James Oram / New Zealand b.1980 / Feeling the burn (still) 2006 / DVD transferred from mini DV, single-channel projection, looped, colour, sound, 19:27 minutes, 4:3 letterboxed, ed.1/2 / Purchased 2008 through the Queensland Government’s Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © James Oram

James Oram
Feeling the burn 2006

Not Currently on Display

Holding your breath for 20 seconds or so is surprisingly hard, and a little uncomfortable. Yet, James Oram repeats this without distraction for nearly 20 minutes in his video work Feeling the burn 2006. Two screens capture the sequence, repeated over and over with the solemnity of a scientific experiment. One screen shows a close-up of a match being lit then burning until the small flame begins to lick at the artist’s fingers, while the other shows the artist drawing in a breath each time a match is struck, to expel it only when the match is dropped at the last possible moment, extinguishing itself in the darkness.

For the viewer, the work quickly ceases to be about the figure on screen: instead, we take on this persona, attempting what he is attempting; enduring what he is enduring. This degree of empathy and immediacy gives body-centric performances, such as Oram’s, much of their power to affect. In Feeling the burn, a humble match ensures the continuation of breath and, thus, life.

James Oram is a conceptual artist who works across a range of media including moving image, sculpture, drawing and installation. He is interested in the cultural and moral conventions that affect our reaction to specific situations.

Yet, for all the diversity of his practice, his conceptual intent and interest is a rich vein running through all his works, whether they be sparse and autobiographical line drawings or bold concrete sculpture of words already heavy with meaning. James Oram provides a compelling mix of surface simplicity and darker undercurrents exploring the small, introspective battles of individual existence.