ARTiculAction Magazine–special issue | UK | interview with Sabrina Barrios | March 2016 | By Dario Rutigliano and curators Josh Ryder and Barbara Scott
Multidisciplinary artist Sabrina Barrios’s work explores the relationship between the Self and the collective consciousness, highlighting the unstable relation between these apparently opposite aspects. In Zero, that we’ll be discussing in the following pages, she unveils the connections between our perceptual process and the elusive nature of our bodies’ physicality to accomplish the difficult task of drawing the viewers into a multilayered experience in which they are urged to rethink about the stages of the soul, spirit and body from before birth to afterlife. One of the most convincing aspects of Barrios’ approach is the way it condenses the permanent flow of associations in the realm of memory and experience: we are really pleased to introduce our readers to her stimulating artistic production.
1) Hello Sabrina and a warm welcome to ARTiculAction: to start this interview, would you like to tell us something about your background? You have a solid formal training and having earned your BFA in Graphic Design you moved to New York to complete your MFA at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute: how do these experiences influence the way you conceive and produce your works? And in particular, how does your cultural substratum dued to your Brazilian roots impact on the way you relate yourself to artmaking and to the aesthetic problem in general?
Hello and thank you for the warm welcoming!
My parents come from the academia, and training has always been important. With studying comes community, like-minded people who you are exposed to and can change you. I went to NY for a masters in Fine Arts, which taught me things Graphic Design didn’t. And this past year I have been in a few different art residencies throughout Europe and the US, to take time for research, to think, experiment, make mistakes, open up to new possibilities, concentrate exclusively on my art. Each of these residencies showed me something I wasn’t aware of.
Besides the training and taking the time to investigate the subject to be explored in each project, I believe in life experiences. You expand as a person when going places and meeting new people. I’m inspired and curious about what motivates big crowds, what makes them believe in something. Faith. Intuition. You don’t need academic training for that.
Culturally speaking, I was born and raised in Brazil and was a kid when dictatorship ended. Several artists left in exile, though they’ve never stopped fighting. Art became their lives because they were passionate and believed in a cause. Like them, I have a hard time separating what kind of experience will benefit me as a person or me as an artist. I know I have a voice and I want to motivate people to stop following and start thinking for themselves. I want people to react, to question things.
Moreover, in my work I often talk about complex subjects and use geometry to translate them into understandable symbols. I also use different mediums to communicate the narrative more accurately, since each delivers a distinct message. In my 3D drawings (site-specific installations), for instance, I ask the viewer to experience the piece with their bodies and this placement of the observer as a participant, as well as the geometric language, is inspired by the Brazilian Neo-concrete movement of the 60’s. The controlled and meditative tone of my installations, very different from my emotional paintings, show the extreme cultures I’ve been exposed to in the past several years. I’m half Italian and half Spanish, born and raised in Brazil, but lived in London, Berlin and have been based in New York for the past 7 years.
2) Your approach coherently encapsulates several disciplines and reveals an incessant search of an organic investigation about the liminal area in which psycho-physiological blends with absolute gaze on perceptual reality, and the results convey together a coherent and consistent sense of harmony and unity. Before starting to elaborate about your production, we would suggest to our readers to visit sabrinabarrios.com in order to get a synoptic view of your multifaceted artistic production: while walking our readers through your process and set up, we would like to ask you how did you develope your style and how do you conceive your works.
My work is connected to the self, to memories and experiences that built me. The art I’m making is coherent because it’s me, my deep research, voice and point of view.
I focus on the duality of the self and the collective consciousness, and how we all share a reality that might not be real at all. For example, by studying ancient knowledge, I’m aware of the fact that books can be burnt by a civilization that wins a war, and therefore gets to depict history however they choose. Through psychology, I want to understand what connects and what controls us. When introducing science and cosmology, on the other hand, I look outside at the sky and constellations, to imagine what the future might hold.
These are big and heady subjects, that are impossible to be translated into art and digested at once. That is why I use different mediums when communicating, as they all offer different sides of the same narrative. For instance, when I create a video I take advantage of time and the fact that I can add new images to it every second. A painting, however, has everything already there.
3) For this special edition of ARTiculAction we have selected Zero, an interesting project that our readers have already started to get to know in the introductory pages of this article. What has at once caught our attention of this work is the way your inquiry into the stages of the soul, spirit and body from before birth to afterlife challenges our primordial, almost limbic perceptual parameters, urging us to rethink and sometimes even subvert the way we relate ourselves to such ubiquitous concepts: while walking our readers through the genesis of this project, would you shed light on the way your main source of inspirations?
That’s exactly what I want: to question reality and provoke people to think! You don’t have to agree with the ideas I’m proposing because my goal is to simply make you stop for a second and consider your own point of view.
To start with, Zero had a very strong visual presence, which was what got people interested into exploring it. Nobody is really used to walking within a work of art, though knowing that them, the audience, is needed to complete the artwork, makes them want to engage and explore art in a different way. Then, for the curious who felt challenged, there was a solid, cohesive and provocative concept, that made sense based on what the viewer had just experienced–and on common questions that concern our universe and therefore all of us. I often investigate how Ancient Egypt, Hinduism, Spiritism, Catholicism and Alchemy approached life and death.
I’m asking that people perceive other things and don’t only trust their vision. Two of the three rooms where Zero took place were lit with ultraviolet lights and the audience put on earplugs, so they could hear their own breathing, their inner voice–as opposed to being distracted by other people and the surroundings. They focused on the life-sized, mesmerizing 3D drawing, even if they couldn’t see properly–as in a normal light environment. And when they started navigating the piece, they had to make certain decisions, which created a unique, personal experience, based on their own choices (the movement of their bodies lit up the segments of the piece they walked through). In other words, the final structure looked different for every viewer. “Zero part 2: Life” was a metaphor for one’s trajectory.
Part 1 of the experience, which I call the “Before Life” or the “Blank Slate” (Locke’s philosophy), depicts tunnels of energy, placed over one’s head– that could not be reached. To me these are present energies from before we are born and that keep going after death, even though our bodies stay behind. On part 3, the full circle (Zero) of the spirit and soul leaving the body again is completed, and one is confronted by a life-sized projection of themselves walking within the artwork they were just in (Part 2). It was like one could witness their life one last time, from a different perspective. Literally from outside of one’s body.
4) Zero provides the viewers with an intense, immersive experience: how do you see the relationship between public sphere and the role of art in public space? In particular, how much do you consider the immersive nature of the viewing experience and how much importance has improvisation in your process?
First step of creating an installation (3D drawing) involves a lot of planning and improvising. I consider the space, its angles, architecture and environment, but allow myself to surprise and be surprised when building it.
And when you have people in the equation, meaning the viewer (which accounting for is part of the process), is very hard to be completely in control, so improvisation is there again. However, because my main goal when I create a piece in a public space is to engage the audience and communicate accurately the ideas behind the artwork, I have to be aware of every little detail, so the whole is consistent.
My installations are ephemeral and don’t last very long, thus I tend to focus on the viewer’s trajectory and the message they will get from the experience. I want them to feel inspired, even if for a second. My 3D drawings are actually an attempt to make the moment significant. They are asking for people to be present. They are a reflexion on life and how things are born to later disappear.
5) When drawing from the subconscious, almost oniric sphere, you recontextualize evocative symbols: your approach is pervaded with an effective non linear narrative that allows you to capture non-sharpness of physicality with an universal kind of language that brings to a new level of significance the elusive but ubiquitous relationship between experience and memory: what is the role of memory in your process? We are particularly interested if you try to achieve a faithful translation of your previous experiences or if you rather use memory as starting point to create.
My life experiences–and therefore my memories from these experiences–built who I am. As I have an understanding of that and as I acknowledge my inner world, I’m able to investigate the questions raised within my trajectory, to create a language that is indeed universal because we can all relate to–as human beings. We have come from and are going towards the same place, we all have a body we didn’t choose to be in, we all feel things, we all dream at night.
These may be unimportant and abstract matters for some people because we won’t have concrete answers. At least, not clear enough to be verbalized and explained in words. I believe in feeling, sensation, and symbols, rather than words, translate that more accurately.
6) The ambience you created for Fossil has reminded us of the concept of non lieu elaborated by French anthropologit Marc Augé: conveying both metaphoric and descriptive research, this work constructs of a concrete aesthetic that works on both subconscious and conscious level. As the late Franz West did in his installations, this work shows unconventional features in the way it deconstructs perceptual images in order to assemble them in a collective imagery, urging the viewers to a process of self-reflection. Artists are always interested in probing to see what is beneath the surface: maybe one of the roles of an artist could be to reveal unexpected sides of Nature, especially of our inner Nature… what’s your view about this?
I think it’s time for society to see artists as the ones who might indeed find the answers and change the world. We are thinkers. We are questioning important issues, things that are happening now and concern humanity. And we are innovating when depicting these issues, so to get people interested. We have a voice and our work can shake and change things.
With Fossil I started applying the knowledge I had from my studies on communication, design and contemporary symbols, and mixed them with my research on hieroglyphics and ancient history, cosmology, astrology, alchemy, etc, to develop a new geometric language, that everyone could understand.
7) By provoking direct relations with the spectatorship, you accomplish the difficult task of going beyond the surface of communication. We find this aspect particularly interesting since it is probably the only way to accomplish the vital restoration you pursued in this work, concerning both the individuals and their place in our ever changing societies: how do you see the relationship between public sphere and the role of art in public space? In particular, what kind of reactions did you expect to provoke in the viewers?
I want people to question things, to stop following because it’s easier. I want them to think for themselves, to react and have an opinion. But I also want to inspire them through art and its mesmerizing beauty, because artworks have that kind of power. They are not mere objects, but rather triggers for experiences. So I treat every piece and project as an experience one will explore with their whole body. Every bit counts to create a context and to construct a cohesive bigger narrative, that will stick with people.
8) Another interesting work of yours that has particularly impacted on us and on which we would like to spend some words is entitled Atlantis and we have appreciated the way it shows the aesthetic consequences of a combination between the concrete feature of geometry and the abstract concept of symbols, exploring unexpected aspects of the functionality of language on the aesthetic level: as Gerhard Richter once remarked, “my concern is never art, but always what art can be used for”: what is your opinion about the functional aspect of Art in the contemporary age?
I’m concerned with both form and function (meaning the visual part and the concept) because in the work I’m doing they are complementary things. And honestly, there are so much visual pollution in the current world that is the aesthetics of something that gets people interested. At least at first. When I create a piece or dig into a project, I consider all aspects of it. Being accurate when communicating is key, and using the power that art has is wise.
I often use geometry because it’s a simple looking symbolic language, but it’s also extremely complex and can hold different meanings.
Atlantis was created as a reference to advanced lost civilizations (that used mathematics and sacred geometry on their constructions) and proposes that one looks at time in a non-linear way–but as a cycle. It investigates Plato’s writings on the island to reflect on whether or not it could actually have existed in a Golden Age, and destroyed overnight due to a Tsunami. Because maybe the civilizations that came after had no technology whatsoever, which forced them to start over, from scratch, with new beliefs and ways of leading and living. Why not?
8) We believe that interdisciplinary collaboration as the one that you have established with Hide-and-Seek for Structure and the Multiverse is today an ever growing force in Art and that some of the most exciting things happen when creative minds from different fields of practice meet and collaborate on a project… could you tell us something about this effective synergy? By the way, the artist Peter Tabor once stated that “collaboration is working together with another to create something as a synthesis of several practices, that alone one could not“: what’s your point about this? Can you explain how your work demonstrates communication between several artists?
I really believe that collaboration helps you grow, because another person with a different perspective, skill set and life trajectory can teach you things you wouldn’t be able to grasp otherwise. As a graphic designer I’m used to working in teams, and in art I’m definitely open for that.
The coding and interactive design part of Zero was actually a collaboration with an engineer and technologist called Alan Chatham, and the music behind the video in Fossil has the signature of sound artist Matt Herron.
9) Over these eight years your works have been internationally showcased in several occasions, including your recent exhibition at the JustMAD–Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid. One of the hallmarks of your practice is the capability to create direct involvement with the viewers, who are urged to evolve from a condition of mere spectatorship. So before leaving this conversation we would like to pose a question about the nature of the relationship of your art with your audience. Do you consider the issue of audience reception as being a crucial component of your decision-making process, in terms of what type of language is used in a particular context?
I’m a passionate and curious person who will explore subjects that inspire or challenge the self. I’m always looking into evolving and expanding and that is my biggest motivation. What I create is directly connected to what drives me and the conclusions I reach, though also in tuned with the collective. Shaking to change people’s perspective is a very important task and I need to observe their reactions when engaging with the participatory work I make, if I want to provoke any shift. However, it would feel limiting, so I don’t start a project with the audience in mind, specially when I don’t require their direct participation (paintings).
10) Thanks a lot for your time and for sharing your thoughts, Sabrina. Finally, would you like to tell us readers something about your future projects? How do you see your work evolving
Thank you ARTiculAction for the engaging questions and the reader for getting through the end!
In the future I’ll be dealing with the natural evolution of finding a portal to another dimension, to actually creating this other dimension. Stay tuned: sabrinabarrios.com | Instagram: @sabrina_barrios
Below are a few exhibits I’m in:
– Bains Connective | Brussels, Belgium | March 1-31, 2016
– AIM–The Bronx Museum | New York, USA | April 26-August 2, 2016
– The Wassaic Project Summer Exhibition | Wassaic, NY, USA | June-September, 2016
– The Vanderbilt Republic | New York, USA | May-September, 2016