By Alicia Barney
Alicia Barney | 2001
Alicia Barney | 2015
Alicia Barney | 2015
Alicia Barney | 2014
Alicia Barney | 1997
Alicia Barney | 1996
Alicia Barney | 1995
Alicia Barney | 1977
Alicia Barney | 2018
Alicia Barney, Bogotá 2018
I have an early memory - four, five years old - of me sitting on a mound while my parents dealt with a broken jeep, and while looking at the sunset slowly everything became the sun and then this sun-everything dissolved into nothing, including me. It wasn’t scary at all, but it was confusing because I was nothing, yet I could be aware of a feeling of tranquility and plenty. A child’s experience, not verbal not rational, was it real?
When I was a kid my father would look at me from the corners of his eyes as if I was a strange being for outer space. An aunt told me later on that they would look at me with concern and commented that it was a shame that such pretty kid seemed to be dumb... Some people still do.
In this picture you can see almost no trees but in the Atenas picture you can see them grown up and lush.
When an adolescent I was in the habit of spending days alone sitting under a Guama tree looking at the waters of a brook unfold under the tree canopy pierced by the tropical light while eating guamas.
In my thirties I visited Peru and saw ceramic potatoes and other foods. At the time I was studying the approach of Indians to their natural surroundings., it became obvious that for them nature´s elements were sacred.
Later I produced a small series of “Pre-Columbian Objects” one of which was a bronze guama with three silver seeds, of which the silky velvety skin is edible.
One day while sitting under the Guama tree I saw a beautiful, immensely sad being. I think it cried because every year I went back, there was less water running in the brook, which today
it is no longer. Then the being sang inside my head, the experience was so strong that for about two weeks thereafter it was sharply present. Of course, the song was not a song as the sounds did not cross the air but occurred inside my head. I could make out four sounds that I never heard before or after. But I have several works in which I have used sounds. This incredible sounds open up a world to me I have been striving to reach them but not to reproduce since this is actually impossible, sometimes I have ended up with whole different sounds unearthed from my childhood memories.
1989 Pre-Columbian Object I
While studying in New York I would take day long walks in Manhattan, without stopping to eat or drink, and it so happened that objects called to me so I would pick them up and when I came back to my dorm arrange them in rows for the day. When I had so many that I couldn’t move around I made the Object Diaries series using a design frame similar to the Inca calendar of which I was reading at the time.
1977 Object Diaries Series 1 (detail)
1977 Object Diaries Series 1 (detail)
Quipu or khipu were recording devices used in the Inca Empire and its predecessors in the societies in the Andean region. A quipu usually consists of colored spun and plied thread from llama or alpaca hair or cotton cords with numeric and other values encoded by knots in a base ten positional system.
Quipus may have just a few strands, but some have up to 2,000 strands.
At our farm called Atenas I asked my father why he had built the house precisely at that
place. He told me that when he was young he was riding his horse and saw a wild herd of
forty tapirs; he also talked of seeing tigrillos and mountain bears. I then keenly realized I had not seen any of those animals in my life time.
I thought and felt it was urgent to raise the alarm about all the damage being done. I produced several ecological works denouncing what I thought were the problems at their very base, such as water, air, garbage management.
1981/82 Rio Cauca
I produced Rio Cauca about a river that crosses my country from south to north, creating many fertile valleys in the Andean mountains on its way. I had lots of trouble getting a hydrological map of the river from a government institution, because of the guerilla, anyone who asked for a map was suspicious, and besides, a woman artist should paint, not ask for maps. Finally, the map was obtained and etched at the bottom of the three acrylic river water containers. With a biologist and a photographer, we went to the places where the river was
most polluted and took samples. Some places were so disgusting that the photographer opted out, so I replaced him taking the pictures. The biologist turned very difficult at the end perhaps due to the political turmoil at the time. When, after many unanswered calls and time for the inauguration running out, I went to pick up his results to contrast them with my notes, his apartment was in total disorder, he said he had divorced but it look more like a police raid he denied having the tests and I had to coerce him into giving me the results of the analysis of the samples that were so hard to take!
During a month I took daily samples of the air at an industrial city called Yumbo. At the time I worked on Yumbo and Rio Cauca as denunciations. I did not think of them as ‘eco-utopias’ ” because I still had hopes that people would react on time.
When I showed Yumbo in 1980 at the museum La Tertulia in Cali, I was approached by three of the so-called intelligence police. This police dress as civilians, spy on citizens and make unlawful arrests and disappear people, but all the same, you can recognize them. and asked to explain the work. I told them the equation was simple, the wind moved the air around the planet and it was getting so polluted that sooner or later it would cover the precious islands were millionaires think they can escape. Many years later I learned that the owners of a cement factory at Yumbo, the biggest polluters and pollution is planetary; were from Switzerland and gave Rio de Janeiro, the Daros a museum of Latin-American art, closed now. A compensation for all the cement and asbestos from the several factories they had in Latin America. (*)
Today scientists are predicting that if we do not stop now, burning fuels, extracting gas, reproducing irresponsibly by 2043 the oceans will be so hot that will not be able to sustain the life of fish that we eat. They also have found correlations between failed crops and citizen unrest in the third world. Where else? Sadly, the examples of environmental destruction are legion.
Because there are so many Colombians now that they are moving to the vast Orinoquian plains and the Amazon, to exploit the land there, causing destruction to the ecosystems. And this happens also in Malaysia and in orangutan, elephant, giraffe territories in Africa. People, because we are too many, all over the world people are converting wild, lush forest land into crops to make a living. **
Stratification of a Utopian Garbage Site
Detail of garbage, decomposing in Stratification
About seven years after Yumbo I made a work called Stratification of a Utopian Garbage Site. The work was meant to give an example of a responsibly managed dump: I named it utopian out of spite because I was aware it required more work to administer it than a common open-air garbage site, and by now I knew that politicians – the ones supposedly responsible to develop the politics of waste management, were too lazy and irresponsible to care to make any change. So, now utopia was bitter reality, a place that probably will never be! Inside the tubes the garbage grows fungi and slowly dissolves into compost. (An appropriate place for politicians)
Psychotropics are not for people who know everything but for people who want to know everything
When I was thirty something, back home in Cali, I was invited by a very elegant economics
professor at the State University for a day trip to a place called Valle de Alicia – Alicia’s Valley – to eat mushrooms. The instructions were, don’t eat meat, spice, heavy meals, or drink hard liquor three days before, and bring along two liters of water, a bottle of white wine (optional), panela, (solidified sugar cane juice), a pot and matches. Our group of four went to a beautiful meadow about an hour south of the city where the keepers let us in. There were a few cows and a few enormous trees and mushrooms everywhere as it was rainy season. They had brought dry wood. We were taught to cut the mushrooms with scissors to keep them clean from cow dung (less parasites). We made a made a fire and started to cook them with the panela, soon we had mushroom tea!
2016 Alicia’s Valley (100 mushrooms)
2016 Alicia’s Valley (100 mushrooms)
2016 Alicia’s Valley (Giant mushrooms)
After drinking it we were instructed to find a tree for ourselves, because soon moving would become very difficult and we would not be able to walk. I found the tallest and most ancient tree and sat down. It didn’t take long before the tree and I started talking, each in our own language, but we understood each other. The tree talked inside my mind through feelings and visions. It was very ancient. The tree knew about humans. It had been surrounded by a jungle alive with animals, had seen Indians hunting, wars between Indians and Spanish conquerors passing through. Then came other humans with their hatchets and the thick jungle around the tree went down, followed by the farmers and their cows. The tree was a witness, full of knowledge. Because it knew what hunting, war, hatchets, farmers, and cows meant, and it conveyed that meaning through the language of feelings, very deeply felt. It knew me! Seemed to know me better than myself! It seemed as if it was transferring knowledge or messages from somewhere else. It was knowledge about my future life, coming from outside me and the tree, delving into my spiritual life. I felt as if I were permeable, and knowledge was transferred raw, as if simultaneously felt by the tree and me. Of course, it was too much for me. I felt as if my mind was drowning. I learned firsthand that feelings are in the mind.
When the sun was oblique, we gathered to cross the meadow until we reached a hill, where we encountered a big rock with petroglyphs. They were Quillacinga designs, two monkeys and a lizard, I was able to identify them because I read about the Quillacingas and the Pastos, cultures that flourished in pre-Columbian times south of Colombia and north of Ecuador. The Quillacingas drew monkeys with wonderfully spiraled tails. When we reached the top of the
hill, we encountered a huge bamboo forest, brightened by the last light of day, making the most delicious sound as it danced in the wind. This made us all extremely happy as we sat down to listen, and I drank the water that would enable me to drive us back. When I made Alicia’s Valley for the 32 Sao Paulo Biennial I tried to recreate not only the mushrooms, but this sound, too, by making a wind organ. I was told there was going to be extreme, catastrophic wind and rain and there were none! The curators owe me that wind, I swear!
2016 Alicia’s Valley (Wind Organ)
When I was fifty, I learned a meditation technique that was a more complex than the basic one I had learned earlier in my life. I had recently started to practice it, when after a few hours after meditation, I remember standing up looking at my sister’s portrait, when I felt immense happiness while my body bubbled and dissolved into something like champagne. Then for ten years after that I shied away from the art world and many other instances, people or situations that felt coarse. I dedicated myself fully to the practice of this meditation. It is very difficult to write about experiences that are devoid of preconceived ideas, judgements where one opens oneself to whatever comes your way. Also, words are not the proper vehicle to describe one’s complete immersion in something. The mind is prone to labyrinthic ways where multiple events thoughts and, feelings wander freely crossing and overlapping each other in hectic disorder in one rushing tirade.
The mind by its cultural training achieves rational, logical thought but only though effort and discipline. Perspectives as opposed to immersion are the harness of logical thought.
To experience feeling oneself immersed in an emptiness that at the same time is not empty. A void that contains everything, where (it is not a place) everything is there (it is not a place) the small (people, plants, insects) and the enormous (whole worlds - galaxies), the good and the bad, all is penetrated by a conscience that is neutral, an observer, simply is inside and outside everything, being aware of its multitudinous self. Worlds appear and disappear vertiginously moving in that same place, because there is no time. It is as if it were a supra- meta-conscience that penetrates everything and at the same time observes everything from the outside. I am aware that I am that conscience, and that if it is god then I am also god! These would have been very dangerous words in ancient times, and I think today it is no different. Experiences like this make everyday life difficult, and even more considering I live in a society that enjoy to be at war with itself. The quotidian becomes insurmountable because it has become meaningless. Living becomes agony.
Fragility, from there to here
How do I go about making my work? There are many factors that come together. Information through reading allows me to write this, but it is far from the only factor. At the farm where I grew up my father dug out land for the lakes, built the house, planted many trees. He taught me to fish, to observe the weather and the birds and at night recited poems, and showed me the stars through a telescope. On our black-and-white TV we also watched all the Joe Louis fights, and later those of Cassius Clay, as he was called then. Then the guerilla killed my father at the farm he called Atenas, because he would not pay them the ransom they asked to let him live and work. Many of what I observed, described above, is nonverbal information (one is taught to fish mainly by practicing it). yet it structures a child’s being in a perhaps more definitive way than do academic studies. Its ways accompany me for life. They determine how I relate to the environment, or better survive it, see things, how I organize work, my loves and hates.
Every time one of my works is developing, it is because I have an obsession then I start gathering information, and this triggers even more information coming my way, but in the end, much of it goes through a process of self-destruction. When only the essence is left I have a vision of the finished work. For example, at four in the morning while asleep, I suddenly wake up and see the work finished before me. Afterwards I must drag it into matter. That’s when the dreadful process of doing the budget, getting the money, dealing
with materials, having people do pieces, convince young assistants that I know better, makes it a … horror movie. I like to make art that is fragile. By itself, every artwork created must be all-inclusive, to be experienced as a cluster of a greater panoramic scope. A pipe is not a pipe, a mushroom is not a mushroom.
I think that to conceive art as endless variants of one form, idea, subject, style, is not only reductive but also masculine. To spend one’s life behaving like an arrow strongly focused on one idea and its many possible modifications it can account for is why male art often strives for monumentality. Refusal to experiment, honed on the hyper accuracy of meaningless details, seems pedantic. With a concept and living experience of so-called reality, better me and my work stay fragile!
* Víctor Albarracín
"Daros Latinoamérica: memoria de un legado peligroso" de Guillermo Villamizar http://esferapublica.org/nfblog/daros-latinamerica-memorias-de-un-legado-peligroso/
"Informe Daros parte II" de Guillermo Villamizar http://esferapublica.org/nfblog/informe-daros-arte-y-dinero/