George Barber (1958, Guyana, lives and works in London), rose to prominence in the 1980s as a pioneer of the Scratch Video movement, with works like Yes Frank No Smoke, 1985, which sampled clips from Hollywood films, using the untried sampling technology of the day, creating an unprecedented orchestration of sound, vision, repeat edits and rhythm. Barber’s videos, in which the maker is forever using quotes from others, became celebrated as classic examples of Postmodernism.
Barber has developed a large and varied body of work, incorporating found footage, performative monologues, narrative essay films (e.g. Taxi Driver II, 1987, Reality Check, 2012) and conceptual works (Automotive Action Painting, 2007, and New Orleans Shouting Match, 2011). Barber’s original contribution to video art results in many short, precise works that are both thoughtful and entertaining, a quality that sets him apart and has earned him much loyal support amongst a younger generation.
Barber’s works have been shown in festivals, galleries and broadcast on television throughout the world and awarded major prizes at many international festivals.
His recent solo exhibitions include a retrospective at Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2010, and his works have been shown at Tate Britain and at the Royal Academy. Barber is Professor of Art & Media at the University for the Creative Arts.
Automotive Action Painting, 2007
Observed from an overhead camera, a man stops by the roadside one morning and empties the contents of a number of large cans of paint over the tarmac. As the light rises, along with the level of traffic, the cars spread the paint along the surface of the road, creating an abstract smear of vibrant colour. Fundamentally, the piece is a painting done by traffic. Automotive Action Painting is an ironic comment on Abstract Expressionism and shows that a work containing emotion and passion can be created by people driving to work. Nobody has ever thought this. Rational beings driving cars engage with colour and become the brushes producing a very lush ‘action’ canvas by the end.
Automotive action painting won First Prize at the 24th Hamburg International Short Film Festival and has been shown at Tate Britain in London.
2001 Colours Andy Never Thought of, 1996
Barber’s appropriation of Andy Warhol’s appropriation of an icon of popular cinema. Barber takes on Warhol’s famous Marilyn paintings and screenprints, but brings the (then) new technology of video dissolves of colour and adds new layers of deconstruction to the image. Curtain Trip resulted from the artist simply hanging three pieces of coloured silk from a ceiling, lying on the ground and looking up at them as they moved in the breeze. Then, he hit on the idea of doubling it all up to create a kaleidoscopic effect. The fabric itself was shot on film; the rest is video editing. Kite is a mesmerising journey through a saturated field of colour.
Gibberish attempts to interrupt and convey meaning using nonsense language. Gibberish seems to be sense, yet most of the recognisable language spoken is ludicrous and spontaneously thought up. The work starts in a garden with a discussion about lost suitcases at an airport, and over 5 minutes develops through various scenarios into being about a loved kitten and the end of the world.
Gibberish is fundamentally about the voice as an object and as a presence. Once sense has been taken away, and the performers merely make sounds that we apprehend and make familiar to ourselves as 'foreign language'. Without sense we are left with mannerisms, tone, hand and eye movements and, of course, our physical reaction to the speaker's voice quality and tone. Language is a logical structure, generating meaning in building blocks. Here we sense building blocks but have to improvise and generate our own sense to get by. Like listening to someone speaking a foreign language, we have to 'insert' bits, fill the gaps. We struggle to predict what the problems might be that the speaker is telling us about, we look for hints in the voice.
Absence of Satan, 1985
A beautiful woman screams at something unseen off camera. Paul Newman appears eating salad and soon the famous sequence of Paul Newman closing a car door cut with a helicopter takes place. Absence of Satan is probably one of George Barber's best Scratch works and is a deft reworking of cinematic narrative and clichè. George Barber is one of the pioneers of Scratch Video which emerged in the UK during the mid-1980s. Scratch video makes use of found images from films and television, cutting seemingly incongruous imagery together to make a new meaning.
The idea for Branson came from seeing the great entrepreneur interviewed and his alarming habit of constantly breaking his speech with 'hums'. The artist set about seeing if he could make a beat from these hums; rhythmic speech impediments. The whole sequence features various 80's people saying 'er' rather a lot.
Following Your Heart, 2008
Selected from Barber’s recent found footage work, Following Your Heart uses off-air adverts and TV films. The central conceit is to take found footage and manipulate it into a new artistic experience. The adverts and dramas all essentially present clichéd dialogue but by the use of repetition, music, the works rise away from being humdrum television into something more effecting.
Shouting Match, 2004
The first Shouting Match is a well-known work that has been shown as a single screen work at the Tate Modern, DCA and Miami Basel. The piece is a conceptual work and is different every time it is staged. So far the artist has made three versions - in London, Bangalore and Tel Aviv. The next one is likely to be Dallas or New Orleans. It was conceived as a multi-screen gallery piece and once all four versions are complete it will be ready to be shown.
A variety of participants, due to the power of their voices, determine the length of their presence on screen. In order for our culture to feel that something is worth watching or good, all the volume and parameters have to be turned 'full up'. Similarly so to express yourself in daily life. Nothing is quiet.
India Shouting Match, 2010
India Shouting Match is a version of George Barber’s well-known Shouting Match but newly shot in India. Barber sees it as an infinitely repeatable conceptual idea and benefits from being different every time it is staged. Take two seated people facing each other. At the given signal they begin shouting. They have to put everything into a short contest. The harder they shout the more they are in the frame, the quieter they are, the more they are withdrawn. If you fall silent – you will be out of frame – out of history. India Shout Match consists of pure shouting.
Visually, India Shouting Match is made up of the actual vocal combat and insight into characters, how they behave, their faces in pain, anger, struggle, insanity, defeat and victory. The sheer sound of the piece is impressive; especially as a multi-screen in galleries and consists of men and women using their voice in a totally irrational, pre-cultural fashion. The howl of madness.
Passing ship, 1994
As in earlier tapes, George Barber appropriates popular film culture and engages with it on his own terms. He reclines in his bath narrating, in a loosely constructed monologue, an account of how he survived a plane crash over water and the events which led up to it. A montage of 1970s American disaster films accompany and interact with his tongue-in-cheek account.Passing ship is concerned with ambiguity in the representation of events. Is he concocting a story inspired by watching too much television? Is he contrasting personal experience against the mass media as a critique of the latter? There is no single answer as the tape works at many levels.
Walking Off Court, 2003
"Walking Off Court concerns a story I saw in the Times about a tennis coach called James Goodman who had a nervous breakdown around about the time that a motorway was built right outside his house. He spent a lot of time aimlessly walking in circles around new roads and road works. I contacted him and even ended up playing tennis with him. The video is loosely the story around his experience and his changing relationship to his normal circumstances." - G.B.