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Under MKE with Robert Burns | Community Stories Summer 2012

There’s a dark side of Milwaukee that many people never get to see. And for good reason - it can be quite dangerous.

“It’s definitely dangerous in the sense that your phone doesn’t work down here. And nobody’s going to hear you calling for help down here...chances are slim,” warns Robert Burns.


Burns is a resident artist at RedLine Milwaukee, a local community art studio. He’s an experimental musician, photographer and an urban explorer. He’s been exploring the drain systems of Milwaukee for several years and makes beautifully surreal photographs using multi-colored flashlights and long exposures.


With the encouragement of other artists, he published a book of his drain photography - it’s called Under MKE.

He brought my friend Erik, a local photographer and I along on a tour of the westernmost drain in the city to talk about why he’s drawn to the drains. He says it all started with maps.

“If you look at a map of Milwaukee for any length of time, you’ll notice that some of our rivers just stop arbitrarily. It must have just tripped something in my psyche and I had to go get some help  and some flashlights and go take a

look at what’s in this thing.”


Robert will be having an art show at RedLine featuring large scale prints of his work - artifacts found in the drains - live music and some surprises that you’ll have to see for yourself.

Listen to the audio piece at the bottom of the page for a glimpse of the experience and hear how we ran into some unexpected visitors.

Robert’s book is available at the Urban Milwaukee store and online here.


Check out Robert’s show at Redline on September 7th for the opening party. The exhibition runs until October 13th.

See links for more:



Many thanks to Erik Ljung for the photos of our trip. See some of Robert’s drain photos and hear one of his tracks below.