Barbara Weissberger: Engaging with the Process

Barbara Weissberger was working on two parallel projects: Books of Marginalia and Collage Formations while she was in residence at VCCA switching back and forth between the two exploiting the cross pollinations that occurred.

Books of Marginalia are bound paper collage artist books. In some of them, Barbara uses text, but not in any legible way. It’s kept fragmentary, “As if they’ve all gone through a mill. They’re chopped up and chewed on.” Generally the books are unique one-offs, but she’s interested in producing a small edition of the one she made at VCCA.

Her photographs of the arrangements she creates, Collage Formations, straddle the world of photography and site-specific installations. Barbara is interested in exploring the tension between the actual thing and the illusion of space. A similar approach can be discerned in her use of representational material to make images that are abstractions.

Barbara’s work develops in a very organic way. She doesn’t have a preconceived idea of where it’s going. They’re complete and resolved pieces, in and of themselves, but making them provides a generative way of thinking through visual ideas. “I try and just be engaged with this process of making the work, letting it take its shape as it will. So I make the structure, the set ups not exactly knowing what the image or images will be. Sometimes, I’ll have an idea ooh… I want to photograph that thing there, but often. I try to be responsive to the process and the work. I’ll make a sculpture and it will really intrigue me, but it won’t work in the photograph. It won’t work for a very long time and then something will pop up and it will work. So it’s a very long continuum of the work. and I’m trying to be responsive to the situation I’m setting up in the studio. My structures are very temporary and I want them that way. There’s something very freeing about that. The photograph is the final piece whether it’s something on the wall or a free-standing photograph.”
Barbara’s photographs all start with some kind of set up, which might keep changing during the course of the shoot. The hope is that the set up will be fruitful, providing surprises and inspiration. Some of Barbara’s work is just about observation, about being receptive and noticing where there is an image. She thinks of her photographs as strongly linked to collage. She does the set up using whatever she has at hand, transforming objects in various ways, adding her small sculptures or drawn elements into the mix. For instance, she embellished the vinyl stool she found in her VCCA studio with silver tape.

The set up does not endure: the image does. "The work is very much about impermanence and for me, I like for the viewer to see how things come together. You can see if something’s leaning, or taped, or pinned or somehow held together in a temporary way; the photograph unifies everything and holding it all together in that moment. It makes it a thing. I like that sort of mix of a very impermanent thing, but then the photograph is like a moment in the life of that thing that is preserved.”

"There’s something about doing a residency that fuels my work. When you first walk into the studio and it’s this empty space of promise and then, with very humble means in not too many days, it gets really transformed. There’s something interesting psychologically and conceptually about working this way that’s really connected to my practice. It also teaches you to not be premeditated. The studios each have their own peculiarities, layout, furniture, light. I really like the serendipity of the environment and objects I encounter at different residency programs. I even wonder if going to residencies nudged me towards coming up with a way to work like this. Traveling light in a way, everything folds up, everything unfolds and then folds up again.

“I’m using the lens of the camera to make a collage of form, color and structure The more I work with it, the more I see issues with photography emerge, Even the way I’m thinking about light now is very different from when I started. The more I do it, the more I connect with the whole complicated history of photography. It's been an interesting trajectory—what’s really cool to me is that making these photographs has really reconnected me with objects and making sculpture. Photography has been the way back to older stuff. I always wanted to do everything: 3-D and 2-D and now I am.”

Barbara began as a sculptor, but reached a point when she stopped making objects. Because of her interest in narrative, she decided it made more sense for her to draw. For many years, she produced drawings, collages and some installations. Her practice of photographing set ups arose from taking documentary shots of her installation work.

At VCCA Barbara was working on pieces that are currently part of her collaboration with painter Eleanor Aldrich at New York’s The Drawing Center. The two are part of Open Sessions, a two-year program with over 50 artists working in a variety of disciplines, which offers exhibition opportunities in The Drawing Center’s Lab Space and other outside venues, as well as studio visits and public programs. This project features Barbara’s three-dimensional work that has evolved out of the set-ups.

Because they live so far apart—Barbara in Pittsburgh and Eleanor in Knoxville, they needed some kind of unifying element that put would put them in parallel motion. They came up with the mop. Aside from the obvious associations with the mop, touching on economic, social and gender issues, both artists are drawn to nondescript, humble objects and the abject quality of the mop appealed to them. There was also the mop’s resemblance, in form and gesture to a paintbrush and as a sculptural object, jutting out from a photograph, the mop acts as a bridge between pictorial space and the real world.

Barbara was in residence at the same time as her husband, composer Eric Moe. The couple does a lot of residencies and was headed to the Hambidge Center directly from VCCA. “We don’t really take that many vacations; we want to work all summer. Being outside of my world, really helps me focus. I concentrate well at home, but there’s an extra boost here and I really like the community. When you talk at dinner, you find all these points of intersection, so whatever the discipline is, there’re always some things that everybody can relate to. Being an artist can be a pretty solitary pursuit, which I like, but it’s good to have interactions with sympathetic people.”


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