Edwin Burdis, The Fruit Machine (2013)


Edwin Burdis – dropping ideas into the pits of my mind. Ideas like rude remarks re-detonated at the dinner table (do you mind? I’m trying to eat my cabbage).

What Edwin does is too palpably alive for me to want to fool with it. Alongside things so much of the body – so unsayable – writing feels inappropriately rational. Adapting what Kathy Acker wrote about how to respond to something that potent – the proper reaction isn’t to be academic, but to use it – to go on – living, imagining, making, fucking (‘and we might fight this society to death’).

Then again, Edwin’s weapon is to inflate me with words, not in the cool tones of reason. He’s inside a different syntax. One with the intonation of question marks. One that’s alert to the double sense in which things can be taken. One that – thank god, at last – takes account of moans and grunts.

Enormous thanks should go to Primary for inviting Edwin to do what he does here. Let’s not get tied down by method. His work gives liberal permission to be direct and pertinent. It’s going to be exhilarating – materially, immaterially, any way you slice it.

Now to be more detailed. Mostly, Edwin’s work is a matter of tone – or, more accurately, gusto. Everything is thrown into, or at, it. The spark of the paintings (and sculptures, operas, credibly farcical performances) is drawing – harsh scratches, wormy lines and violent colours building to voluptuousness – what you see (hear) feels poured out. Sometimes it looks like a bird has passed across his paintings, shitting. Or it sounds like a pig is scrobbling around his audio files, squealing at the potato peelings. His work has the volatility of sexual frenzy + raspberry ripple ice-cream, and the same after-taste.

But here’s the magic – you are the shitting bird, the excited pig. You don’t just observe the mechanics – you get the muscular feel of participating.

And then the key changes. It’s the look and feel of private parts, when they pop through a gaping zipper. One minute it’s all in check, the next it’s all out there. I am that pathetic dick, or its owner, or onlooker, or what’s the difference.

What am I talking about? I’ve made it sound as if Edwin has relinquished authority, letting bits flop out. But the work has authority precisely because of its air of out-of- shape-ness. Its un-health is its soundness, and what gives conviction. Edwin’s work is like watching someone trying to scrub up their external life – the surface that everyone can see and, for want of getting in too deep, everyone attends to – versus the sticky stuff that threatens to blow its cover. We’re on thin ice, runs Edwin’s refrain, so we’d better crack right through it.

Sometimes I wish Edwin’s things would get out of my way, because they occupy my body’s space, and remind me of it. My body, as proscribed by hi-fashion, lo-rhetoric, blockbuster music videos, gendered agendas, normative movies, hormone-pumped vegetables. Plus my body’s banal whiffs and urges. Edwin complicates purities. We’re all just aesthetic surfaces. We’re all intellectual pleasure zones. We’re all rotting meat, regardless. Edwin hammers my body back into to my body. It’s amazing that something that’s been around for so long is still so full of surprises.

But really, one of Edwin’s finest qualities – which affects me a lot – is his expansiveness. First, he embraces everything. Later he rejects parts. Nothing is delimited. What emerges is the profound BOOM! of the immediate – as opposed to – or in excess of – the contemporary (in or out? who gives a shit!). It’s a way of seeing that notices the act of seeing. It offers a singular way of getting to know each other, and getting at what’s possible.

Edwin’s isn’t an inexplicable talent, it’s largely audacity. The cheek to propose a more complex relation to the serious. It’s a brilliant thing to do, and to have thought of doing, and the best part is he appears to do it without even thinking about it.

I don’t want to make all this seem less outrageous than it is. Edwin’s nerve is to meddle in the connections (games) between the domestic and the political, household paints and sexual juggling. His work expulses risky attitudes to a culture immersed in erotics, money, appetite, obligatory growth … isn’t all this just another way of saying: think about it. This is us, on our decadent dump, sniffing our own discharges. It tells me everything no-one else ever did – what it’s really like, how it feels.

Perhaps there are times when we need to slap back ‘reality’ and widen the imagination. If art is about anything, Edwin’s work prompts us, it’s the production of imagination. Imagination is terrifically under-priced and, better still, contagious.

– Heather Phillipson
Heather Phillipson is an artist working across video, sculpture, music, live events and poetry. 

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