Sammlung Essl / Austria Contemporary
I own a herd, I work with umbilical cords
Karin Altmann, Essl Museum, 2008
The desert is a symbol of remoteness and civilisation weariness, a projection screen for individual fantasies and yearnings. If someone moves from the -civilised and highly developed part of the world to the desert he or she is driven by an inner quest, a quest for adventure, for a counterweight to our capitalist hybrid present, for silence - probably the greatest quality the desert has to offer - and a quest for him or herself. Going to the desert is like an act of cleansing. You decide to leave all comfort, material ties and other ballast in life behind and gain a fragment of personal freedom in exchange. Whether in one s soul or in outer reality, the desert is an incomparably creative sphere, a sphere of existential experiences, even if, in the age of satellite navigation, cell phones and friendly, hospitable Bedouins, the desert has lost most of its terrors and hostile qualities.
Travelling through the desert as an artist means being on a tightrope from yesterday to today and entering into a mental world where one s own horizon is constantly changing; for, in the desert, not only moral concepts change, but also habitual thought structures. While logical thinking and knowledge pale and perception becomes heightened, thoughts fly freely and become manifest in constantly new creative patterns. A vibrating, inspiring relationship develops between the artist and her environment, and this can be clearly felt in the work of Barbara Husar.
The contrast between the archaic-penurious life of the desert and the modern information society awakened Husar s interest in the exchange of data and messages which then resulted in her work DATA EXCHANGE. In the desert it is mainly individual moments and inspirations by the wayside that challenge a persons eyes, mind and sensitivity. In Barbara Husars case it was castoff shoe buckles that became metaphors of data transfer after she had persistently addressed the theme in her drawings. Like synapses (1), which represent an essential part of the brain s network of nerve cells, the buckles became junctions and recurring motifs in Husars work. This repertoire of -symbols of neuronal communication mechanisms- was expanded in 2005 to include chip pans, in which the artist sees -multidimensional networks- and even meteorite traps, and in 2007 to include umbilical cords. The umbilical cord is a communication channel. It ensures the flow of data that is necessary for survival, links the inside with the outside and, hence, completely different life environments.
In 2007 Barbara Husar went on another journey to the wadis of the Sinai with the intention of buying the umbilical cords of goats from Bedouin women. Her idea met with little understanding at first, since the Bedouin women believe that they cannot freely dispose of the umbilical cord. As the Arabic designation -habel surri- (mysterious cord) suggests, the umbilical cord is believed to be the seat of the animals soul. One possibility of respecting that belief but still obtaining umbilical cords from goats was getting a goat herd of one s own. Thus Barbara Husar became the owner of a herd of six goats in the Sinai desert. By acquiring the goats, Barbara Husar built another bridge to facilitate intercultural exchanges between a life close to nature in the desert and a technology-laden urban life; linked by an umbilical cord, so to speak.
(1) Synapse: a specialized junction at which a nerve cell communicates with a target cell. It is a biochemical communication process involving a chemical transmitter substance, a so-called neurotransmitter.
Sammlung Essl / Austria Contemporary
DATA EXCHANGE has been installed
Veronika Hauer, Essl Museum, 2008
When we talk to Barbara Husar it turns out that her use of symbols has to do with the pleasure she takes in the witty lyrical connections they include. In 1996, when Husar first met the Tarabeen tribe on the Sinai peninsula, she drew everything around her in the first weeks of her stay. It seemed to her that making drawings was a method of understanding the place and getting a picture of what she experienced. During her trip to the Sinai in 1999 she set herself the target that by the end of the trip she would have produced a detailed drawing of one of the leather shoe buckles that had been left lying in the sand. Therefore the title of this time-consuming picture was ?Schnallen braucht Zeit? (Buckles take time) (2000) a pun on words and allusion to the long time spent in the desert and the encounters with another culture and lifestyle, another life environment.
In 2007, after a respectfully nursed friendship had developed through numerous stays with the Tarabeen, Husar was looking for another allegorical image for the flow of information and found it in the umbilical cord of desert goats, which seemed to her to be the greatest possible contrast to urban neurotic connections. For her DATA EXCHANGE project she wanted to try and install the umbilical cord as a new trading item between herself and the Bedouin women. A trade that was to communicate the primordial data strands of this culture to a western context and also support the networking between the local women. Husar soon learned, however, that under no circumstances would the Bedouin women sell the cords, even if the remuneration seemed lucrative to them. Together they thought up an alternative to expedite Data Exchange. Today, Husar owns a herd totalling eleven desert goats that are watched over by an old Bedouin woman when she is not there. So far she has collected nine umbilical cords, but it will take a while until she has enough for making a hammock (her current plan). Looking at the dried cords, they appear like memorial items to the vital function they once fulfilled. A somewhat alien presence in a flat in Vienna.
Barbara Husar says that in her work she wants to collect cultural data of the women whose ancient tradition is about to change drastically. She makes it very clear that what she intends is not an objective collection and documentation of the habits or life contexts of - the other. Her current film ASTRALSKULPTUR (2008) is certainly not a documentary that conveys its meaning in any immediate form. On the contrary: Husar is not afraid of creating in her work multi-media organisms that do not engage in the practice pursued by many others of producing quickly digestible data about foreign cultures. Instead, in pieces such as astralskulptur she celebrates the subjectivity of experience and invites the viewers to get engaged at a point that seems vital to them. For me, the gateway to her universe is the graphical link-up between the levels of experience. The point where Xeroxed photographs, that have been postedited by drawings, colouring, stamps and handwritten notes, suggests the multilayered character of this story and the temporal levels of Husars multi-media organism.
In December 2007 Husar wrote the following comment: data exchange has been installed. I have exchanged seven umbilical cords for grants, a golden ring and plastic tarpaulins. I have acquired a herd and this impulse is now procreating in the most uterine sense of the word across the pond and it can be perceived as a living organism whose data flows I will henceforth document in a process-oriented manner.
Information sources & symbolical resonance
by Tobias Noebauer 2007