March 9-15, 2006
Artur Barrio's political, physical work is about facing our fears.
: Cristina Motta
The exhibition is part of the Moore International Discovery Series, which included a symposium and a catalogue. Barrio was born in Porto, Portugal, in 1945, and moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1955, where he currently resides. His work has long involved challenges to political repression, and it's no coincidence that he and many other Brazilian artists were officially censored (as well as imprisoned, shot or driven into exile) during the most reprehensible period of dictatorship in Brazil, 1968-1973. Anarchist themes link Barrio's work to a number of art philosophies, among them Arte Povera, Dada, Surrealism and Situationism. It has also incorporated critiques of museum practices and art world hierarchies, though it recently was included in a number of major exhibitions around the world. Barrio has written a manifesto that places his work into the "socio-economic context of the Third World." He explains: "I use cheap perishable materials in my work such as: garbage, toilet paper, urine, etc.," because "industrialized products are not within our, my reach, but controlled by an elite that I contest, because creativity cannot be conditional, it has to be free."
The Paley Gallery contains hundreds of documents that act as residue of past "situations" and reveal a multifaceted picture of the wide-ranging interests of this artist. The body is an ongoing theme in Barrio's work; for example, in one situation he used his own body in a four-day experiment with sleep deprivation in an urban environment in order to, as he described, "face fear." We find frequent allusions to sensory experience and the biological functions of the human body through the use of materials like food, coffee, toilet paper, garbage and human waste. In Le cul de la Joconde (Mona Lisa's Ass), 1977 and Le support de l'art (The Support of Art), 1977, he offers a gritty homage to the naughty but cerebral Duchamp that includes pubic hair and sex toys. Some pieces are absurdly funny, such as P H (T P ), 1969, a very short film featuring toilet paper, and Projeto para um calção de cuoro (Leather Bathing Suit Project, 1976), a science-fair type presentation of a leather device, string, pubic hair and sketches. But many other projects have political implications that are deeply disturbing. In Situação T/T, 1 (Situation T/T, 1), 1970, Barrio uses bundles of decomposing meat to make reference to the political murders and protests in Brazil at that time.
If one gallery in the exhibition reveals Barrio's ideas through documentation, then the other one conceals them in raw sensory experience. Barrio's installation in the Levy Gallery, Rehearsal of Monotony (Philadelphia), February 2006, gives a better idea of the messy reality of Barrio's situations, which documents can only hint at. The space is dark and cavelike with tiny bare lightbulbs that hang from heavy black cables and dimly illuminate parts of the room. A layer of ground coffee covers the floor of the gallery, soft and crunchy when you walk on it. Various tableaux are set up ritualistically around the space: bags of bread leaning in a corner, a split-open leather couch covered with coffee like newly fallen snow, and several walls that have been defaced with scrawled handwritten text or clawed open to reveal the infrastructure below. The room is suffused with the confusion of a crime scene; a feverish, visceral intensity; a sense of uncontrolled appetites filled or lost; and the strong, earthy smell of coffee.
It all makes sense (or maybe not). Barrio's work consists of ordinary materials and substances taken from the world around us pushed through his actions to some extreme that renders them decisively unusable and then documented through his actions crudely, directly, fiercely. Both halves of Barrio's "Actions after Actions" defy our attempts to rationally understand them, though it seems essential that we act as witnesses. Ultimately, attempts to classify Barrio's work are unnecessary, as it really is about entering a realm of sensation and poetry, "facing fear" and becoming free.
ARTUR BARRIO: ACTIONS AFTER ACTIONS Through March 19, Moore College of Art & Design, 20th St. and the Parkway, 215-568-4515