George Barber rose to prominence in the 1980s as a pioneer of the Scratch Video movement, with works like Tilt (1984), Absence of Satan and Yes Frank No Smoke (both 1985), which sampled clips from Hollywood films, using the untried sampling technology of the day to create an unprecedented orchestration of sound, vision, repeat edits and rhythm. Since then, Barber has developed a large and varied body of work, incorporating found footage, performative monologues and narrative films.
Chapter is delighted to present an ambitious solo exhibition entitled ‘George Barber: Akula Dream’. The centrepiece is a new work - of the same name - that straddles video art and the ‘movie’. In Akula Dream, an old Russian Akula submarine, armed with ballistic nuclear missiles, has a new captain; yet Captain Pavel seems to care very little for practical matters or protocol. In fact, he feels the submariners’ jobs are a waste of time and prefers to lead discussions groups about spiritual matters. He dresses in a cassock and grows a long beard. His favourite pastime is shamanic drumming. On this strange, unspecified mission, Captain Pavel and the crew begin to project out into the world to see their future and everything above the waves in sharp clarity. Rather than getting to know the world by travelling vast distances and meeting people, they come to understand it just by sitting in the dark holding hands; precisely by being denied sight of the world, they come to see it in more clearly. Shot on a real Russian submarine, the work has impressive original CGI sequences which reference Russian art rather than the classic torpedoes firing out of submarine tubes. The crew ‘journey’ outside the hull, and make shamanic visits to strange worlds.
The exhibition also features significant recent works including Fences Make Senses (2014) and The Freestone Drone (2013). In addition some of Barber’s seminal early works are on display, many featuring his well-known use of humour and the absurd.
Fences Make Senses rehearses and re-enacts prevailing debates about international borders. Contemporary media reports usually focus on the plight of the forsaken; Barber instead uses non-refugees to improvise frequently-faced situations and themes. Buying a totally inappropriate boat from a rogue, for example, or having the wrong paperwork at a border, or on towards more philosophical notions - like the moral dilemma of sea captains who routinely ignore refugees.
The video combines found and made footage to produce a montage anchored on migrant experience. While the re-enactments are at times ludicrous, the artist’s own poetic voiceover explores the deeper injustices, complexities and paradoxes of the situation.
Fences Make Senses is an artistic response to the world’s current crisis of displaced populations and enforced migration. The work re-frames the issues by breaking away from the standard documentary or news clichés. Barber’s use of improvisers provides a platform for imagination and empathy, bringing home the reality of the refugee experience and the arbitrariness of the conditions that put a person on one side of a border rather than the other.
The Freestone Drone’s central motif is a ‘talking drone’ – who has self-esteem and guilt issues. The piece follows a poetic mission from the point of view of a young innocent drone. Like a child he surveys cityscapes, encounters individuals, reports, and ultimately becomes aware of his own utility and destiny. The video combines found and made footage to produce an uneasy, seductive montage, anchored on the drone’s private thoughts. Engendered with human consciousness and independence, the Freestone Drone is a poet who disobeys orders and does his own thing, a child within a machine.
The Freestone Drone proposes the meeting place of poetry and philosophy as a site to consider contemporary ethical and political concerns. Ultimately, Barber’s work underlines the fact that technologies - and in particular modes of warfare - are symptomatic of the way we understand ourselves in the modern world.
We are also delighted to premiere the complete Shouting Match series as a four-screen installation. Shouting Match consists of pure shouting; various pairs compete to dominate each other with vocal volume. Matches in four urban locations around the globe are pitted against one another - London, Bangalore, Tel Aviv and New Orleans. Shouting Match responds to the common situation in modern life whereby everything has to be turned ‘full up’. In effect - not saying anything very loudly is an apt metaphor for the modern moment – the stock-in-trade of reality TV or game shows. Yet there are striking cultural differences between the four locations featured in this presentation of Shouting Match. Not all shouting is the same. In Bangalore, many believe it is inauspicious to shout, so the participants have a constrained approach; in Tel Aviv the volunteers, drawn from passers-by, seem suspicious of the camera, perhaps concerned that this might be another negative media item on Israel. In New Orleans, the local crowd seem to find it too much trouble or too hot to shout, and have a more random, even volatile approach. In London, in an abandoned supermarket, the participants leave inhibitions aside and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the contests.
Barber’s works have been shown at many international festivals, competitions, galleries, have been broadcast on television throughout the world and awarded major prizes. Recently, he has had work shown at Kate MacGarry, Whitechapel Gallery, Split Film Festival (Croatia), Royal Academy, Tate Britain, and Victoria & Albert Museum. He has had retrospectives at the ICA, and Dundee Contemporary Arts. In autumn 2015 he has solo exhibitions at Waterside Contemporary, London and at Young Projects, Los Angeles.
Barber is Professor of Art & Media at the University for the Creative Arts and is represented by Waterside Contemporary (waterside-contemporary.com).
Akula Dream, the George Barber solo-show, is presented as part of ‘Looking For America: Diffusion - Cardiff International Festival of Photography’, 1-31 October 2015. Taking place in venues across Cardiff and beyond, the festival sees a month-long programme of exhibitions, interventions, screenings, performances, events and celebrations in both physical and virtual spaces and places.