Liquid Liquid, which opens on January 15th, is Anna Barham’s second solo exhibition at Galerie Nordenhake. KUNSTforum asked her some questions about her work and inspirations.
Can you tell us about your current exhibition?
– I’m showing a 30 minute 2 channel video Double Screen (not quite tonight jellylike) from 2013, a series of prints on holographic paper (all 2015), and a second video Liquid Consonant from 2012. I made Double Screen immediately after Liquid Consonant, which I always saw as a kind of prologue, but they’ve never been shown together before so I’m very happy to be able to do that. The prints are new but I began making similar works while I was working on Double Screen – the video features footage I made of the machine that they’re printed on – they stretch forwards and backwards between the two videos both in the exhibition space and in my practice.
The press release states that your “work marks a similar shift – although in the reverse direction from written to oral”, and is referring to the shift from oral to literate in Ancient Greek times. Can you give some examples to how your work deals with this issue?
– That part of the press release wasn’t very clear perhaps – what it meant was that the works in the show mark a shift in my own work and preoccupations from written to oral, not that the works deal with the oral-literate shift in Greece itself. Although I am very interested in the introduction of writing as a widespread technology during that time and its affect on subjectivity; and as an analogy to our own time when we are shifting from analogue to digital technologies and only just beginning to understand how it will affect us. My work has previously been heavily text-based, manipulating language in its written form using anagrams and so forth. But starting with some of the live readings I’ve done of the anagram texts, I have become more and more interested in the sounds of the voice and language as something produced in the body. It’s a continuation of my interest in the materiality of language, but in a different form.
The works in your exhibition consist of works that invite both reflection and interaction, using metaphors and technology (like a QR code connected to a Soundcloud) side by side. How important is your audience when creating a new piece of work?
– The audience is crucial. I try to create a kind of associative open texture – both within and between works – that allows meaning to be projected onto it. The “meaning” is in the interface between the work and the viewer, and in a sense it’s different for everyone that experiences it, because they have to construct it themselves.
I’m curious to know how you ended up with UV prints on holographic paper?
– It started with works that aren’t in this show – prints of a sequence of stills from Liquid Consonant. I was drawn to the holographic paper as an animated material, activated by the movement and position of the viewer. So what first were still images, previously stitched together into an animation via a timeline and video sequence, were in some sense re-animated by another support – this time the paper/viewer. While I made Liquid Consonant I kept thinking about inkjet printing as a similar process to speech: how there is a complex machinery (the mouth/the printer) that produces a very “thin” or insubstantial result – the sound in the air, the thin layer of ink on the paper – but which can contain meaning or information. And the way that an inkjet printer works – small squirts of ink – seemed almost like a series of controlled breaths. I wanted to video a large format printer in action – that was the visual starting point for Double Screen. The voiceover of Double Screen is developed from a text that describes the cleaning of a squid over a sheet of newspaper (printed paper again). The surface of the holographic paper is iridescent like squid skin, so the associations and re-incorporations of subject and material get folded over and over again into the work.
The fact that they’re UV printed is just how you have to print on such a shiny surface – the ink is hardened almost immediately after it is laid on the paper by passing UV light over it.
How would you describe your work process from idea to finished result?
– I think the way that the prints evolved is quite a good description of my process – a chain of making and thinking, materials and associations – that feeds back into itself. Text is one of those materials. The script of Double Screen was made from processing a text over and over: reading it aloud and using speech recognition and voice synthesis software to generate many different mutations of the original. The process wasn’t linear or automatic – rather I was editing versions together or processing some parts more than others to generate a “reading” of the original text as I went along and explored some of the subject matters and themes that began to emerge. Those themes in turn begin to inform future pieces of work.
The performative nature of the development of the script for Double Screen has become more and more important, and since then I’ve invited other people into the process – conducting “live production reading groups” where the audience / participants interpret and read the text aloud and their voices are fed live into the speech recognition software. The generated text is raw material for new work.
What are your main influences when creating a work of art?
– A large range of things and the gaps in between. Lately I’ve been obsessed with squid and reading scientific papers about how their skins change colour. A lot of reading of different types of writing, language in all its forms. And material qualities of technologies.
Can you name an artist, artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
– It’s too hard to single a specific one out.
Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your works?
– I keep on coming back to a proposition by Wittgenstein from the Tractatus: “If I know an object I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs.” This seems to speak in two directions: that knowing something allows you to extrapolate its potential, but conversely that if you don’t (and you can’t) know all the “possible occurrences in states of affairs” then you can’t really know the thing.
What is your next project?
– It’s following on from the production reading groups I’ve been doing, and all the material they’ve generated.
Why is art important?
– If it is, then I think it’s because it allows something to exist on its own terms.
The exhibition is on display at Galerie Nordenhake in Stockholm until February 21st.