I’ve noticed that whenever I approach one of Eleanor Barba’s pieces, I look at the title first. I don’t do this because I think the title will inform me about the work, but because her titles are often funny. I enjoy the contrast between the provocative and sensitive nature of her work and the humor she uses to diffuse any discomfort the work might evoke. It’s rare to see an artist apply humor in this way, and she has a gift of doing this without appearing flippant.
Some of my favorite conversations at Project Dispatch shows have started based on Eleanor’s work. I imagine she’d love to be a fly on the wall. So if you want a conversation starter, take some time to check out Eleanor’s work.
You are an interdisciplinary artist, but when I go to your website, I only find your performance work. This is an aspect of your work that subscribers would not experience. How does your performance work inform your visual work? What first incited your passion for performance art?
To be honest, I just really need to update my website with my print work. I don’t put either practice above the other but there was definitely a time when I was focusing mainly on performing, hence my website. I think the main theme between my performances and my print work is I enjoy using text in both. I feel that my writing is sometimes more evocative than my images, so I’m always trying to find a harmony between both.
I remember clearly when I had my first thought of performing. I was sitting in Doug Lang’s writing class (Corcoran shout out!) and I just had this image in my head where I wrote letters on my stomach and printed them onto a wall. It just evolved from there. Also, around the same time as I started this exploration, it seemed that performance was popping up a lot in the DC art scene. Finding exposure and seeking discussion about the practice was easy.
Many of your themes center around women’s sexuality in today’s culture, but you apply a sardonic humor with your titles and sometimes in the work itself. Specifically regarding your performance work, this may seem like a mixed message to some. Have you ever received criticism about using humor regarding such a sensitive subject? If so, what is your defense of that criticism?
I don’t think that I’ve received criticism for that particular aspect of my work, or at least I haven’t received heavy criticism. I think the biggest hurdle I come across is when people don’t think the work is as funny as I intend because it is paired with a serious subject. I aspire my work to be “LOL”-esque but I think it evokes a more “Oh that’s funny” response.
I find sex to be very tragic but also very humorous, so I guess they kind of cross each other out. I think the audience will find my work funny or poignant depending on how they view sex. I also think the most important thing about making art about a sensitive subject is to be honest and personal. People will see through any bull shit. So once you’ve developed a sort of trust, adding humor or criticism to a topic is more welcomed by a viewer.
My biggest critic is my mom. She’ll say, “One day I hope to go into a gallery see your artwork and not say, ‘Oh Jesus Christ!'”
In some of your visual work you mash up pop culture icons with religious icons. How did this work come about, and what do you hope to convey by mixing iconography? Do you have any plans to carry this theme through into your performance work?
I enjoy religious art work. At one point it was highly functional, but it was not spared any details or appreciation. I like thinking about the modern deity, which to me would be celebrities. I think there are obvious differences, like I’m not wishing for Kim Kardashian’s approval as I might God’s. But we definitely give a lot of attention to the famous.
I mean for my work to be a look at the times, though not through a fully critical lens of the masses but more of the celebrities. We are worshiping these Dionysus figures, which seems fitting with our current society just as worshiping the bible fits with most of first millennium.
These themes could definitely make an appearance in my performance art, though I think I would need to work on how it might come across as campy. I do like the idea of poorly produced Sunday school nativity plays though.
What are you working on now?
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I’m actually working on a print of a cat. I’m a ashamed of it because in this day and age it seems that prints about cats are sell-able and easy, though I hope for my work to have a bit more depth.
The cat print is the start of a series about snap chat and the use of emoji’s. There’s something interesting to me about using an emoji in a snapchat, a sort of push and pull. We’re taking this now well known iconography and pairing it with an ephemeral image.
Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
Really, I haven’t been honored to receive too many subscriptions (now’s your chance reader!) but I’ve enjoyed the few I’ve received a lot! I like all of the pieces to be concise with each other so a subscriber can have a little portfolio, and not something so discombobulated. So it’s been fun to have practice at curating! (even if it is your own work)
I’m so happy to be involved with such a unique collective, filled with wonderful artists.
If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
Oh man, this is so tough! I would say Stephanie Kwak (I find her and her work to be very charming), Amy Hughes Braden (I’ve admired her work since we were both at the Corcoran) and Kristoffer Tripplaar (beautiful photographs, and photography isn’t even my jam!)
TO CHECK OUT MORE WORK BY ELEANOR; VISIT HER WEBSITE.