The Missed-Adventures of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Death in the Land of Shadows was the latest solo show from artist Christopher Burch. Unfortunately it just ended yesterday. The exhibition was part of Burch’s continuing series about Br’er Rabbit. Although birthed in Senegal, Br’er Rabbit is a classic American figure brought to the states through the slave trade. Held at Aggregate Space, The Missed-Adventures instillation included razor-blade harmonicas, video, drawings and a floor-to-ceiling mural. Burch described it as a “giant graphic novel” that’s “confrontational” and storied. Br’er Rabbit, also known as the trickster, was a clever amoral rabbit that could manipulate situations to his advantage. The trickster could outsmart any animal, no matter how big or small. For slaves, he symbolized hope and mobility.
Br’er Rabbit’s stories were passed down by word of mouth since it was illegal for blacks to read or write at that time. Towards the end of the U.S. Civil War, he came to represent the American psyche. He was Abraham Lincoln conning Congress into abolishing slavery not as a moral obligation, but to preserve the Union. He’s Richard Pryor, Charles Manson, Bob Dylan; or the original version of Bugs Bunny tricking Elmer Fudd into sparing his life. For Burch, who had been interested in the trickster for years, Br’er Rabbit is an archetype of contrasting forces that depend on each other for survival.
Although based in San Francisco, California, Burch grew up in a lower middle class working black neighborhood in University City, a county of St. Louis, Missouri. In a 2010 We Are The City interview, he said he grew up hearing mythological stories from older family members about different figures like John the Conquer, The Devil’s Daughter and Br’er Rabbit. Sometimes they’d make up stories. He remembers his father telling him and his two brothers about The Baby Troll Monster. “He loved to eat little kids that went downstairs after nightfall,” said Burch. His father would go down into the basement to talk to The Baby Troll Monster, while Burch and his brothers sat on the top steps listening. His father “enjoyed scaring the hell out of us.” His vivid imagination possessed a dark humor that kept Burch and his brothers captivated. His father would “change his voice when he spoke as The Baby Troll Monster, and call us out by name when he wanted to really freak us out.” Burch was convinced it was real. He’d sit at the top steps of the basement, glaring into the darkness, waiting to see The Baby Troll Monster. Perhaps the darkness fascinated Burch; a symbolic barrier between the seen and unseen, perchance a precursor to his discovering psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Burch uses Br’er Rabbit to show the existential space between laughter and sorrow, life and death. The trickster, like The Baby Troll Monster, is born out of the darkness, but he’s defined by the light and imprisoned by both. When asked about his art-making process, he described it “as a blind person walking with their hands in front of them, feeling out the contours of their environment. My sight comes from my hands, not the other way around. I spend a lot of time drawing and writing ideas down.” Like a writer, he puts everything down on paper, pulls it apart, reworks it and puts it back together. He’s a draftsman using different mediums to draw, “to wrap light around” the darkness. The whispering greys in between the extremes play to Burch’s ability to give his drawings a fragile sensibility. His detailed shading and pencil strokes almost resemble fingerprints.
Burch measures the success of his last project by his refined ability to produce “subversive ideas transmitted in hostile environments.” He’s currently producing Reflective Mythologies, public educational youth art projects in St. Louis, Missouri. Look out for the next Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Death episode, Stepping Razors: Chapter 22 Them Bloodletting Blues. The show will be at Hoffman LaChance Gallery on January 17th of next year. Burch is a self-possessed talent, with admittedly self-destructive tendencies, but he’s insightfully conflicted and bound to his imagination. For him, making art gives purpose to life and meaning to light, in the shadow of death.
Babylon Falling artist profile: On a rainy San Francisco morning from a basement in the Tenderloin and across town to his studio in the Mission Chris breaks down the meaning behind the title of his one man show at Babylon Falling, Folk Blood Water Babies, talks about the evolution of his style and tastes in art, the spirit world, graffiti in rural Ohio, and much more