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An Experiment in Chaotic Art

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I had the privilege of contributing an article the May issue of the Freedom’s Phoenix E-Zine. Here it is.

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(Alicia Zanker is a fictional character created for the student zine E-Prime to interview artists.)

Alicia Zanker: You call your medium, “enhanced collage.” Tell me what that means?

Davi Barker: Every piece begins as a raw collage. I state with current publications and I cut them to pieces. I take photographs, headlines, even blocks of text, I break apart the grammar, and I reassemble them out of context. Each piece has a distinct theme based on the source material, but they all have a random disjointed quality, like a soup of words and images with no narrative. Then I scan the raw collage into the computer and I polish it in Photoshop. I balance the colors. I square the composition. Sometimes I’ll use some more advanced tools to create some cool effects. At that point if a pattern has emerged I’ll foster it, but I’m careful not to direct it. The goal is to avoid imposing a conscious message to demonstrate the concept of spontaneous order. The human mind is a pattern recognition machine. So no matter how chaotic I make a piece the viewer will find order in it.

AZ: You incorporate text into your works, but more than that, is there a particular voice you’re going for?

DB: Well, it’s definitely not my voice, because not a word in the whole show is authentically mine. I sift through thousands of bits and pieces of other people’s words waiting for choice phrases emerge spontaneously. For example I did a piece on the Egyptian Revolution and the phrase emerged “A thousand sons in shackles flared to anoint the people, you and I.” I couldn’t come up with something like that. It almost rhymes. It’s like a Haiku. That line came out of an article in Time Magazine after I shredded it, scrambled it and reassembled it. It’s total chaos, but I’m showing that all apparent disorder possesses a natural harmonizing order.

AZ: Power seems to be a major issue in your work, but what kind of power – personal, political, advertising?

DB: Power is an issue in my art because power is an issue in the print publications I use as source material. It’s everywhere really. Society is constantly engaged in power struggle. Dominance and submission. Authority and resistance. People are acclimated to it. They don’t even notice it anymore. But put the same language and the same images in a new context and suddenly they see it. I’ll give you an example. I was working on a piece and the text emerged, “ANARCHY Goes to War.” And it was big, bold headline text. It took over the composition, and it ended up being the title of the piece. At first it made me really uncomfortable, because to me it’s an impossibility. For me anarchy represents complete liberation from power, and war is the worst possible exercise of power. But I kept it, because the contradiction forces the viewer to grapple with it. If it just said “America Goes to War” which was the original headline, the viewer would just see all their existing biases and prejudices. But because it’s such a discordant title, hopefully the viewer begins to think about anarchy, and war, and power in a new way, and maybe they come to different conclusions.

The modern world is constantly bombarded by conflicting messages, and it’s been an interesting experiment to try to smash those messages together and see what happens. People like to pretend they’re immune to it, but they aren’t. It all sits in the subconscious. I’m trying to strike the audience there, by presenting a subconscious snapshot of the modern mind. When confronted by disorder the conscious mind seeks out patterns, fills in gaps and projects preconceptions. So any message the viewer pulls out is as likely to be a reflection of their own mind as of mine.

AZ: Why are words so important in your work? What does language have to do with power?

DB: Because words are powerful. Words are what give legitimacy to corrupt power. Art doesn’t confront power physically. It undermines the legitimacy of power. Most of the power struggles in society are not overt. When we see police cracking skulls and drones blowing up wedding parties that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In your day to day life power struggle is at the family dinner table, and the work place. It’s the words the people in your life use to grant power legitimacy, and to pressure you to acquiesce to it. So why cut off another way of communicating? Why not exploit every tool at my disposal, to sow doubt, to raise questions, and crack the edifice of power in people’s minds.

AZ: Why is your work considered art and not graphic design?

DB: Because life is art. We call musicians artists. We call kung fu masters martial artists. I don’t see why visual artists try to make this distinction with digital art. Picture making has been art since cavemen smeared mud on walls. Graphic art programs are just high tech paint brushes. I grew up using my Dad’s graphic art programs, then I got to college and professors started telling me if I use words it’s graphic design and not art. No joke. It was like they never took the art history classes they made me sit through. René Magritte, Barbara Kruger, Andy Warhol. All these artists incorporated words in their art. These professors and art snobs are just pedantic. It’s just like every other industry that’s being transformed by digital media. The old guard is being told to adapt or perish and they don’t like it. When I write articles I incorporate images. When I create images I incorporate words. They’re two ends of one spectrum, and it’s all art.

AZ: How would you like people to respond to your work?

DB: My hope is always that the audience’s reaction is as diverse and unpredictable as the work itself. That’s what makes it thrilling for me. That people will look into this blob of stimuli, and even after I’ve painstakingly gone over every inch of it, they’ll still pull out details I’ve missed. For one person “ANARCHY Goes to War” was about rebellious youth culture being targeted by predatory military recruiters. For another person it meant that power elite are above the law, in their own private anarchy, and so they can wage an illegal war. They see meanings, relationships, interpretations that I never would have seen. That’s what I’m trying to show people. What’s inside their own head.

AZ: Are your works about Davi Barker or about how Power affects Davi Barker?

DB: That’s a chicken or the egg question. I mean, whatever I am is partially how power has affected me. I was thinking about this just recently in fact. Because were it not for the injustice I see in the world I wouldn’t feel particularly called to art, visual or verbal. I have no passion for landscapes and still lifes. I think if I lived in a free society, and didn’t feel this need to speak out I might have been a scientist or a mathematician.

AZ: Where can people find your work online.

DB: All my enhanced collage work is at www.facebook.com/EccentricCircle and I’ve also got a lot of graphic art at www.facebook.com/Vote4Nobody. You can also see my writing atwww.SilverUnderground.com and www.DailyAnarchist.com.

Davi Barker is a Bay Area artist whose work deconstructs media images, creating colorful kaleidoscopic images designed to show that all discord is an opportunity for the emergence of spontaneous order.

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