more I was perceived as being involved in the music business. I engineered concepts which related to desire and other postmodern themes but, ultimately, I think I was just following my gut. Occasionally I would try to rationalise it all for my tutors’ benefit. This idea of recycling Hollywood films, for instance, then emptying them of their significance was dynamite to me. I think my affiliation with popular culture confused people as to what the intended status of my work was, though. No galleries took me on and nobody ever gave me advice on how to build an art career.” Barber and I share a passion for Godard’s film and television work. Re-contextualising images, even clichéd ones from popular media, was a strategy that Godard took on in his Histoire(s) du cinéma. He makes powerful video collages from a mixture of film clips, newsreels and other sources, coupled with his own inimitable droning ruminations on
history, culture and the film industry, that can be both comical and shocking at the same time, and with very little concession given to photogeny. There are parallels with Godard in Barber’s work: the music and the images are aesthetically ‘neutered’. Indeed, Barber sees himself, like Godard and Chris Marker, as a video-essayist. Although not beautiful, works such as Branson and Yes Frank No Smoke build visual fugues that captivate because we cannot resist the allure of the ‘cut’. “I made those pieces by trying to reduce the dialogue to six or seven phrases that would be repeated like a chorus in a pop song. I was trying to get rid of all meaning – making rhythms like the Fluxus group. If you are watching a TV screen, you have a sense that it can only be art when sequences are being repeated because normal television doesn’t do that. It had a kind of beat, so the banal things they are saying turn into a rhythm.”
Barber’s work became more televisionlike in Walking Off Court and Shouting Match. The latter presents a game where two ‘competitors’ face each other in chairs on a rail, and move closer or further apart, depending upon the loudness of their shouting. A purist approach would have been to fix the camera and to be strict about the whole intensity-matching-position aspect in how it was framed. But Barber seems to enjoy the humour of it all, to the extent that the excessive scale of the operation and the professionalism of the crew should be exposed through fluid camera motions, foregrounding the absurdity of the piece. In his work Gibberish, there is more absurdity; a sense in which he is aping soap opera. The chit-chat of a group of four people portrayed in the work slips in and out of an unknown language, sustaining an illusion of conversation: “I’m interested in expression beyond language,” explains Barber.