Last Updated:

April 14, 2014


Start: Saturday 18 October, 2014
Finish: Monday 28 April, 2014

Christopher Burman: Immaculate Conception


Image Above: Detail From Unconditional Support (detail), Mixed Media Installation (2014)



18th – 28th APRIL

Open 24 hours a day by appointment:


ARTIST’S STATEMENT (postscript):
Immaculate Conception was a collection of new works made between 2013 and 2014. It was originally going to be just a publication of images and research but halfway through I realised there was a lot of ideas that could only be realised as physical objects. In someways it actually spiralled out of control and ended up as sprawling tangle, the result of a several overlapping strands of interest.


Hopefully though the work in the show contributes to a wider discussion about how images of temptation, desire and self-improvement can be used to oil the cogs of consumerism in a increasingly ‘connected’ society. Ultimately whatever politics might be involved,  I tried to remember that I am a participant in these exchanges – often a willing one at that.


April 2013 – The project begins.
July 2013 – I moved to Shanghai, China. Soon after getting there I meet some musicians and started a band called ‘Visual Basic’.
September 5th, 2013 – ‘Visual Basic’ performs at the Apple Store, Shanghai.
October 2013 – I came back to London and Visual Basic went on hiatus.
January 2014 – Kevin Green and Joey Augustin suggest that I make use of the studio and exhibition space at Store to work on the project – in return I built the Store website.
March 2014 – Work begins on Unconditional Support, sowing 50m of EMF shielding fabric with a lot of help from my mother.
Good Friday 18th April 2014 – ‘Immaculate Conception’ opens.



Opening Night





This are the first in a series of CNC-routed MDF reliefs that have been spray painted then ‘relic’d’ borrowing a process from guitar manufacture. Antique or ‘vintage’ electric guitars, especially those made by Fender in the fabled ‘Pre-CBS’ era before 1958 are highly sought after. As they became more difficult to get hold of, a secondary market of new guitars starting appearing that aimed to mimic their look and feel. A ‘“Relic’d” or aged guitar, like a pair of stonewash jeans is a new product that starts life old after a process that can involve scraping, bashing, sanding, repainting and even soaking parts in acid, to give a guitar authentic appearance.


This process was first carried as a cottage industry spin-off of more normal guitar modification, before the first officially created ‘relics’ made by Fender went on sale in the early 1990’s. It has subsequently become a significant chunk of their sales usually under the high-end Fender ‘Custom Shop’ branding. Since this time-consuming process requires skilled labour, the guitars tend to use better quality parts and end up being considerably more expensive and marketed as ‘unique’.


I wanted to make some sculptures that captured the spirit of this process, to create objects that felt as is they had somehow been on a endless exhibition tour since the 1960’s and appearing in the exhibition as if finally coming home to roost on the wall of a retiring baby-boomer.

Quantum Pendant, CNC Routed MDF, Spray Paint (2014)


The proportions and forms of the reliefs are taken from a collection of shapes I assembled that appear in both ancient religious symbolism and contemporary product design, especially the rounded rectangles of the i Ching coin or the app icon, and the motif of circles within circles.




Quantum Pendant (detail)CNC Routed MDF, Spray Paint (2014)


The colour palette of the series of reliefs in the show was taken from Apple’s recently released iPhone 5C. It seemed to me that Apple had probably spent a great deal of time and money perfecting 5 “statement” colours that could be matched together in any combination or with black and white and since I didn’t have that sort of muscle I decided it would be easier and cheaper to copy them.  As they say on the Apple website:


Colour is more than just a hue. It expresses a feeling. Makes a statement. Declares an allegiance. Colour reveals your personality. “




CoinCNC Routed MDF, Spray Paint (2014)



Probably my favourite thing in the show was a Modified MacBook I made with my girlfriend Gabriella Boyd. You can find a lot of people online who will modify Apple hardware, offering services like laser etching or gold plating to personalise your device. These personalisation services all aim to add uniqueness, but of course only aim to compliment or high-light the original luxury qualities of the design. I wanted to offer a service to people coming to the exhibition that might be more personal whilst trying to breathe new life into old digital products.


Not unsurprisingly perhaps, my repainting service, despite being free of charge, was deeply unpopular. The computer that was exhibited in the show was my own, and actually the first Apple product I ever owned, a black MacBook, still in relatively good working order after 7 years of use.




Modified MacBook , Black Apple MacBook (mid 2007), Spray Paint  (2014)



This piece of software came about after I saw a .gif made by a Russian teenager of him fully completing a game of Snake – something I hadn’t thought was even possible. This got me wondering wether he might have actually programmed software to help in someway but the more I thought about it the more I realised it’s a not a straight forward programming problem because t strategy has to change throughout the game. You start happy-go-lucky hatchling looking for apples but end trying to organise a screenful of your own snake body – situations that require very different approaches.


It also got me thinking about how ubiquitous the game was at one point in the mid 1990’s – right before resurgence of Apple – coming free with just about every Nokia phone (you could even make the case for Snake as the first commonly available mobile app). However as mobile hardware is now commonly all screen and no buttons, games like snake become a quite a bit harder to play.


I wanted to have a go at coding this myself and Autoborus is the result – a non-interactive screen-saver based on an engine that aims to complete the perfect game, eating as many apples as possible in the shortest time. I decided the most fun approach would be to make a genetic algorithm which should in theory, adapt the snake’s behaviour over time to be more successful. In practice however my algorithm is heavy handed and unstable, leading to a variety of hypnotic and unexpected behaviours, failing in ever more surprising ways.




Autoborus, Software, Projection (2014)



This is from a series of mirrors inspired by Red Hot Chili Pepper Lyrics. I included Heavy Glow in the show initially sensing the connection between it and other works about product modification and more general thoughts about fandom. The lyric also felt like a literal description of the state of semi-meditation that I was most interested in, possibly induced waiting outside the Apple Store for a product to launch. The motif on the mirror comes from a rough blend of a hypnotic snake eye spiral and Barack Obama’s rising sun campaign logo.


“Standing In Line To See The Show Tonight / And There’s A Light On / Heavy Glow”.   



Heavy Glow, Laser Etched Mirror (2014)




This is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s really a conceptual proposal, but for the show I made a diorama of the idea to help bring it to life. Inside the back pack is a vibrator that occasionally jiggled like a snake and I think spooked a few visitors.


It almost goes without saying that Apple, the most valuable company in the world, appear pretty unequivocal about their desire to maintain control of the usage of their products through the design of their hardware, networks and retails spaces in which they are sold, yet at the same time inspire incredible feelings of devotion in their fans.


I find the insane architecture of their meticulous fish-tanks stores very appealing. Beyond the largely glass construction, acres of day-light and lack of internal clutter, the idealised Apple store is crammed full of people holding internet-enabled cameras sharing endless free wi-fi. These places obviously work well as shops but if you were designing an arena for the mass-documentation of an event you wouldn’t need to change much. And yet despite being the ultimate studio for crowd-sourced journalism – very little happens in them.


In turn I feel a conflict of being both a daily user of their products and naturally inclined to resist their stifling image of ‘perfection’. I wanted to find a way of establishing that however dominant and controlling they find it profitable to be, there will always be events outside the scope of their control – the tragicomic slapstick of a (harmless) snake being ‘accidentally’ released in an Apple store seemed to fit the bill. In this way, the proposal is really a dangled threat taking place on an unknown date in the future. Stay on the look out for snakes Apple geniuses!







Proposal To Release A (Harmless) Snake In The Apple Store

 JanSport “High Stakes” Backpack, Modified Vibrator, Text (2014)


I designed this shirt after Visual Basic (the band I assembled in China) played a gig at the Apple store in Shanghai. I had originally intended to create clothes for the concert but I greatly underestimated how much rehearsal time I would have and had to focus on arranging the music. So instead I made this shirt afterwards to commemorate the gig and to reflect on my mixed feelings that resulted from playing a concert for Apple in China. The gig wasn’t exactly a success but everyone who worked at the Apple Store was really friendly and incredibly helpful.

I designed the shirt shortly afterwards and got it made at the Nanpu Bridge Fake Market where the tailors are famous for being able to copy any item of designer clothing you bring in. It features a number of symbolic references, including the Enneagram (from the Christian model of personality), a chinese ‘river crab’, some Chinese flowers and the Apple logo.




Presidential Attire, Cotton (2013)



The main space of the exhibition was taken up by an installation, in the rough form of a desert campsite, based on  two original inspirations:


– A photograph of Barack Obama making a phone call inside a tent known as a “SCIF”  or “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility”.

– The phenomenon of fans pitching tents outside the Apple store to wait for new products to be released.


With the hindsight afforded by the story of Edward Snowden, the photo of Obama (taken in 2011) struck me as incredibly honest and confessional by those in power in America –  a description of just how much care they were taking to protect their important messages.


I read that a SCIF was erected every time Obama travelled abroad to protect his communications – conjuring the wonderful image of highly trained CIA operatives pitching a tent inside a hotel room like a child might build a fort. I also thought, if Barack Obama has one, shouldn’t anyone be able to have one too? It was at that point that I started researching how to buy or make one.



Unconditional Support, Mixed Media Installation (2014)


The installation featured an 1hr 34m long version of the song ‘The End’ by The Doors, slowed down by the traditional 800%, transforming into a monastic and occasionally violent soundscape. This version was looped for the duration of the exhibition and after 3 or 4 days of being in the space I experienced quite vivid auditory hallucinations whenever it was turned off.

Ride the snake, ride the snake 
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby 
The snake is long, seven miles 
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold 

The west is the best 
The west is the best 
Get here, and we’ll do the rest 





The idea of building a SCIF was a way of thinking how people might be self-censoring, possibly unconsciously if they feel like they are being continually watched or recorded by their peers or the authorities. Would stepping into such a space encourage people to act or speak differently? Since a SCIF can also be interpreted as a giant tin-foil hat – a physical threshold between paranoia and self-empowerment . Not just an expression of some conspiratorial madness but a liberating act – a relief from an unknown unknowns.


This is possibly why there is a huge range of products are available online to reduce everyday exposure to electro-magnetic radiation, most commonly for reason of health and security and websites that supply EMF shielding products often exist in the overlap between the realm of science and faith. Graphs and data are used to demonstrate the quality of the protection these products offer, but without a clear picture of what the dangers actually are – instead channeling a more fundamental notion personal safety. It is this uncertainty that gives adjacent virtual shelf-space to military grade copper mesh and quantum pendants.


However it’s also the case that these materials are very expensive and so in the end the only affordable option was to order EMF shielding fabric from via China and build one myself.



Unconditional Support (detail), Mixed Media Installation (2014)





Unconditional Support, Mixed Media Installation (2014)


The central space at Store had two long walls of sheer glass, eerily reminiscent of an abandoned Apple store and providing the perfect location to build and exhibit the installation.



Unconditional Support (detail), Mixed Media Installation (2014)


I wasn’t interested in constructing a completely dead space, what I wanted was a space that encouraged considering how dialogue changes with the basic idea that no-one is listening and that what takes place can’t be recorded or shared. The purpose of the SCIF isn’t just to stop signals, but to control the flow of information entering and leaving.


In a way this is quite trivial – after all we could just go to the forest or to the top of the mountain, or of course the desert to achieve this control. However the majority of us live in cities and in our daily lives the idea of stepping outside of our normal modes of connectivity are practically difficult. Stepping into a tent in a central London gallery space is obviously a different action.


The most important thing about the installation was really the atmosphere. My aim was to create a semi-meditative zone where a small extra layer of privacy could bloom into open discussion or serenity. The tent was both a base of operations for ideas within the show and a space of retreat, somewhere between an occupation and a holiday hotel room.




Unconditional Support (detail), Mixed Media Installation (2014)


If the installation was a camping trip, then it took place in “the desert” – where St Anthony went to escape temptation, where the Red Hot Chili Peppers film their videos and where Californian hippies turned into the pirates of silicon valley.


During the show I lived in the tent and offered services such as unofficial technical support and modification for Apple products, i Ching Divination and encrypted wifi. Not many people wanted me to spray paint their laptops but the information provided by the i Ching proved to be incredibly helpful to several people. It also became quickly apparent that the idea of having wi-fi inside the tent, despite being limited and encrypted (as in a true SCIF) was confusing the experience so it got turned off quite quickly.


Outside the tent there was an arrangement of ephemeral chunks that I thought implied waiting for a product to launch, alongside a campfire fire video running on an iMac and a camping chair. As more people visited the show the tent filled up with pizza boxes, beer cans and dvd cases and the installation shifted from stage set to an authentic collection of rubbish.



Unconditional Support (interior panorama), Mixed Media Installation (2014)


I find it very fascinating that people will queue for up to five days to be the first in line to get a product from Apple. Although there must obviously be some great satisfaction about being first in line, one of the central propositions of being constantly connected is that there will be something happening worth share with our friends. In this way, enforcing yourself through several non-eventful days by moving into a tent outside the Apple store could be seen as an ultimate digital vacation, albeit with one huge social media money shot when the product is eventually released. A silent period of reflection at the end of increasingly short consumer release cycles.



Unconditional Support (detail), Mixed Media Installation (2014)



Living in the shadows of the installation ‘Unconditional Support’ was ‘Flightcase Modulator‘ a sibling project in the form of a series of acetate sheets an overhead projector that could be rolled up or folded over to create an analogue version of the abstract gradient patterns used as desktop wallpaper on Apple computers. It was intended to work like a 60’s oil lamp or a desert sunset, creating a light show on which visitors and inhabitants of  the SCIF could focus their attention. It also created a distant planet-like reflection in the glass walls of the exhibition space.









Flight Case Modulator (series), Overhead Projection (2014)










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During the show a selection of services will be available free of charge, including:

• laptop / tablet / phone makeover

• technical support for Apple products and software (100% unofficial)

• i Ching divination

• encrypted wi-fi

• free tea & coffee