In Five Birds, Burki presents five photographic portraits of birds – birds of prey to be precise – that have the same format and are displayed side by side on a narrow ledge. One portrait alone stands out, though fairly discreetly. It appears at one end of the installation on a screen rather than inside a frame.
Taken together, the animal portraits seem to be lurking, watching for us, scrutinising us with their piercing, unmoving eyes. They depict a gaze that is waiting for an event that seems never to occur. One of the birds, however, after a brief lapse of time, suddenly blinks, signifying with that very act its ambiguous presence, simultaneously tangible and unreal. A burst of movement lends a spark of life to the frozen image, like a fleeting illusion of the real presence of these beings that are facing viewers. The latter are now made aware of the fact that it is not only they who are looking at the images but the images that are observing them as well.
With this reversal, the phenomenon of perception and the connection with reality are called into question, as are the certainties we harbour about our mastery of the outside world. The screen the artist holds up to us becomes a mirror which our thought ricochets off, reflecting back to us with greater sharpness. Through their slow pace and fixity, and the patience they require on our part, Marie José Burki’s images offer a resistance to the great visual wave sweeping over our daily lives and subjecting us to its unconscious rule. She forces us to decrypt the world with a gaze that is conscious of itself.