In the Iberian converso literary tradition, novels were written in code by authors who had converted to Catholicism under duress during the Inquisition, and could be read from multiple points of view. La Celestina (1492), authored by a Spaniard of Jewish descent, is a twisted love story that served as the inspiration for the similarly multilayered video that is one component of Judith Barry’s Study for Mirror and Garden, redux (2008). This installation, which opened her recent survey, “The Body without Limits,” at the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon, is representative of a range of work that also includes sculpture, performance, dance, theater, video and even cybergames.
Barry’s version of La Celestina, a costume drama staged as a dinner party attended by Lorca, Buñuel and Dalí, slides across a mazelike arrangement of mirror-paneled walls; they are screen-printed with an abstracted vegetation pattern that refers to a Moorish garden cited in the novel. To enter the exhibition (which originated at Domus Artium 2002 in Salamanca, Spain, in 2008), the viewer walked between the shimmering panels, becoming part of the imagery they bore. Beyond were artworks in various mediums spanning some 30 years. Designed with Barry’s long-time collaborator (and life partner), architect Ken Saylor, the show unfolded in Lisbon like a novel, divided into “chapters” by painted plywood walls.
In the mesmerizing installation Model for Stage and Screen (1987), Barry projects blinding green light and clouds of fog into a room where two identical flat discs are suspended, with space between for a disoriented viewer. Other perception-altering pieces included web-based interactive games, a whirling video panorama housed in an Art Nouveau-style gazebo, a big cube with human faces projected onto its sides, and a sound theater featuring five characters that inhabit a realm between human and android. There were also videos documenting Barry’s designs for exhibitions at the New Museum in New York in the 1980s about Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols, the history of television and, in “Damaged Goods,” her own work and that of such peers as Gretchen Bender, Barbara Bloom, Louise Lawler and Allan McCollum. Barry’s critical writings were on display in a reading room. Whether probing the question, “What do our machines want?” in the cyber-video Hardcell Goodyear (Hardcell interior), 1994, or reflecting on all-too-human desires, Barry’s exhibition pulled the viewer both viscerally and intellectually to explore the many new frontiers of the real.
Photo: Judith Barry: Study for the Mirror and Garden, redux, 2008, video installation; at Museu Colecção Berardo.