Bill Burns: Everything I Could Buy on eBay™ about Malaria
Date issued: 1 June 2002
Location: TwoTen Gallery, 210 Euston Road, London NW1
T 020 7611 8888
Date: 8 July 2002 - 27 September 2002
Open: Monday to Friday, 09.00–18.00
Nearest tubes: Euston, Euston Square and Warren Street
This summer the Wellcome Trust's TwoTen Gallery is proud to host a new exhibition by Canadian artist Bill Burns – his first solo exhibition in London. Burns's artistic concerns have often featured drug production, safety procedures, natural history, scientific endeavour and systems of social democracy; and in 'Everything I Could Buy on eBay™ about Malaria' he has ventured into the global phenomenon of eBay™, the world's largest online auction house.
For those not familiar with eBay, it is an internet organism made up of individual sellers and buyers who pay a fee to sell their goods electronically. A global phenomenon notching up 37 million customers, eBay's core business is the prosaic ephemera of everyday life. It has been in the news often, not least for a user selling his soul for a mere £11.61 and NASA admitting to searching eBay for replacement computer parts for the space shuttle programme. Burns has placed himself within this democratic marketplace, entering into a process-based work and undertaking a performance-like series of transactions focusing on malaria, a subject in keeping with the main themes of his work.
The result is an installation masquerading as an emporium or discount store displaying the weird and wonderful products acquired through the artist's dealings, including an original colour pamphlet by Dr Seuss, produced for American GIs; an Indian legends booklet about how mosquitoes came to be; a model crop duster; and an LP by the German all-girl punk band Malaria. The exhibition also contains material from the Wellcome Trust's collection, including a model of Wellcome's 1907 floating laboratory from the Nile (equipped for tropical medicine research) and a large c.1915 wax model of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae. Burns is also creating a large model of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum specifically for the exhibition. The work is complemented by exhibition graphics by Society.
Malaria – the theme of Burns's creation for the exhibition – is also of major concern to the Wellcome Trust. Insect-borne tropical diseases such as malaria are a major cause of death and disability in developing countries. Malaria itself kills up to 2.7 million people a year, most of whom are children under the age of five.
The Wellcome Trust is a major funder of the Plasmodium falciparum genome sequencing project (an international effort to sequence the genetic material of the malaria parasite), the results of which will be published later this year. Bill Burns's concept for the exhibition parallels a light-hearted global approach for the content of the exhibition itself to the devastating worldwide problem of malaria.
Denna Jones, exhibition curator at the Wellcome Trust's TwoTen Gallery, said: "In its own small way, Bill Burns's collection mirrors that of our founder Sir Henry Wellcome, who amassed one of the world's most important collections of the history of medicine – he bequeathed more that one million works from every period, from across the globe. Pieced together, he intended them to form a type of three-dimensional 'book' presenting an all-encompassing history of humankind's medical past."
The Dr Seuss three-colour booklet, 'This is Ann', was produced for American troops in the Second World War. Dr Seuss is famed for his cartoon books produced for children, including 'The Cat in the Hat' series. 'Ann' in the title is a reference to the malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquito. Among the advice given to American troops were the following:
- 'Ann moves around at night, anytime from dusk to sunrise (a real party gal), and she's got a thirst. No whisky, gin, beer, or rum coke for Ann…she drinks blood.'
- 'Never give her a break. She can make you feel like a combination of a forest fire, a January blizzard, and an old dish mop. She will leave you with about as much pep as a sack of wet sand and now and then she can knock you flat for keeps.'
Nick Hallam for the Wellcome Trust
T 0207 439 0972
Notes to editors
- Bill Burns's work has been exhibited widely including Art Resources Transfer in New York, 1998 and 2000; La Vigie Art Contemporain, Nîmes, 1998; Art in General, New York, 1998; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1995; Cambridge Darkroom and Kettle's Yard at Cambridge University, 1988 and 1990; and at 303 Gallery, New York, 1993 and 1994. He has published writings, artist's projects and several artist's books including 'Footprints of Animals Wearing Safety Gear' (William English Editions, London England, 2000); 'Songs of Birds Wearing Safety Gear' (Plug In, Winnipeg, 1999); 'How to Help Animals Escape from Degraded Habitats' (Optica, Montreal, 1997); 'Safety Gear for Small Animals' (303 Gallery, New York, 1994); and 'Analgesia' (Rochefort, Montreal, 1993). His books and multiples are included in collections at the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, Getty Centre and the Tate Gallery. He has also published artists projects in 'Publicsfear', 'RE/Search' and 'Semiotext(e)' (New York); and Art Monthly (London). His recent publication 'When Pain Strikes' (Burns, Busby Sawchuk eds., University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis and London, 1999) is an anthology of more than 30 writings and artist projects. He is currently preparing an artist's book project about biomedical intervention in National Parks and forests for 'Semiotext(e)'. The artist has been financially assisted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada.
- The Wellcome Trust's TwoTen Gallery was opened in 1994 to show exhibitions that explore the possibilities of symbiosis between the biomedical sciences, contemporary art and culture. Specifically the gallery strives to bring art and science to diverse audiences, present challenging and innovative works and concepts, and bridge ideologies and disciplines. The exhibitions also aim to encourage critical dialogue about important scientific cultural issues.
- The Wellcome Trust is an independent, research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. The Trust's mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health. The Trust invested £810 000 in art that has public and scientific impact in 2001.
- The Wellcome Trust has a long history of funding malaria research. One of the first awards was given to Henry Foy in 1949 to help him study the disease in Kenya. The Trust's oldest unit was set-up in 1967 in Nairobi, and still houses scientists carrying out malaria studies.
- The Trust has invested more than £70 million in malaria research over the last five years, and over the last decade has awarded more than 800 malaria-related grants.
- The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute based in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, is part of a consortium that is sequencing the genome of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite. The institute is one of the world's leading centres for genome research, renowned worldwide for its pivotal role in the international Human Genome Project. The institute generated one third of human genome sequence, the data from which are made freely available for researchers to use all over the world.
- The Wellcome Trust biomedical charity owes its wealth and influence to American entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Henry Wellcome, who was born in 1853 on a farm in Wisconsin, in the American Midwest. The exhibition contains material bequeathed to the Trust by Sir Henry Wellcome, such as the model floating laboratory.