Births, Deaths and Marriages

Amelia Swan

TINNING STREET GALLERY: Paper serves as a material point of inspiration in this joint exhibition by artists Colleen Burke and Brianna Read.
Births, Deaths and Marriages
With her first solo exhibition to be held at Federation Square this October, it is hard to believe that there’s not been more written previously about Melbourne artist Colleen Burke. For the last 25 years, she has been working tirelessly in numerous creative fields in Australia and abroad, including painting, drawing, textiles, puppetry, sculpture, printmaking, jewellery making, community events and theatre.

Burke’s work is currently being exhibited alongside fellow artist Brianna Read at the Tinning Street Gallery in Brunswick in an exhibition titled Births, Deaths and Marriages. It offers the all too rare opportunity to see the work of two women artists of tremendous technical versatility, committed to strong social critique.

One of the many themes that can be pulled from the exhibition is the pairs’ dual interest in voicing their disquiet about marriage in its present form, in particular in relation to women’s experiences of marriage.

“I am not against marriage but I am sickened by the wedding industry and the amount of money that is spent for in competition to have the showiest wedding,” Burke notes, her candour a delightful contrast to her elegant, understated, open-ended aesthetic.

Together with Read, her co-exhibitor, Burke’s elegant and perfectionist aesthetic is accompanied by a feminist punch that makes their present exhibition a show well worth seeing. Formally, it is an exquisite celebration of female art practice; four of the major works are dresses made from paper, another features a large image embroidered in cotton on paper. Together with other works in the exhibition – etchings, embossing, carved books, drawings, puppetry – they speak with calm defiance to the world outside the gallery.

Tinning Street Gallery sits hidden down an alleyway, only metres from the ‘wedding kilometre’ which lines the nearby shopping strip of Sydney Road, and entering the gallery’s main space one is confronted by the afore-mentioned four paper dresses. Two are for mourning – for death rituals – and two are for brides. The two paper wedding dresses that face the visitor as they enter the gallery (one knitted from rolled butcher’s paper on broom handles, the other a wide-skirted traditional-style dress entirely of paper) initially conjure up the army of ghoulish meringue creations that stand by their hundreds in the shop windows of Brunswick. And yet Burke’s works speak of armour, of wolves, of discomfort and of fragility, in their white and exquisitely realised perfection.

As a heterosexist mainstream shows its claws in the present fight to deny marriage equality to the gay and lesbian community, artists such as Burke and Read quietly destabilise the public, heterosexual assumptions of happiness that women have been long asked to swallow as we navigate our private experiences of love and death.

Births, Deaths and Marriages
Works by Colleen Burke and Brianna Read
Tinning Street Gallery, Brunswick
June 6 – 17

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Melbourne-based art writer and historian.