By Amber Scott
We Will Someday, Someday We Will, on exhibit at Institute 193 through Feb. 20, is artist Bruce Burris’s optimism and activism captured in visual art form.
The pieces in the exhibit are sculptures, paintings, drawing and installations, but despite the presence of different media, everything is threaded together with a decorative text that has become Burris’s signature style.
Well, it’s held together by the text and the message of the exhibit, which is best exemplified by this excerpt from a picket sign attached to a 20-foot handle that’s part of the show: Time to fuckin stop our bleeding mountaintop.
Burris, who is best known locally for his work with Latitude Artist Community, is, according to Phillip March Jones, creative director at Institute 193 and curator of this exhibit, the only contemporary artist dealing with the issue of mountaintop removal.
A native of Delaware and an import from San Francisco, Burris seems like he’d be just a teensy bit removed from the Appalachian issue of mountaintop removal, but, as evidenced by the work presented in We Will Someday, he understands it better than most of us who have genetic ties to the area or an economic responsibility for it.
“There are always huge, ripping issues wherever you are,” said Burris. “I live in Lexington, and I find the issue of mountaintop removal most relevant to my life. I breathe and drink and have a ten year old, so I A.M. drawn to it in this most ordinary way.”
Burris has a knack for pointing out the obvious. His work generates power in part through its ability to highlight things we all live among yet at the same time are ignorant of. Through his swindly text and drawings, he crafts a picture of contemporary life, some of it so based in fiction that it is penetratingly real.
Take for instance the Lonely Mountain Community Center, a bulletin board covered in fliers announcing Stoner Creek Boys performances, the start of a meth support group, memorial services for legend-in-his-day (this day being over 30 years ago) local basketball star Summer “Time” McNeese. One particularly poignant notice says, “Feeling unsafe? Call 911.” The 911 is scratched through and underneath it someone has pointed out what being forgotten feels like: We don’t have 911 jerk.
As one patron said on opening night, “I can’t tell if this is for real or not.”
Are the fliers real fliers, posted by citizens of the Lonely Mountain Community? Probably not. But are the issues illustrated on them real to citizens of Appalachia? To us? Absolutely.
It is scathing and oddly enjoyable to have your ignorance pointed out to you in the creative, sometimes funny, sometimes stereotypical, always decorative way Burris does it. That’s the beauty of his work.
“I love the idea of grinding local material into my work,” he said. “It’s a way to alert people to our own lack of awareness of the things that provide for us and the places around us. We don’t understand our own infrastructure or how it works. For instance, where does our water come from? Our electricity?”
Burris brings that lack of understanding into awareness through a wall-sized mixed media piece anchored in drawing called Are Ye One With Stoner Creek. Stoner Creek is a 99-mile stream that courses through Central Kentucky and probably passes through your neighborhood at some point. It wears the facade of a drainage ditch or a canoe-worthy stream depending on where you see it. Much like the creek meanders around and around, taking up a lot of space without getting much attention, Are Ye swirls between familiar and unfamiliar words, people and images, metaphorically exposing people to what’s in their own backyards.
Through We Will Someday, Someday We Will, Burris challenges his neighbors, the ones who are imports to Lexington like himself and the ones who have lived here their entire lives, to stand up, take notice and, if his message is received, make change.
Amber Scott is admittedly an oblivious critic, but she loves art, spends lots of time looking at it, and is just naïve enough to always be affected by it. For more information about the severity of mountaintop removal, visit:
For more info on Burris’s show, visit: