Uncertain Destiny. A Conversation with Javier Barrios

Interview by Sabin Bors

ISCP open studio spring. Installation view. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
ISCP open studio spring. Installation view. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYour art owes a lot of elements to science, science-fiction and the relentless character of nature. How did you come to this artistic expression and how would you describe your art?

Javier Barrios: Looking at the sky and considering our universe, our purpose, our beginnings is truly the origin of man. One of the most significant experiences I had as a child was this moment, when I started to develop a consciousness and relationship with the world beyond our own. This experience forced me to raise some fundamental questions regarding our existence, evolution, and humanity’s need for explanation. This notion is very basic, yet it has followed me into adult life and into my artistic practice. For me, the most important question I could ask is “how did it all start?” This curiosity started to manifest itself in my work. It was never a conscious choice to dive into this subject matter but rather a natural development over time. My studio has ultimately transformed into a pseudo-science hub. My aesthetics has emerged from this progression, an aesthetics which I find difficult to define. I look at the totality of my production as one big project filled with failed and successful experiments. Nothing is ever absolute so my work must reflect this same fact. I am visually and critically responsive throughout my production process. Art is a constant exploration of the world and our individual relationship within it.

Sabin BorsYou involve an interesting play between facts and utopian visions upon both history and the future. How do you see the evolution of Mankind in this context?

Javier Barrios: Mankind is living in an interesting time when technology has given us the biggest leaps in the shortest amount of time. Humans have barely scratched the surface of the potential knowledge and still we must develop even further and faster. Space colonization may become a reality. Simultaneously, we are facing dangers and challenges of our own existence here on earth in terms of climate, politics and economical shifts.

Human nature is about creation and destruction. Both are two powerful forces that I believe to be equally important in order for us to advance and develop. I am sure that mankind will achieve extraordinary things that will contextualize our understanding of our existence, but I also believe that this will happen at a great cost, of which we are on the cusp.

ISCP open studio spring. Installation view. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
ISCP open studio spring. Installation view. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsHow do you start constructing your works and what do you want to express through your art?

Javier Barrios: The only truth I know of my art making is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the actual piece before I execute it. In order for me to make a piece I need to be convinced that the work is actually worth making and that the final product has a statement, is logical, and has the ability to visually communicate on an intellectual level. I am interested in building a body of work that interacts and communicates complex narratives. I try to do this through a diversity of materials and techniques, as I believe that material in itself already represents its own set of qualities that might be used to reflect the concept of the work. There is a battle between the organic and the synthetic, which in many ways is a representation of the human need to control nature and exploit it. We are destructive species where the same destructiveness fuels our need to find new solutions for survival. It keeps us going and it keeps us evolving. I keep coming back to the Qatsi trilogy movies (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqaatsi and Naqoyqatsi) by Godfrey Reggio as an important reference and inspiration to my work. The nature of brutality in humanity and the natural world is magnificently illustrated. Reggio portrays the world as one organism, drawing direct relationships between the natural powers of the world and humanity’s innate greed. Individuality is not as interesting as the relationship within the whole.

The heat values the balance. Installation. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The heat values the balance. Installation. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The error funds the memory. Cut out mounted on metallic foil, 30 x 40 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The error funds the memory. Cut out mounted on metallic foil, 30 x 40 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYou make reference to an event horizon in your art. Do you see it as an apocalyptic or as a revealing event?

Javier Barrios: In scientific terms, “event horizon” means “the point of no return.” As I am interested in the collective picture of the world, it is interesting how humanity moves and dictates an unforeseeable outcome. Even though it is difficult to look at oneself when one is a part of the populous, one could speculate on where or when mankind’s event horizon might be, and what we would have to do to get there or to even know if we already have passed that line? There is no doubt that mankind has created many dangers for oneself, it is also no coincidence that we are experiencing a renaissance in the science fiction genre and a wider interest for science. A new space race has started, and many leading scientists will claim that it’s out of necessity rather than a political motivation as the one in the 60´s and 70´s. One can only speculate on this question, if there is an event horizon for mankind. I believe it to be both apocalyptic and honest as a catastrophe will always force us to look for new solutions. Frankly, I believe in our inevitable demise and am optimistic as to what we may find on the other side.

Sabin BorsCould you please describe the idea behind Twilight is Upon Me?

Javier Barrios: I realized the research I was doing began to transform into a project, I needed to create a framework for it; the extent of the material was overwhelming. I set off to divide the project into three parts over a period of three years.

Twilight is Upon Me was the first exhibition where I looked at the idea of technological advancement as an unquestionably positive development for humankind, with a special look into the Space Race, combined with elements of science-fiction and a critique of the long term trajectory. The second exhibition was called Black Matter. At this time, I was looking into nature’s destructive forces and how that may impact the longevity of our society. The third was The View of the Vast, shown in Guatemala, where I looked into humanity’s desire to control nature. As a response to this technological potentiality, I created an artificial, seemingly alien landscape made of volcanic sand within the museum.

The illusion of consumption clarifies the position of the invention of the image #5. Cut out on Mylar mounted on metallic foil, 40 x 30 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The illusion of consumption clarifies the position of the invention of the image #5. Cut out on Mylar mounted on metallic foil, 40 x 30 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The illusion of consumption clarifies the position of the invention of the image #2. Cut out on Mylar mounted on metallic foil, 40 x 30 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The illusion of consumption clarifies the position of the invention of the image #2. Cut out on Mylar mounted on metallic foil, 40 x 30 cm, 2014. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.

Sabin BorsYou often speak of ‘black matter’ and ‘dark energy.’ What do they represent for you?

Javier Barrios: Black Matter and dark energy are things we know to exist yet scientists are unsure of their purpose. My interest lies in what they represent rather than of what they may be. The accepted theory states that black matter and dark energy combined contains 95% of the universe. It is believed they are the cause of our perpetually expanding universe, threatening with its collapse. I think humans are very much about control. We want to learn from nature to ultimately control it. For me, black and dark matter can be seen as a metaphor for our curiosity and fear for the unknown.

Sabin BorsYour compositions always involve several elements and manners of representation, your constructions are usually very elaborate, and there is an interesting “dialogue” between the ways you choose to represent your subjects. Why this constant appeal to more ways of representation?

Javier Barrios: The beauty of science is that it does not function in absolutes. As I create a body of work, I work around a theme and through a long process of research. I execute the work that I believe will create the dynamics and content I am looking for in an exhibition where every work will have its own set of rules and logic, while remaining relevant and responsive. In many ways, science operates similarly as theories are constantly used with and against one another. My work tends to be very elaborate indeed most of the time, and I believe again it’s the neurotic part that wants to control and dominate it. This is a very interesting process I believe most painters are confronted with, where there always is a struggle or a dialogue between the work and the artist which I very often refer to as a boxing match. For me, it is an important process as I actually start my paintings very uncontrolled, but somehow the control always tends to win making them very elaborate.

Art is about exploration. I am driven by the idea of what could be. This is neither absolute nor perfect, but it is definitely full of potential. Its destiny will always be uncertain.

The poetics of the natural clarifies the position of the invention of the gendered body. Installation with paintings, volcanic sand, rocks and marble tiles. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
The poetics of the natural clarifies the position of the invention of the gendered body. Installation with paintings, volcanic sand, rocks and marble tiles. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
ISCP open studio spring. Installation view / work detail. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
ISCP open studio spring. Installation view / work detail. Image © Javier Barrios. Used here by kind permission from the artist. All rights reserved.
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