Bill E. Burns

About the Artist

Bill Burns was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Victoria in 1980. He continued his studies in England at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London, receiving his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1987.

Burns regularly incorporates what he calls "small animals" into his work. He often places the small animal, or a  virtualExisting not in actual fact or form, but in essence or effect in the mind, especially as a product of the imagination or of illusion. (  small animal, into a new context  or environment. This combination of animal and environment then inspires a viewer to think about real animals in real environments.

We should, however, question Burns’ use of the term “small” animals. In his review of Burns’ ongoing project Safety Gear for Small Animals, Jack Anderson notes that some of the toy animals Burns used are not small in real life, but are, in fact, extra-large mammals. The bison and the kangaroo (as seen in the works presented here on the ARTSask website) would fit into this category.

Surely Burns’s choice of the adjective ‘small’ is not accidental. It is one of the keys to this project. As used here, this is a word of discord rather than of accord, of imbalance rather than balance; it has less to do with the size of the animals he represents and more to do with human-centred views of the world, where industry and economics prevail over nature, where we distantly position ourselves not as a part of the natural order but rather apart from it, and where biological hierarchies are at play in which animals are placed below human beings on the food chain. (Anderson, undated)

Safety Gear for Small Animals was a ten-year project, containing elements framed as displays you might find in a natural history museum, only with toy animals juxtaposed with open books, representing how humans organize knowledge.  Anderson suggests the  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  of the museum is part of Burns’ strategy to show how humans try to control and tame nature.

Burns opens a discussion of how safely contained nature is there – and how we frame it and manage it by organizing it into scientific systems of classification. Ostensibly preserving and reconstructing nature, the museum is strangely nature’s morgue, a site of the inanimate, of plastic models and dioramas, of taxidermy and taxonomy. (Anderson, undated)

Bill Burns, one of Canada’s wittiest, and at the same time most serious, artist, lives in Toronto.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning