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Imagination, Dead Imagine
1991
Video installation: 5 LaserDisc videos (colour, sound), wooden structure and mirrors
Dimensions: 295 x 253.5 x 253.5 cm
Reference: ACF0530
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The piece, created for the exhibition El jardín salvaje shown at the exhibition hall of the ”la Caixa” Foundation in Madrid in 1991, consists of a cube with extreme close-up shots of an androgynous head projected on the sides. The head wears a very serene and serious expression and is shown from different angles. The head, one could say, is encapsulated within the cube. The cube emits the sound of deep breathing. The action, repeated on the different video screens every fifteen minutes, is simple yet violent and enigmatic. A series of fluids spill over the head, fluids that seem to be bodily in nature: blood, urine, vomit, excrement, semen, saliva, etc. Insects also make an appearance. Occasionally, an image dissolves into the next, using a wipe effect as a transition element. While the fluids are poured over the head, the facial expression remains impassive. In making the piece, Judith Barry used a computerised montage of two models, one male and one female, who submitted themselves to the fluid bath. Most of the “unpleasant” substances that appear in the piece are actually liquids like honey, soup, juices, etc. although the insects were real. Barry used digital technology to blend the images, although she decided not to conceal the overlapping of the two models, because she wanted to clearly indicate that this was a simulation. In the words of Margaret Morse, “the result of this fusion is a hybrid that defies existing gender categories, simulating human suffering of heroic proportions”. The title of the artwork is taken from Samuel Beckett’s last novel, Imagination Dead Imagine, published in 1965. In the book, Beckett describes a man and a woman sitting in an austere room and experiencing unchanging cycles of light and heat. In addition, Barry incorporated elements from J. G. Ballard’s novel The Impossible Room. The book describes the image of a cube exactly as it appears in the piece. The most decisive influence, however, comes from the French philosopher Julia Kristeva, particularly from her writings on abjection. According to Kristeva, the abject is not something dirty or unhealthy, but rather something that arises when set expectations—those that define a clear separation between the body and the physical world—are called into question. In her piece, Barry offers a reflection on the limits of a living being’s condition, and on the way in which the “rotten”, “the abject”, infects, shapes and defines life. At the same time, the artist conceived this artwork as a dialogue within an art historical context, specifically with the Minimalism of artists like Sol LeWitt or Tony Smith. According to Barry, her goal was to “redefine the body within Minimalism..., within the minimalist cube, and see what might happen to the body in a situation like that”.

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