Alicia Barney – Aves en el cielo (Birds in the sky)

 

María Teresa Guerrero R. June of 1993 

Aves en el cielo is Alicia Barney’s first individual exhibition in the Gartner-Torres Gallery in Bogotá, during May and June. The work also participates thematically in the collective show Pulsaciones [Pulsations], in La Tertulia Museum of Cali.

 

 

After completing her master’s degree at the Pratt Institute in New York (1978), she returned to Colombia, where her work has been shown in collective shows, national salons, biennials, the Atenas Salon, etc. It is difficult for the audience to truly approach her work if they do not have a clearly defined intention to enter into dialogue with the artist’s ideas, and if they do not understand the essence of her conceptual approach.

 

Her love for nature since she was a child, her continuous work toward understanding ecological balance and her fondness for life is reflected constantly in this work, in which birds are at once the actors and victims of an ecological disaster, becoming a motif of great creative force. In the middle of the situation is humanity-as-middleman, capable of serving as the mediator of existence. What happens when man is the first to forget his role and abandons his relation with nature, dissolving his sense of being protector and conserver? Where have our loss of consciousness and our lack of joy in observing taken us? Are we not in an S.O.S. situation?

 

In the exhibit Aves en el cielo, Alicia Barney creates an installation that puts forth one of the most touching dramas after the killing in Auschwitz, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Chernobyl disaster which is the ecological disruption caused by the oil spills in the Persian Gulf during the Kuwait war. Meanwhile, in Colombia the attacks on the Caño Limón oil pipeline by the EPL and ELN guerrillas are among man’s histrionic acts, irresponsible actions that victimize nature, and which particularly deplete the bird population. This lack of consciousness on the part of human beings is reflected in her work, which shocks and moves those who contemplate it.

 

The installation is composed of various species of birds: ducks, songbirds, herons, hawks, eagles, pigeons, and blackbirds, which –in diverse ways and various positions– transport the visitor to desolation. The marked confusion in the atmosphere, charged with a black stain, the effect of which is only increased by the black light, tragic and anguished, marks an irreparable loss. It is an unbalanced ecosystem, the condemnation of the greatest disasters in the world, which have only left death, pain, and desperation behind. There, one contemplates the disappearance of life represented by those black birds. Birds which are molded in tar, a petroleum-derived material, which in turn causes death, when petroleum spills cause such environmental misery.

 

The birds are pierced by shattered glass, indicators of all the violence currently unleashed. The violence is not only among men, in the cities. It has taken giant steps out of the threshold of humanity and entered the animal kingdom. Man is in the middle of this drama. A drama always caused by the hand of man. This abuse of nature is slowed only by a mountain of cotton, which unfortunately does not possess enough clarity of purpose, failing in its placement and particularly in its relation with the staging of the installation. Salvation is found in this material, the only resource that can stop the massacre.

 

It is true that the subject of ecology is not among those preferred by artists. Hence, Alicia Barney’s case is special, as she enunciates her love of nature through these birds. Bravo for her aim of condemnation; better still, for her sublimation of the artistic act.