Place to Read (2010), Burgin virtually rebuilds, thanks to computer technology, a past that has vanished. It is not merely an archeological gesture but a testimony of his ‘will to art’ (kunstwollen). Through Burgin’s practice, this paper aims to interrogate the interactions between History and Memory in the European context.