Interview: Reed Barrow

Reed Barrow fixes his extraordinary mind’s eye simultaneously on the vast and infinite possibility of the cosmos, and the potential for the extraordinary within the ordinary materials of the mundane word. In this simultaneous macrocosmic/microcosmic perspective, Barrow creates works that change earthly goods into symbols loaded with magic, humor and poetic reflections on the nature of the human experience. His work shifts ordinary perception to create works that are, like the universe, simultaneously collapsing and expanding with infinite twinkling stars and thoughts.

Your pieces on the whole are highly conceptual- it seems like your ideas are carefully planned out and executed. Can you talk about your creative process? How you come to an idea and create works?

True, I have to get it worked out before I bring it to the studio. I use my studio for fabricating and pacing. I told someone recently that the way I come up with work is a flux capacitor moment like “Doc” in Back to the future. I’m not sure if mine is the result of a head injury though.
An image for a piece has to be striking enough to stay in my memory for at least a month or two before I consider making it. If it hasn’t been filtered out by then it makes it to another round of planning. The images usually come by reading scientific writings or contemplating something that confuses the hell out of me. Also at times misunderstandings of observations give me insight into what my subconscious is trying to figure out on a topic.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?

Fabricating, pacing, staring. I’m always producing a couple of pieces at a time though. The majority of my work is resolved outside of the studio. I carry paper and an iphone with me that im always filling with writings or ideas that I want to try and reconcile. When I get to the studio its mostly about executing the idea. Though I don’t subscribe to a traditional conceptual artist idea that the execution is a “perfunctory affair”. I’m still open to the materials finding out new solutions for me that I might have otherwise not come to on my own. A good example is Bonanza. I try not to be too rigid with the execution of the idea. Nothing seemed to be holding the bananas together so I had to go get some bazooka.

Bonanza, 2009

Bonanza, 2009

Your piece “bonanza” is hilarious- which uses real chewing gum and resin cast bananas to create a crazy spiral-mandalic like wheel that plays off of the vibrant, explosive and comedic potential of “bananas” and word play….can you talk about where you got the inspiration for this piece? How did you cast the bananas and technically create the piece?

Its always funny yet sad when someone slips on a banana peel, right? That never gets old.

Technically the fabrication is told in the materials list. Over about a week I went to a lot of bodegas in Brooklyn where I hand picked banana’s based on shape and size then made casts and stuck them together with chewing gum, Bazooka is really strong once it dries out. The chewing gum was an afterthought and practical solution for getting them to stay together. After all the solution lent itself well to the concept and content of the piece. Bonanza was one of those images that I had in my head for a while that made me laugh. It’s in response to the current financial crisis. It describes the precariousness of progress. Chewing gum holding together a wheel made of bananas is ridiculous. A useful invention made of such cobbled together shit. I think they call it a “Kluge”. Same title as a great book by the way. The image of a Banana wagon wheel on a wall somehow captured a lot of what I was feeling at the moment. That’s the funny and ridiculous part. A wheel that is antiquated then relegated to a piece of decoration is sad to me. This once great symbol of progress west is littered across the country in fields and homes. I always feel pity when I see an amputated aged wooden wagon wheel leaning up against a fence or building all lonely and used. I can hear it saying “ come on, this is embarrassing, someone help me out here”

Banana’s also hold they’re own cache of symbology to politics, comedy, tragedy, and evolution.

Piss, 2008

Piss, 2008

In the work “Piss”, one of your materials listed is a 4 billion year old iron meteor- is this true? Where did you acquire this?

I got it on a dig in Colorado then I cast the Calvin out of gold. More than three quarters of all the meteorites that fall on the earth are chondrite meteorites. You can date and classify them by they’re chemical make which is unique to they’re origin and age. They originated in the asteroid belt that never solidified into a celestial body and are some of the oldest materials in our solar system. It’s amazing to dig in the earth and find a tiny stone alien that has taken such a journey to be here for you to find billions of years later.

Redshift

Redshift, 2008

The piece “Redshift” is a Space-Mountain, hypnotic style video piece that begins with a rotating red starburst/star energy LED light emination…and fades to black leaving a mirrored surface….what is your idea with this space age piece? Can you talk about the technology involved in creating it, and what you think the affect on the viewer is?

“Redshift” is a term used in physics and astronomy to describe the Doppler effect on light waves. The further light moves away from the viewer the more it shifts in spectrum to red. Understanding Redshift has revealed to astronomers that the Universe is actually increasing in rate of expansion contrary to the long held idea that the universe was slowing in expansion. Redshift allows scientist to more accurately date the universe to the big bang. Very humbling.

It’s a piece you have to see in person.

There is no video or screen involved. The effect is created by back lighting two panes of masked glass rotating in opposite directions behind a two-way mirror. It’s a simple and beautiful illusion. A lot of development and engineering went into executing the piece; a micro controller controls the inner workings. It’s hard to describe the effect in words. As the light fades out of the starburst the viewer is able to see himself or herself clearly and completely because the absence of light has transformed the two-way mirror into a solid mirrored surface.

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you-are-here

You are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, 2008

The piece “You are here,here,here,here,here,here,here and here” is poetic, beautiful, haunting….I absolutely love the idea of the cosmic in the mundane, the infinite and expansive in something confined, and the potential for extraordinary, magic to still exist….can you talk about this piece? There seems to be some spiritual/mystical undercurrents in it?

I think it’s more about redefining a sense of reality. Sometimes for me understanding something scientifically is where I find elegance and beauty. You can look at the cosmos and contemplate its vastness and indifference but the materials that we perceive as reality are the most pervading and persistent illusion. Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary is what being human is all about. It is also one of our greatest abilities.

apophis

Apophis, 2006

In considering your works…many of them, “Apophis” as well, demonstrate an interest in what lies beyond our earthly realm…space, stars, meteors, the interplanetary….where does your interest lie in these ideas, and how do you consider them playing a role within your work?

I read about physics, cosmology, and astronomy in an attempt to understand my place within the universe. Or maybe I understand less? Contemplating such things is a new asset for our species. Learning about the cosmos should have a profound impact on the way we as humans treat each other and conduct our lives. When the Voyager 1 interstellar spacecraft was at the edge of our solar system, Carl Sagan petitioned NASA to turn the spacecraft around briefly so it could take a picture of earth from 3.6 Billion miles away. He believed that having an image of earth as a “ Pale blue dot” that was barely visible would raise the consciousness of our species and change the way we perceive our place in the universe. It did for me. One of the greatest art works ever made.

sore-throat

This Morning i woke up with a Sore throat, 2006

The piece “This Morning i woke up with a Sore throat,” is probably one of my favorite images…the folkloric/mythological creature of what appears to be a modern day werewolf “caught” hanging from a larger-than life Dreamcatcher…can you talk about this piece?

Funny thing, it’s a life cast of myself. No one ever recognizes my face under all the hair but the first time my 2-year-old son saw the piece it freaked him out, so I picked him up and brought him closer. All of a sudden he pointed and said, “DADA” and started laughing. It is a good analogy for the piece about perspective and how we as humans create, process and use symbols. The way symbols carry meaning as a result of the way we experience the natural world. The same symbol can carry a completely different meaning depending on culture or individual experience of the natural world. What makes us develop these differences and how these difference lead to suffering inflicted by ignorance of that process takes up a lot of my thoughts and drives me to create.

walls

I believe i can walk through walls, 2006

Your work, “I believe I can walk through walls” shows a cartoonish figure of a ghost from a delicate, white sheet is shown balancing what appears to be a gargantuan concerete block on its head…other materials listed are styrofoam, basketball, steel….where is the basketball? And how did you create the illusion of heavy/light?These materials, together with the title create a fantastical sense of weightlessness, and toys with our notion of solidity, weight, volume….

Your response gets to the heart of the piece. I always think its more rewarding when I can figure out a parlor trick on my own without someone telling me the answer. It goes to some very base human desire to want to be tricked and genuinely enjoying it. I love magicians and think we can learn a lot about ourselves by the way we experience them. We all know that for many reasons its impossible to levitate or disappear or that the assistant that was just sawed in half is now safe in one piece, but we love to be fooled. You’re an accomplice in the act. Though, some people would rather actively choose to be fooled. Not wanting to ruin the illusion. Im very interested in learning about what makes some people prefer to stop at the illusion. People prefer an illusion to reality because it’s easier I think. The piece is a comment on superstition and faith. Our human tendency to want to saddle ourselves with such an incredible weight. Also the title is a very arrogant and ridiculous statement that I felt captured a lot of people’s attitudes towards the unknowable in life.

What are some of your sources of inspiration…whether visual, ideological, musical, spiritual…..?

My kids, The Feynman lectures (of what I understand of them, which isn’t much), Americas funniest home videos (I’m sorry that shit is funny) , Alabama (the state, not the band unless fireworks are involved). Lake Montauk, Daniel Dennett + the four horsemen (makes my brain hurt so good) Westboro Baptist church, Carl Sagan (pale blue dot), Evolutionary biology (wish I got this as my real degree) Terry Gross (my zanax), Wes Montgomery (my ambien), rare porterhouse, red wine, Beer, pudding pops (I’m still pissed they stopped making them), New York City (abusive lover I will never leave). Golf (my obsession). Buzz Aldrin (what a badass).

What do you hope to achieve with your work, and why do you create it?

I ask myself the same questions everyday. I want to be a polemicist.

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  • Nicole Dresher

    Love to learn what’s driving this runaway train… and the cosmic in the mundane concept, is brilliant. Did they really stop making pudding pops?! Interesting interview.

  • http://sashamlee.com Sasha

    Seriously…the crazy studio shots of him making “redshift” are insane…Reed’s a sorcerer.

  • Ben Julian

    Can you take a stab at stereotyping what kind of people your patrons are? Polemicists as well?

  • http://mattmanos.com Matthew

    great interview! love this guys stuff