I Contain Multitudes
I contain multitudes.
I created this body of work while looking on and living through the global Covid – 19 pandemic.
I have had a long interest in American history and culture and this pandemic has brought on long standing tensions that arise from this culture and history – from structural racism to the emergence of destructive conspiracy theories.
I have purposefully used cheap sculptural images of American presidents in some of these works. Not to disrespect them but to highlight how ubiquitous their imagery might be – even here on the other side of the earth where the ideals of the founding fathers found root in a place like Australia. Americans were present in Australian cultural, social and political life since the First Fleet invasion in 1788 and the federated states of Australia in 1901 were partly inspired by the model of the USA.
In Australia we also have a reckoning too around images and civic spaces of the colonists in the places where I live and work. How we choose to move forward from this moment, and as someone who makes and thinks about images, is endlessly complex and compelling but something we as a society MUST reckon with. This ties into important societal questions about monuments and history: and the way it is depicted, celebrated and acknowledged.
I have included works using text most notably from Walt Whitman (Song of Myself and his poem for Lincoln – This Dust was Once the Man) and Bob Dylan who paraphrases Whitman in his song I Contain Multitudes. I have used recent comments by the current President (person, woman, man, camera, TV) and Donald Rumsfeld’s earth-shattering philosophical argument about known knowns.
I feel ceramics can play a role in marking and holding history in way many other art forms cannot. It stays fixed in time, hard and strong and it is one of the reasons I am drawn to it.
If the current collision between history, virus, race, ethics and equity tells us anything, it is that change to our shared societies must happen and the sooner the better.
About Glenn Barkley
Glenn Barkley is an artist, writer, curator and gardener based in Sydney and Berry NSW, Australia. His work operates in the space between these interests drawing upon ceramics deep history, to popular song, the garden and conversations about art and the internet. He was previously senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (2008–14) and curator of the University of Wollongong Art Collection (1996–2007).
He is co-founder of Kilnit Experimental Ceramics Studio Glebe and Co-Director of The Curators Department an independent curatorial agency based in Sydney. He has work in the Art Gallery of South Australia, National Gallery of Australia and Artbank Sydney.