Currently studying for an MA in Art & Science at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UAL), Mark Burden is an artist who works in series and likes to combine structure and playfulness in his practice. Having studied Fine Art at both Oxford and Norwich Universities of the Arts, specialising in painting and printmaking, Burden went on to make a career in IT services. Embracing digital technology in his art, Burden’s current body of work explores observation of the everyday.
Selected for Made in Arts London’s 2022 collection, Burden’s work was included in the collection exhibition, The Verdant Collection, at TM Lighting in London. The show was captured by The Net Gallery, with the virtual tour available to view, here.
Two further artworks by Burden, from a series of train observations on a network, have recently been selected to feature at the upcoming Discerning Eye exhibition at Mall Galleries.
To learn more about Burden’s practice, we invited him to talk about his experience of the course at CSM, as well as his approach to working in series.
From IT to CSM
I have two working lives, one that involves designing and developing new IT services in which disruptive change is routine, and the other rethinking and growing my art practice currently via the MA Art & Science course at Central Saint Martins (CSM). There is a transition as an artist moves from a parochial approach to one in which the University of Arts London disrupts old patterns and encourages and forces new ways of seeing, researching and making. I love each day at CSM; it is super to work with the master technicians and tutors who can help you on your journey and challenge how work.
I believe that at UAL, as artists, we are responsible for increasing resilience in our practice and exploring different lines of investigation. I’ve challenged myself to do new things, whether they work or not. I’ve found art is my salvation and the discipline of creating, researching, and reflecting on my work keeps me interested and curious about life.
During the past year I discovered the importance of sites of practice as a central theme in my work. It allows work to be project-based and to view a site from different perspectives and disciplines, which supports working in series. It was a significant lightbulb moment triggered by working at CSM that I would never have made in isolation.
The Art & Science course has reawakened my interest in biology. I’ve had to recalibrate my thinking on non-human intelligence through interaction with slime mould in the high-tech laboratory at UAL. I have created new work by examining everyday matter through a microscope. My first set of microscopy prints was titled “Closer”, which includes two self-portraits, one drawing of a removed facial hair that showed evidence of shaving and another a close-up of the skin on my finger. I drew the fourteen images by making marks in this suite with my fingers on my iPad, and then printed the work on archival paper and presented them in a black box. The drawings result from having the discipline and freedom to just observe and record what I see. I’m investigating performative approaches to curation and showing my work. Dressed in monochrome and wearing white gloves, I slowly unbox my images from the black archival box, place them onto white plinths on a white table to be seen as a set, and then return each print into the box by one. I’m considering performance, producing NFTs and a series of etchings this academic year – all things I’ve not done before. Just brilliant.
I’m using simple instructions and chance to create work. Using an underlying algorithm is a logical constraint, and this method of producing work is fascinating. The underlying instruction set ranges from simple, (look out of the window) to complex (consider network topology and encryption). I love the surprise of the found thing and the resulting image, text or sound. Taking slow-motion videos of moving organic or mechanical matter has been another way of changing perspective and disrupting my human bias. Mark Burden
Working in a series is natural for me. It is difficult for me to think of a single unit in isolation. My first recollection of working in series was at primary school, writing consecutive whole numbers starting at one and increasing until I had filled three notebooks line by line. It probably had something to do with space travel and understanding the distance from the Earth to the Moon. I have a natural talent for number series, and in my teens, I created a basic computer program to investigate the final number in a series and deduce a formula. I use sequence in my art practice as a means of investigation – it’s a way to think deeply about things without being tied to any single viewpoint or definition.
The seeds for a sequence are usually visual that can be conceptually interpreted. I produced the work selected in the Verdant Collection when I had COVID-19 and severe fatigue symptoms. I could not start the project I originally planned, which involved walking in an urban environment. I moved from bed to sofa and started drawing windows and the view outside, all things I previously hadn’t considered motifs for drawing. In the back of my mind, I imagined dividing black squares into sections, so the window motif gave me a readymade structure for improvisation. Each piece consists of layers of finger-drawn marks created on my iPad, which gradually evolves to form an image.
I don’t micro-plan my work. It typically evolves. Work creates work. I find themes that interest and surprise me. Sometimes I mix it all up a bit. I’m working on Dante’s Divine Comedy in the background: I follow the path of researching and working each chapter sequentially. Rauschenberg used this sequential method when he completed his monochromatic collaged Inferno drawings in the 1950s. If the rule was good for him, it’s certainly OK for me, and I love not being able to see or fully understand the whole series until the end. Mark Burden
Mark Burden was talking to Richard Unwin for The Net Gallery.
The virtual tour of The Verdant Collection is available to view, here.
The Verdant Collection exhibition is at TM lighting Gallery in London until 19th October, 2022.