Bloomington Echoes: Kelvin Burzon
Echo Dance Company would like to thank Kelvin for the photography displayed on this site.
Discovering who I am—the human experience
I consider myself to be an artist first, even before labeling myself a photographer. Before I even take one photo, I plan everything, sketch the scene, choose the colors, lay everything out perfectly, and tell the subjects exactly where to stand on their mark. Then I'm a performer - performance is the basis to all art, like the action of sculpting the clay to become an art piece, setting up for the perfect photo in the studio, or capturing a performance from the subjects. You document a performance in some way. Then I would consider myself a photographer after artist and performer.
Have you ever tried to evaluate your work?
I like having my hand in it, right from the beginning. I don’t know if it’s a good way to work - someone told me I was making art wrong. I almost cried. It's just the way I was trained in painting and drawing before I began doing photography.
At what age did you start to discover you were an artist?
I was always a go-with-the-flow kind of kid. I never experienced art until I moved to the US. Originally I was going to be a doctor. I grew up in the Catholic Church, being from the Philippines, and for a while I was going to be a priest! Then I thought, “Oh f***, I’m gay!” I never dreamt of being an artist – that makes it sounds like it’s a profession, but that’s not how I think of it. [Being an artist] is like being human, something I can’t stop.
What subject do you like to study the most?
I photograph the human body.
But thinking back about it, it’s mostly sad things that I express. I guess that’s how I get it out of myself. Sadness, death, sexuality, a little bit of religion; something everyone can speak to – a general public, all humans understand. “I make sad things for such a happy person [chuckle].”
I’m really attracted to darker imagery, and I think my audience gets the right emotion – not necessarily my emotion. I try to remove myself from my work and try to remove who I am…I used to be concerned with creating a neutral figure by taking the person’s identity away. Lack of grace, gender…It was the hardest thing. People can read your name next to your artwork and associate your name to that artwork. Like being Philippino, so automatically when people see my name, they think I must be speaking about Asian people. I want it to be a more generalized thing – I don’t know if it’s possible…probably not. I was trying to be the creator but not be known as being part of my creation. I was so concerned about it. Knowing who created something dilutes the message of the work.
Is there anyone/anything in particular you admire artistically?
I admire old painters, renaissance artists, their craftsmanship, their ability to make these things that we have lost the ability to do. Aesthetically – it represents high art – these gorgeous things. [Because of that] photography was so hard for me to consider as art at first.
Why did you want to disassociate yourself from your earlier work?
Now that I am putting myself back into my artwork today; it was fear, fear of exposure. Art that’s personal puts yourself out there to be critiqued […] Now I’m making the most personal work I’ve ever created in my life. You’re supposed to use your life experiences to inform the work that you do. I made decent things before, but they were uninspired - I myself didn’t even know what I was communicating – too general, too far from my voice. I don’t think it’s possible to strip away everything – like how do you present a human body without any associations to gender or sexuality…needless to say, I failed at it [laughs whole-heartedly].
What I’m working on now – I’m trying to be more open with who I am. I’m looking at two separate parts of my life that contradict, my sexuality and my religion. Now I’m revisiting my childhood and what I thought art was then. I grew up in the church – it’s these gorgeous paintings of religious works, and now I try to recreate that in a more modern view. The turning point for putting myself back into my work was inspired by the Freedom restoration act, which prevented gays from dining where they wanted to because of their sexuality. I thought, ‘I’m surrounded by my friends, by people whom I admire. Well f***, now I have to respond to this through my artwork!’ I invited LGBTQ people to the studio to create religious paintings, and it’s hard to find the balance of not making fun of the church – I still consider myself Catholic, still go to church, and I wanted to take a stab at who I am and combine both aspects of myself. I don’t need my viewers to read exactly what I’m saying.
You said you don’t like the public to know the message—you want them to make their own message—but what is one thing you want to leave the community with?
Every artist struggles with how much direction to give the audience. It would depend on the work. My message now is more direct because I’m targeting specific groups of people. The one thing that would be part of the message is to spark thought, thought deeper than would naturally happen when you look at a picture, thinking it’s just pretty or sad.
If your artwork or inspirations were an animal, which animal would it be?
It likes to live in the dark. It’s sleek, and streamlined, could be considered classic – maybe a dinosaur or amphibian. My personality, though, would be a unicorn!
That bubble of positivity is a weird thing - I want to stay in it because the world is so depressing. People burden themselves with things we should be concerned about, but [keeping in mind] that you can’t change it. Everyone has their own kind of happiness. Happiness is not the same for every person.