Academic journal article Afterimage

There's No Place like Home: The Paradox of Embodiment in the Work of Annette Barbier

Academic journal article Afterimage

There's No Place like Home: The Paradox of Embodiment in the Work of Annette Barbier

Article excerpt

Only human beings have come to a point where they no longer know why
they exist. They ... have forgotten the secret knowledge of their
bodies, their senses, and their dreams.
--First Nation leader Lame Deer (1)

Chicago-based media artist Annette Barbier creates art that reminds us of the paradox of body and spirit--a tension of the human journey, where we experience both the confines of physical/spatial embodiment and potential for expanded/expressive consciousness. Barbier's work began with sculpture and video at the University of Illinois and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1970s and has remained thematically curious of domestic identity, concepts of home, and connections to the larger environs. It explores our contained and constructed worlds through the ever-expanding possibilities of emergent media technologies. Her creative work traverses video, Net art, installation, and interactive performance. She has exhibited nationally and internationally at galleries including the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York; ARS Electronica Center in Austria; and the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She has performed at media festivals in Dallas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, and at international exhibitions in Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, and most recently Vietnam. Evolving technology such as virtual galleries, interactive Net art, and online screening have become coveted spaces for new media artists, and Barbier takes full advantage of these developing exhibition venues. It is as if her early art visioned such spaces in her future. (2)

Unreal-estates.com, the virtual home-space where Barbier and creative partner Drew Browning (who teaches at the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago) house their work, exhibits their "dedica[tion] to the proposition that cutting-edge art is not content poured into the container of a medium, but rather an investigation of the new possibilities that a new medium offers," as the Web site states. Likewise, "They have continued to probe the potential that new technologies make available, believing that original content arises from a dialogue between an artist and a medium." (3)

The communicative possibilities explored by Barbier around the themes of individual experience and concepts of home and community admirably swell with new media technologies such as computer animation, virtual interactive worlds, and electronic installation. Yet, Barbier, who now chairs the Interactive Arts and Media Department at Columbia College Chicago, was already pioneering the world of media technology in the late 1970s. As a prelude to home computers, sophisticated electronic gaming and virtually designed interactivity, Barbier (collaborating with Browning, Alan Gerber, Lura Hirsh, and Terry Moyement) braided body, motion, and electronics--where dancer, musician, and video artist explore immediate electronic feedback in such works as Stereopticon I-IV (1979). In Sram Rap (1979), created with collaborators from the City of Chicago Artist-in-Residence program and Browning, a video monitor served as a character in a children's play, providing a window to another world. Forced Perspective in both video (1986) and installation (1984) formats, used five monitors (three video sources) as well as text and digital manipulation to communicate the disintegrating mental capacities of an aging woman. One monitor pictures a childhood nightmare; another externalizes the internal incidents of dementia through a disorienting journey in her timeworn and empty apartment. The arrangement of the monitors, and accompanying memory fragments, link media forms with spatial structure and mental functioning. Our domestic landscape is perhaps a mirror of our inner architecture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Inside (1984), a video short using the artist's grandmother as the onscreen reference, "describes the gradual restriction of awareness produced by age and immobility," according to Barbier. …

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