Myra Burg: California Dreaming

Myra Burg

The blinding sunlight of Southern California may be a sun-worshipers dream, but it can easily turn into the stuff of nightmares for a textile designer or collector. Concern about sunlight degrading works of art – a problem which textiles are particularly vulnerable to – is a source of ongoing conversation at textile museums, galleries and collectors’ homes along the southern end of the sun drenched Pacific coast. But beyond conservation, which is easily solved by keeping textiles or any work of art for that matter of out of direct sunlight, the Southern Californian sun poses another unique problem for textile artists: how to compete with the brilliance of light that drenches this corner of the world.

Based in Los Angeles, Myra Burg is a self-proclaimed “recovering architect” turned Fibre Artist. Burg creates small and large-scale installations for private and commercial interiors that are based on a system of wrapping natural and synthetic threads around cylindrical rods. The genesis of Burg’s work is an object of similar shape: the didgeridoo, a cylindrical instrument played by the Aboriginal population of Australia. Whilst lamenting to a friend her love of textiles but lack of knowledge about textile structures, a didgeridoo long propped in the corner of Burg’s living room caught her eye and gave her what she calls the “necessary licence” to work with fibre through her own invented structures.

Burg is understandably reluctant to discuss the specific details of her process but admits that her admiration for tapestry has been another great source of inspiration. In fact, she often refers to her work as an “alternative to tapestry” because of her regard for weaving. But rather than turn to traditional methods for her own textile constructions Burg began to wrap bands of colour around lightweight core. The structure allows the artist to combine and blend colour and texture in a manner similar to any other textile process. As well as offering a manageable framework to blend and contrast colour and texture, the modest weight of the support structure is also an important consideration for this earthquake prone region. Her works currently take two forms: “sculptural installations” which used burnished and coated aluminium to frame rows of wrapped cylinders and the “Quiet Oboes” series which uses larger individual pipes that are installed away from the wall to looks as though they are floating in space. The “Quiet Oboes” series in particular is marked by its adaptability as a design concept. They have a range of standard sizes from “Flutes” to “Baritones” which work in all sorts of unusual wall spaces and have been installed both horizontally and vertically, in dynamic clusters as well as individually. In both series, a broad range of colours appear, proving versatile enough to compete with the light and glitter of LA as well as the more muted interior decorating schemes that dress the majority of American interiors.

Rather than apologize for the simplicity of her structures and installation techniques, Burg is quick to clarify that is part of the point. A businesswoman at heart, she demystifies both the design processes and its installation. While her work commands healthy design fees, there is nothing about the artist that makes the commitment to commissioning a unique work or it ownership a daunting undertaking. Her prior life as an architect is apparent both in her business sense and her three-dimensional approach to fibre. She responds with polite wonder when I have to ask her three separate times to explain the system of brackets she designed to ease installation. It isn’t that the mounting system isn’t utterly simple, but that some of us don’t visualize space as effortlessly as she does.

Burg’s studio is stacked high with commercially dyed fibres, many of which do not have enormous structural strength. Instead, slubs, nubs and snarls highlight the collection organized by colour. Understandably, predominant colours are those that lend themselves to the palettes of mainstream interior decorating – creams, plums, greys and browns. That said, what Burg’s installations often contribute to the spaces in which they are installed is a surprising infusion of colours: fuchsia, gold, silver and turquoise. A commission from Burg verges on collaboration. Her busy travel schedule to trade shows across America means that she meets clients from all corners of the country.

Existing works can be purchased and assembled by the new owners in impromptu configurations with support and advice from the artist by phone. But Burg also takes on countless commissions each year, often communicating first through snap shots of homes that she is unable to visit in person. Once a site for the artwork has been decided upon, Burg works closely with the client to balance their expectations with her own response to the site. She either travels with the finished commission to its new home and installs the work herself or ships the individual rods to the client who, with a power screw driver and the artist’s helpful instructions (which include pouring a large glass of wine before beginning) install the work themselves. Inviting this level of engagement from the client may seem unwise to many, but Burg seems to find this connection an enormous source of inspiration and necessary aspect of her design processes.

While Burg’s work has found itself at home in a variety of settings it is perhaps most celebrated in minimal modern homes that textile art is rarely invited into. The work may not be to everyone’s taste, but it undeniably offers a new and remarkably unselfconscious approach both to process and materials. The selection of sizes, colours and organization that her cylinders allow mean that each work can have countless permutations. Because the work often floats several inches from the wall installations have even successfully been applied to mirrors and glass. Rather than reference any of the historical or mild-mannered connotations usually associated with Fibre Art, Burg’s works are quite at home amidst the loudest of contemporary art collections as well as the blinding Californian sunshine.

Embroidery magazine (March/April 2005: 33-35)