Interview: Bruce Barber
Luca Curci talks with Bruce Barber during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2020 at Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi and at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
I was first trained as a sculptor and developed into an interdisciplinary media artist, cultural historian and curator. My academic research and writing explore the representation of art, artists and art history in film, television, cartoons and comics, from which I have produced two books. Since 1981 at NSCAD University located in Halifax, Nova Scotia Canada, I have taught courses in media arts and film history. I hold a BFA (1973) and MFA in Sculpture and Art History from Auckland University (1975); an MFA (Intermedia) NSCAD (1978), and a PhD (2005) in Media and Communications from the European Graduate School, Leuk Stadt, Switzerland. My interdisciplinary artworks have been exhibited internationally at the Paris Biennale, Sydney Biennale, parallel ECC exhibitions with the Venice Biennale 2015, 2017, the 49th Parallel Gallery and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in NYC, Walter Phillips Gallery Banff, London Regional Gallery, Auckland City Art Gallery, Artspace, Sydney and Auckland, and have work represented in various public and private collections. I am the editor of Essays on Performance and Cultural Politicization, and of Conceptual Art: the NSCAD Connection 1967-1973; also co-editor, with Serge Guilbaut and John O’Brian, of Voices of Fire: Art Rage, Power, and the State, and editor of the publication Condé +Beveridge: Class Works (2008). I am the author of Performance [Performance] and Performers: Essays and Conversations (2 volumes) edited by Marc James Léger (2008), and Trans/Actions: Art, Film and Death (2008), Littoral Art & Communicative Action also edited by Marc James Léger (2013). A companion book to Trans/actions; Popular Modernisms: Art, Cartoons, Comics and Cultural In/Subordination is in press and will hopefully be available this year. My critical essays have appeared internationally in numerous anthologies, catalogues, art journals, magazines and my over three decades of interdisciplinary art practice is documented in the publications Reading Rooms and Bruce Barber Work 1970-2008. I am perhaps best recognised for my performance work, neo-conceptual reading (and writing) rooms, Squat projects and my theoretical writing and theory on littoral art, cultural intervention and other relational art practices.
Luca Curci – What are you currently working on?
Bruce Barber – I am currently working on several migration projects and am exhibiting two works in the I.am.an.immigrant exhibition curated by Dorit Jordan Dotan, opening March 5th in Berlin. The video sent to your exhibition represents the continuing themes of immigration, refugees and citizenship, which I have explored in several recent exhibitions including 2017-2020.
LC – What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
BB – My early education at high school with a powerful art teacher and mentor.
LC – Which is the role the artist plays in the society? And the contemporary art?
BB – Given the right opportunities, circumstances and context artists can play major roles in social and cultural change. Curators Stephen Cleland and Blair French correctly summarized my work as “developing propositional and situational works that engage and question social and political regimes of power” (From Bruce Barber Work 1970-2008, Artspace, Sydney and Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Manukau, Auckland). As for the contemporary art, I like to quote Eileen Gray, “we must ask nothing of artists but to be of their own time”.
LC – What is your creative process like?
BB – It is conceptually based and contextually researched. The construction of Reading (and Writing) Rooms are my primary art projects and can be read about in my book Reading Rooms and briefly here.
LC – Did your style change over the years? In which way?
BB – I began as a minimalist sculptor in the early 1970’s but subsequently became interested in the challenges of conceptual art, performance art history, theory and practice – and politics.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this exhibition?
BB – There are multiple messages linked to the video I sent to the recent ITSLIQUID Group exhibition. The video contains images collected from the media about the continuing global refugee crisis.
LC – How is it connected to the theme of the entire festival?
BB – The video begins with an iconic image of an Alan Kurdi (born as Aylan Shenu), initially reported as Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish ethnic background whose image made global headlines after he drowned on 2 September 2015 in the Mediterranean Sea. This image has been the subject of many artists work, but I think I may have been among the first to contextualize it with the inefficiencies of western countries refugee policies. The video begins and ends with the vulnerability of the human body.
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID Group?
BB – I think that ITSLIQUID Group is about global connectivity and easy exhibiting opportunities for artists outside the principal art world institutions, museums, private galleries etc.
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