15.02.2018 - 06.05.2018
Azkuna Zentroa presents Itziar Barrio’s exhibition By All Means, curated by Johanna Burton, from the 15th of February to the 6th of May 2018. This show is the artist’s first major survey that brings together her work over the last decade.
Human beings relate to one another through a variety of modes of exchange, and via all matter of means: language, money, emotions, politics, symbols, family, community, geography, technology, and sex (to name just a few). Itziar Barrio explores these and other ways that we navigate the world and each other, and points to what unites them all – power. Barrio’s interest in the nature of social negotiation manifests in live performance, video, photography, sculpture, and expanded installation techniques.
Often recruiting pre-existing ‘scripts’ for her own purposes, the artist weaves complex theatrical and aesthetic narratives that plumb the limits of shared knowledge and upset unconscious expectations. Barrio cites sources and objects as specific and specialized as Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience alongside those ubiquitous enough to seem nearly universal, such as IKEA designed folding chairs. Invoking generic character-types such as ‘hero/heroine’, ‘villain’, ‘seafarer’ and ‘pickpocket’, she nonetheless renders such clichés the stuff of flesh and blood, with unexpected heart, soul, and desire. Best known for her complex live-recorded performance productions, in which the spontaneity of the live clashes with the ostensible predictability of the contrived and the mediated, Barrio suggests that we are all actors in our own situations.
When I was first introduced to Itziar Barrio’s work, about two years ago, it was within the context of a show she mounted at Participant Inc., an important alternative space in New York City run by the curator Lia Gangitano. The show, “The Perils of Obedience” (May 25—June 19, 2016), was one stop along the way of a much longer project that had begun in Bilbao in 2010, and was making its long way towards a conclusion. An important step along the way happened at Participant Inc. Another is happening here, back in Bilbao as part of Barrio’s survey at the Azkuna Zentroa. It is crucial, in encountering Barrio’s work, to recognize that much of it operates this way: episodically and over both time and space. To see the artist’s work is often to see only part of it, or, put another way, to see it as it unfolds.
We are not always accustomed to understanding projects in museums this way. Indeed, part of the pleasure—but also the challenge—of curating this exhibition has been working to make visible the frameworks necessary to the various projects and artworks included. To say so is only to echo Barrio’s own desires as an artist. She has, for as long as she has been producing artworks, aimed to present things not as they are but as they have come to be. Barrio’s interest in, for example, highlighting the technological and other mechanisms of film and other narrative structures gives a clear example of her desire to include in any picture what is usually simply understood as the means to produce it.
Means. It’s a word with many definitions, and we hope to conjure them all with the title of this show. Significantly, means are resources, usually financial; relatedly, they are also understood as what might be required to attain a desired end. Differently, a “mean” is the middle-point between two extremes. As a verb it has to do with signification. As an adjective it points to the opposite of kindness. Finally, in English, there is an idiom, which translates more or less to both Spanish and Basque: ‘By All Means’. This is a phrase one uses to affirm a commitment, to indicate that one is all in, without a doubt. It also alludes to the material and ideological sacrifices one must make in order to honor such commitments.
Barrio’s work takes up aspects of such social contracts—and the means at stake within them—in every project to date. Her explorations into a wide range of cultural production are so many case studies of how we understand ourselves and others as actors in an ongoing script. Unflinchingly addressing the deep entanglement between power and seduction, Barrio’s work point to the ways in which gender, race, sexuality, labor, desire, and more are the subtext of all negotiations, whether political or personal. Yet, rather than simply victims of circumstance, we may work to write, rewrite, or reroute the stories in which we play a part, whether small or large. So, while experiencing By All Means, remember that, yes, this is an exhibition, but it’s also just one moment in a much longer, ever-evolving plot.