Artist Gav Barbey puts a different spin on global warming. Paul Andrew finds out what is truly being thawed.
Have you ever left a Raspberry Slurpee in the freezer only to discover it eons later transformed into a mystical ice sculpture or flattened into a subzero Rothko or Jackson Pollock? Artist Gav Barbey did.
“Yes, I froze together two Slurpee's, one pink, one blue”, he begins, “one day, months later I discovered them in the freezer, so I laid them onto canvases and watched them melt, for twelve hours, I wanted to stop the amazing patterns that would appear sometimes, if only for a brief moment.”
Barbey's latest exhibition Transformations continues his growing fascination for “ice melts”. His works comprise installations of large blocks of ice containing 120 litres of water “spun” with a kaleidoscope of coloured dyes, pigments and natural materials like bee pollen, left to melt in a gallery installation environment, leaving behind a vivid “trace”. During the process the artist responds to the ice as it fades away, manipulating it, tricking it, remixing it to produce “works”.
“It's a fusion of alchemy, visual art, Djing, nature and performance art” adds the artist. During the last few years, Barbey decided to forgo an established stage film design career, “ a career fueled by intense and amazing collaborations” as he puts it, deciding instead, to go solo, “ to a much deeper place- a little more meditative and contemplative- drawing, playing with inks”.
Was it a fond childhood memory niggling away at him like a needle stuck in a groove? “Yes”, smiles Barbey recalling this epiphany. “When I was a kid there was a local community fete once a year, like a school fete now. They set up a machine sort of like an old washing tub that had a record turntable inside, it would spin a blank board around and around, you would throw paint at it. These venerable spin art machines of the 1960's & 70s created funky, psychedelic artwork many of us remember from the carnivals and country fairs of our youth and spin art is what's created when paint is dropped onto this rotating paper, allowing centrifugal force to make streaks of color'.
"I use anything that gives me intense colour- paints, inks, dyes, dried pigments. All do very different things when you freeze them, some crystallize, some suspend, some fracture. I have bled toadstools, used blood, alcohol, flower pollen; funny thing is I can measure out the exact amount of pigments, water and place them both onto the same canvas and they will never repeat; that is one of their true beauties.”
Barbey freezes this alchemy of water and hues into large metal moulds suspends them in industrial size freezers and “refines” them with a chainsaw. In September 2008 and 2009 he produced one thousand smaller scale melts in New York and asked the audience to choose a block, place it onto paper and observe it fading away.
“ For me it's about identity, we bundle individuals into groups, label them, overlook diversity, the nuances. Each melt is a myriad of textures, hues, stories, patterns and journeys. It was amazing to watch people interacting with melts. Audiences in America thank you for being an artist, they thank you when you move them. And for me as an artist it's refreshing to open up dialogue even if it's a simple gesture.”