A Little Bit of Omphaloskepsis (navel gazing to you and me)

I know it’s blatant self-promotion, but such is the life of the post-digital artist! My recent (ahem, successful) application to the Professional Doctorate in Fine Art at UEL was a great opportunity to reconsider and recontextualise the most important strands of my work. Today’s post is all about it. Any regular readers will already know I have a diverse fine art practice which utilises photography (found and made), drawing, print, video, audio and web. These media frequently combine in installations or assemblages that explore the vernacular aesthetics of the globalised city, the relationships between material and digital cultures and art’s material temporality within geological time.

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front navigation page of Dust, 2010

Dust was an interactive artwork made for the web in 2010. This project and piece was inspired by my on-going interest in the collections and curatorial practices of the UK’s regional museums as well as a desire to utilise and synthesize the images and materials I had created and collected over a number of years. The website’s main menu of the site is the keypad of a telephone in a telephone box – a largely obsolete technology. On ‘clicking’ the keys the user is taken to a variety of menus and galleries that display photographs, drawings and digitally manipulated images from a range of locations over decades. The images are of broken, desolate, obsolete and kitsch objects and landscapes. Drawings and lists appear on the backs of envelopes. Used postcards are named after natural disasters, dust collects in corners and and the user is addressed directly by offensive vernacular error messages. The navigation is awkward; the aesthetics decidedly web 1.0. The experience is both non-linear and unsatisfying; the site is homogenous and self-contained; it does not enable interactivity beyond clicking through series of images, one cannot click outside the site. Dust functions as a poetic archive and as a metaphor for humans as matter.

My Holocene Arrangements began in 2010 and continue to form a strand of my present practice, although re-thought in the light of Anthropocene discourses. These Holocene Arrangements are sculptural assemblages and so named named after the Holocene geological epoch in which human civilisation and technical culture is thought to have emerged. This naming was intended to interrogate and critique the anxiety to name and frame a new paradigm after Postmodernism.


Fire Ape Arrangement #7,

The arrangements are made up of surfaces, objects and images that are both made and found. These images are in various different registers and resist a coherent narrative, much like a taxonomic ‘desire’ of internet search engines which apply little coherent hierarchy or ‘fuzzy-logic’ in understanding the context of each image and their relationship to one another. Objects and photographs are reused

in the works and may appear in more than one ‘arrangement’ invoking the slippage and uncertainty present in the attempted classification of stratified archaeological material. The notion of geological time here also suggests materials that have their own agency and objecthood. My father is a geologist and my early ‘art practice’ and visual education consisted of colouring-in maps and looking at slides of Zambian rock formations, some of which feature in this work. I have just completed a new work in this series called Fire Ape Arrangement #7 which was included in the recent ADI group show ‘Anthropocene’. More about this later.

A third strand of my work deals with particular aesthetics that are found in the outer boroughs of multi-cultural, first-world cities such as London. One work in this strand is called 45 Hybrids and is a series of black and white photographs of fried chicken shops and the buildings in which they are located. Fried chicken shops are a ubiquitous part of contemporary London and are as much a hybrid as the city itself. They are at once American and Halal, global and parochial, unofficial and corporate. Housed most often in Victorian buildings, adorned with satellite dishes and “to let” signs, they symbolise for me the transience and economic struggle of life in a global city.


This photo taken on Wood Green High Road forms part of my visual research into forthcoming video work The Brand Nobody Knows

I am currently making a video piece that has been accepted by the Art of Management and Organisation Conference 2016 in Bled, Slovenia (more about this later too). This piece is titled ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’ (after the obscure 1967 Norman Cohen film which features James Mason riffing on the postwar destruction and loss of ‘another’ London) and seeks to capture the remnants of a previous iteration of the local high street, one which is not prone to the machinery and hegemony of the superbrand and transnational company. This ‘other’ London high street is a zone of conflicting ideologies, aesthetics and consumer practices. The film will trace and question the informal economies and vernacular aesthetic of such a high street and its products. It will consider the abuttal and resistance to the global brand identities and values of the Anthropocene.

My first Master’s degree in Cultural and Critical Studies (2003) introduced me to the writings of Walter Benjamin. At that time I was particularly interested in his positioning of the origins of modern capitalist visuality in the dazzling “looking glass city” of nineteenth century Paris. Like many artists I enjoy collecting discarded, seemingly useless and outdated second-hand objects and ephemera. In Benjamin I found a way to site this practice politically, in both methodology and aesthetic. More recently I have been interested in the writing of Deleuze and Guattari, in particular their negation of hierarchical structures and binaries and their opposition to psychoanalytical notions of the real and imaginary. Deleuze’s writing has driven my nascent interest in Speculative Realism, Object Oriented Ontology and New Materialist discourses. I am interested in their rejection of anthropocentric thought and the potential for objects (or non-human actors) to be essential nodes in social networks.

As you will have seen above, my art practice is not predicated on the mastery of a particular medium or technique, but rather situated within the realm of more conceptual practices. I am interested in artists that use everyday materials in a modest, informal and improvised manner, be they sculptors such as Rachel Harrison or collage artists such as John Stezaker. I am also interested in photographic/image making practices that use taxanomic/pseudo scientific methods of display such as Jochen Lempert. Additionally, I’m interested in practices that juxtapose or layer multiple images from different registers or categories such as those of Wolfgang Tillmans or Tobias Buche. Finally, I am interested in work that might be described as post-internet, that investigates the image in a rhizomatic universe, such as that of Hito Steyerl.


About sophiebbarr

I am an artist and a teacher in higher education. For me art is a re-organisation of stuff that's already in the world.
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