Claire Barber, when you know you know
“Barber probes our desire for culture to tell us things about ourselves, capturing the crippling uncertainty, violently confused desire, and stolid persistence of Internet advice-seeking …”
when you know you know
As our physical lives become more and more commingled with the virtual, search engines like Google have become our go-to doctor, best friend, and expert in times of need, as we perhaps forget that other people, just like ourselves, are behind the information we find. While the Internet supplies a wealth of information, it can’t answer our biggest questions. In fact, with so many answers at my fingertips, I often feel paralyzed.
“When you know you know” is a phrase often intended to reassure those struggling with large, existential questions, yet it belies how difficult it is to feel certainty. As a way of dealing with my own crippling uncertainty, I began googling this phrase in the hope that I might find something more concrete in an image than in those slippery words. What I found was a mess: an algorithm’s stream-of-consciousness fueled by abhorrent, bizarre, stock, and inspiring images uploaded by the Internet community.
This installation is meant to capture the physicality of a Google search—the cold sweat, aching eyeballs, and cluttered, anxious mind that follows an information binge. Video footage documents my painfully catalogued searches and disoriented rummaging through piles of physical stuff. I record myself performing the arduous and absurd task of reading every single word in an Us Weekly magazine while on the toilet. I film the inside of my mouth with my phone and my finger in front of the camera lens.
Both digital and physical “stuff” overtake the space. Shredded magazines and packing foam—products that move from shelf life to waste life very quickly—are piled high inside a “do-it-yourself” dumpster. Like a Google search, these are quick materials, offering immediate gratification or solutions to a problem. They are emblems of our consumption and often vilified as such. But they are also records of our existence, proof of what we wanted, thought about, and used at a certain time. These things make up a material portrait of our lives and have the potential to be instructive, if not strangely beautiful.
Unexamined, this stuff accumulates, obscuring our deepest, most vulnerable thoughts. But if we look at it closely, in its most granular form, we are led back, as though by bread crumbs, to where we have been and toward knowing again.
Fabrication: Aaron Dysart
Projection Assistance: Michael Murnane
In-kind material donation: Franconia Sculpture Park
Methodologies on the Verge (excerpt)
Kirsten Valentine Cadieux
Launching exhibition visitors into the space behind our obvious relationships with devices, Claire Barber sits down on the toilet on one of the three screens uneasily bounding her installation. There she consumes an entire pop culture magazine, archetypally digesting, transforming, and presenting the excreta of the compulsion to turn toward available cultural repositories for advice about what to feel and believe. Barber probes our desire for culture to tell us things about ourselves, capturing the crippling uncertainty, violently confused desire, and stolid persistence of Internet advice-seeking (the successor to pop culture magazine advice-seeking) with similarly persistent multichannel video documentation. Through this digestive process, she develops methods to productively engage with the horror unleashed in that search: the compulsive grasping at wisdom while recognizing the random, algorithmic, or predatory nature of the sibyls untethered in the act of looking into the bowels of the World Wide Web.
Presenting the detritus of spastic searching and discarded layers of meaning-making within the disorienting field of a triad of documented investigations, when you know you know lures viewers into acknowledging our own weaknesses for authority-checking and for giving in to persuasions to wonder whether someone else’s advice might upstage our own. Methodical indefatigability in all the components that make up this installation underlines the irresistible hegemony of authority vested in the culture industries of media—and the embodied way this authority is experienced. Relentlessly requesting your attention to the steady turning of magazine pages, rifling through clothing piles, search after Internet search, and mouthful-by-mouthful accompaniment of junk food, this assemblage evokes the vicious cycle by which anxiety is both manufactured and reproduced with promises that it can be allayed.
Metaphor often locates the origin of intuition within the body. You can know something “like the back of your hand” or reach for a half-formed thought on “the tip of your tongue.” My artistic work deals with profoundly physical experiences that defy attempts at literal description.
I dress inner tubes in women’s clothing, cut mouths in bowling balls, and transform black trash bags into molten skin stretched over chicken wire. Materials and objects are taken from their original contexts and pushed beyond their limits—constricted, stretched, cut, melted, and ultimately transformed. There is a subtle violence present in my work, confused with feelings of wanting.
My previous work focused on visceral sensations, but when you know you know looks outward to capture the physical overwhelm of being alive in a world dominated by media that are both seductive and alienating.
b. 1989, Bennington, Vermont
Lives and works in St. Paul
Mentor: Jan Estep