The kitschest of pink flowers is dragged back and forth along a pebbledashed wall. As it rounds a corner, we catch a flash of grass and the edges of east London’s Brutalist icon Balfron Tower in the background, before the camera pans out and we see a man’s hand guide it back on its bizarre journey around Ernő Goldfinger’s 1960s creation. Eventually, the twee protagonist is calmly smashed to bits in a lift by a duffle-coated, bearded figure who has more than a whiff of the art student about him.
This is a scene from ‘Balfron Flower’ (2014), one of British artist Luke Burton’s recent video pieces, currently installed at Bosse and Baum’s recently acquired space in an industrial unit in Peckham. Burton is on a mission to interrogate the language of the decorative, and he does so playfully, using inimitably British cultural references – flaneuring through a suburban park at night with a torch shining on his brogues; strobe lighting a display of public pansies and setting the resulting video to an electronic soundtrack; or stroking and caressing the kind of green, velvet piping that smacks of a particularly conservative type of sofa and instantly brings to mind strong tea and marmite on toast.
There are three screens here – one mounted on the corner of the space and two suspended from the gallery ceiling – showing a selection of his video works; as well as a set of seven ‘hanging basket’ sculptures which you’d be distinctly unlikely to see suspended by your average, suburban front door; and a simple line drawing in felt tip with ‘safety net’ written beside it which apparently is there to tell us something about his process. I’m not convinced that this last element isn’t in danger of confusing the other two – its apparent function seems unclear, and its inclusion here feels less thought-through than the other pieces.
The videos, though, are skilfully paced and often contain flashes of loveliness, even in their occasionally (and I assume intentionally) homemade wobble, with Burton himself featuring in many of them. In a scene from ‘Tow(n)’ (2014), for example, it’s his head that the camera follows serenely being dragged along a lawn; he who repeatedly and sedately half-collapses in the metal lift in ‘Balfron Flower’, and his elegant hand doing the flower dragging and sofa stroking. It feels as if he’s using himself, or at least his persona – that of a male, mild-mannered artist – as another tool at his disposal, offering an element of self-reflection alongside his musings on the decorative.
Burton’s sleeker versions of ‘hanging baskets’, installed in a line in imitation of their namesakes, hint at functionality and a very particular type of ornament. Each clear, acrylic half-dome is draped with a scarf deeply reminiscent of something your Mum would wear to accessorise a nice jacket from Debenhams circa 1994, and contain odd objects: an orange, rubber thimble; a remnant of glittery thread; some metallic scrapings. They’re quirky and pared-down, sculptural comments on (again) a very British phenomenon.
Anyone who’s been through the art school machine knows that ‘decorative’ is one of the worst slurs it’s possible to throw at a piece of contemporary art. ‘Filigree Endings’, at its most successful, manages to use the insult as inspiration, and offer a humorous commentary on class and taste as it does so.