Conversation with Nina Barnes by John Lee Matney


"Easy is the descent to Avernus, for the door to the underworld lies open both day and night. But to retrace your steps and return to the breezes above-- that's the task, that's the toil."  Vergil


Nina Barnes uses her work to explore individual change and the human capacity to deal with the unknown. Her UForever series and videos trace the psyche in flux, combining paradoxical material that engages the viewer in mysteries of alienation and longing for the rediscovery of self.  Her work combines her classical education and a distinctly Norwegian mindset into a unique form of passionate expression: "Each scene also has a feeling of movement and intent.  You feel that something is happening, something you want to understand."


JLM:  Who were the most influential artists for you in the development of your work? What else has influenced you?

NB: I always wanted to be a writer, but with my first rejection from a publishing house my ego was so bruised and I just felt extremely embarrassed - so I abandoned all creative endeavours all together and started an academic career. But I would always doodle on the side, do some paintings, but not really take it seriously - even though I was very drawn to it. When I found myself living in USA and being pregnant and my husband was constantly touring, is when it really took off. I had been playing bass with of Montreal, and wanted to contribute creatively in new ways. I started making illustrations for merch and album art, and I felt a freedom of expression I never had felt before. It's a different mentality here from where I come from (Norway), where I was accustomed to having a paper from a school to prove you had something valid. Without the Art Academy you stood no chance. People here in the USA seem to embrace talent and not ask what art school you come from. It was a revelation. I think also having cut my native umbilical chord freed me and enabled me to recreate my sense of self and identity through art. 

 I believe I draw a lot from the collision from my classical education & the raw unprocessed expression of the hand. I live somewhere in a collision between high and low culture - and a natural inclination for the grotesque & the forever melancholic heart. I find life heartbreaking, but I always frame it with a lot of humor - even though I think it's the more existential questions that comes through in my work. It's the plague of the nordic people, our inherent sadness - but our stark & dark humour saves us in real life. 

I can't pinpoint any specific artists, because there are so many I love. I envy so many too, their techniques & emotional impact, but it makes me move forward. I have something to prove. To myself.


JLM: Please comment on your material and techniques

NB: In recent years I've developed this technique that just happened by accident. I will draw and paint, mostly with watercolor and acrylics, and cut it out. I will then scan everything and start to compile a collage on the computer. When it's coming together I will print it on good paper and I will repaint it, then scan it, and print and repaint, sometimes recut it, and so the process goes until I find I have the right texture and composition. This is an odd way of doing it, because the final result is a photoshop file, and my studio is filled with cut ups. I then print a very limited run of prints.

JLM :What are some of the landmark pieces in your career?

NB: I don't know if I have made it yet. I feel my main works so far is The tilted series and the UFOrever series.

 A great moment though was when David Barnes, Nick Gould and I made visual projection mapping for an of Montreal appearance on The Jimmy Fallon Show, and the head of production tweeted that it was the most interesting visual performance they had ever had on their show so far. I worked for 4 months doing animations 12 hours a day, so that comment felt like such a reward.


JLM: Can you elaborate on the works in the current show at the Linda Matney Gallery? How does it fit in with your body of work?

NB: I was going through a very life changing period where I had to define what mattered in my life, and this process is not over. It's a work of immense fragility to me, as you find yourself alienated from who and what you think you are and stand for, and those things much too precious to you, fall apart. The UFO represents that alienation, but also the notion that we all are waiting for something or someone to take us away from ourselves or a situation - it represents a sort of futile hope and also the unknown, our future. But in the end all you have is the tyranny that is yourself and you have to find a way to expand your notion of self in a constant relation to other humans. There's a lot of love for the interhuman connection and the connection to nature, but that is a given, I am Norwegian after all!

Nina Barnes UForever series and Videos and Linda Matney Fine Art Gallery evoke a dreamlike quality of vignettes of life in a realm of what might be real but is not,  as quenched by the last vestige of the dream


JLM:  Please comment on your video projections that were shown at the gallery.

NB: I have been working a lot with music videos and visuals for of Montreal and my art project Harouki Zombi. I love working with moving images and music because emotions are so easily manipulated with that specific combination. I made the visuals first, one piece is very brutal in it's expression, chopped up and is basically an image of the psyche that reigns in the house that I live in. I then watched it over and over again, and  then on my laptop recorded the singing and music to go a long - the other piece is the ethereal comment to the madness portrayed in the first one. It's just different stages of a troubled mind. 

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