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Indepth Arts News:

"Bill Burns: Safety Gear for Small Animals"
2004-06-25 until 2004-10-31
Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery
Owen Sound, ON, CA Canada

Toronto-based artist Bill Burns looks out for the little guy… from safety glasses for protecting the white-footed mouse; to Italian mineral water for the masked puddle frog; to life insurance and annuities for eleven species of fauna on five continents. These protective offerings are from Safety Gear for Small Animals, "the largest safety gear for small animals producer in the world." Bill Burns is the Director of the company which includes several divisions: safety gear prototype production, conservation and relocation, a multi-media program, a toll-free telephone service, a prosthetics program, a modest publishing house and an itinerant museum.

Safety Gear for Small Animals is about animal rescue, relocation and rehabilitation. It presents a survey of Burns' work over the past 10 years. Currently touring across Canada and into the United States, the exhibition opens June 25 at the Tom Thomson Art Gallery and runs through October 31, 2004.

Using the conventions of a traditional natural history museum, Burns humorously juxtaposes his tiny rescue and safety items for endangered animals with helpful information that guides viewers through the exhibition. Speaking about the Museum of Safety Gear for Small Animals, Burns comments "The museum is central to our mission. Its renowned collection is made up of nineteen pieces of scale model safety and rescue gear. The total weight of the safety gear collection is 944 grams... There are 2,750 machine stitches and 234 hand stitches in the museum's safety gear collection." Publications by Safety Gear for Small Animals include titles like "How to Help Animals Escape from Natural History" and "How to Help Animals Escape from Degraded Habitats."

Beneath the appeal of the miniscule safety vests, work gloves, bulletproof vests, U.V. goggles and respirators developed for our furry friends, lies a frightening warning about our stewardship of the environment. Exhibition Curator Annette Hurtig comments: "While providing sound scientific fact, the exhibition functions also as a kind of cautionary tale, as a moral fable, an apologue, if you will, and as a visual allegory, offering lessons and pragmatic advice for those interested in the plight of animals."

But Burns cautions, "Those who have never been visited by worry about the predicament of contemporary wildlife are advised to look elsewhere. The same is true for those who seek easy answers... this exhibition promotes practical solutions for animals in peril."

Bill Burns was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria in 1980. He then studied at Goldsmiths' College, University of London, England for a Masters of Fine Arts, graduating in 1987. Burns is the recipient of awards from the Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.

His recent activities include the 2002 commissioned exhibition Everything I Could Buy On e-Bay About Malaria for the Wellcome Trust Gallery in London, England, an event that was a smash hit with both the contemporary art critics and the popular press, and a presentation at the 2003 Bienal de la Habana in Cuba. Burns launched Safety Gear for Small Animals at New York City's Gallery 303 in 1994. Since then the itinerant Safety Gear for Small Animals Museum has been exhibited in Seoul, London, Los Angeles, Havana, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, Marseilles and Montreal.

The exhibition and its forthcoming catalogue were co-produced by the Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Evergreen Cultural Centre, Kamloops Art Gallery, Kenderdine Art Gallery, Galerie Liane et Danny Taran du Centre des arts Saidye Bronfman, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, and Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

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