A fluttering of pinned wings in silver frames


Memento 2.9, 2009

Alan Bur Johnson makes delicate clustered sculptures that consist of transparencies in silver frames mounted on dissection pins: "The installations resemble haiku in their enchanting, simple grammar - and, like precise syllables come to luminous life as each framed, wing-like component flickers independently in the wake of an exhalation or current of air passing through the room." (source).

Much of the fragmented imagery Bur Johnson uses in his transparencies (honeycomb, dragonfly wing venation, segmented legs) is insectoid, and the pieces are correspondingly loose, organic, and "swarm-like". But Cadence (2010), a series of 334 clustered transparencies, is more reminiscent of an EKG or a seismograph plot; his bilaterally symmetrical works (like Memento 2.9, above) resemble Rorschach blots. (Johnson has compared some of his works to viruses, bacteria, or cells dividing). There's a dazzling blurring of scale when you can't tell if you're looking at a scattering of cells, a swarm of bees, or a galaxy.

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Cadence, 2010

I find his more formally, symmetrically clustered works especially intriguing because they resemble a coordinated swarm, individual sparks being summoned or directed by an organizing force to create an emergent second-order pattern. It's as if a thousand starlings flew up right before dusk and merged into the image of a human face, or the pulsing of electrical impulses in your heart began piecing out a poem in Morse code.


Cadence (detail), 2010

Another lovely aspect of his work is its transparency - you can see right through each silver frame, and the internal "frames" of wings or veins or honeycombs, so even though the piece is mounted against a white wall or mat, it seems luminous. Nevertheless, I'd love to see a mobile by Bur Johnson suspended in open space, with lights filtering through them. It might be like an transparent Calder mobile made of dragonfly wings, and in no reality (I assert) could that be a bad thing.



Smoke (details), 2008

Bur Johnson's work is "bioephemera" on so many levels: the brief shiver of pinned frames, fragments of short-lived insects (photographed at various exposures), the idea of a swarm forming and dissipating and re-forming in time and space, the vanishing and repeating pattern of an EKG, or a cytoskeleton disassembling and reforming in cell division: all of these ideas represent motion and time and memory, the ephemeral nature of our bodies and our ecosystems. Absolutely lovely, lovely work.

Alan Bur Johnson is currently exhibiting at Lisa Sette Gallery in Arizona (through April 24), along with one of my favorite artists, Jessica Joslin. See more of his work at his website and/or Lisa Sette Gallery.

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I've got to admit that in addition to robo-cheetah, I'd like to own this...it is very, very cool.

By Mike Olson (not verified) on 16 Apr 2010 #permalink


This one really takes the cake. I love chacking my feeds and finding not one, but several updates from you- all of them awesome- but this one really wins.

I love how apart from the fact that it is delicate it has this kinetic energy. Lovely.

By E du Plessis (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink