Hanna Barco's "Fathomings" built from the ground up inside the Art Museum

The Chicago-based artist's installation premiered Feb. 4

Hannah Barco is bringing her unique artistic approach to the ASU Art Museum.

Her new exhibit, "Fathomings," has been built from the ground up by Barco inside the museum.

A native of Durham, North Carolina, Barco, who currently resides in Chicago, graduated with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts within Boston and Tufts University in Boston. She went on to earn a Master’s in fine arts in performance from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago

True to her major, Barco takes a performance-driven approach to her works. Aside from her base in Chicago, she’s performed her thematic works in Boston, both solo and those involving the local community.

One such display, “We’ll Meet You There,” was a collaboration with Barco and her husband Andrew. She said that he had started to play with a form of language known as a rebus, in which visual artifacts are tied to words that make a sentence (eyeball for “I,” for example).

The collaboration was a mix of the rebus with Hannah’s outdoor performances that had her carrying objects around the city.

“The rebus would be these different promenades or parades with these different groups of people and objects,” she said. “When they came together, the rebus would be revealed.” The parades included The Promenade of Rising Dough, The Promenade of Double Knots, and more.

At the end of the parade, the collective group chanted “We knead, Two Knot, Bee, Board, Nora, Void, Melon, Collie!” in reference to the objects carried through the city. The rebus translated to, “We need not be bored, nor avoid melancholy!”

“That’s a stance,” she said. “It’s a strange proposition for being in the world. We want to be engaged, and we don’t want to be bored, but we don’t have to be happy all the time and pretend that everything is okay.”

Barco describes her style of art as having “fluidity.”

“There’s a way of working that is open that’s full of questions,” she said. “It’s about chasing something and being in conversation.”

The installation is a part of projectWALK, an exhibition designed as a piece of the Museum of Walking, an educational resource center that sees walking as an art practice. 

The museum, housed in the Tower Center Suite on the Tempe campus, “fosters relationships between people, land, action and site,” according to its website.

"ProjectWalk is part of the Museum of Walking’s ongoing effort to engage people in responding to their environment through the basic activity of walking," wrote Ron Broglio, associate professor of English and an advisor of the Museum of Walking in an email statement. 

"Here in what has been called one of the least walkable cities in the US, the museum and ProjectWalk ask us to reconnect to our bodily being in the world and to our complex urban and wild desert surroundings," he wrote. 

Barco said that she was invited to craft the “Fathomings” installation by the Art Museum’s senior curator and assistant director Heather Lineberry and associate professor of art Angela Ellsworth.

“I had imagined I’d be doing one of these walking performances, as that’s the most obvious part of my practice that connected to that theme (walking),” Barco said.

“But as the conversations proceeded, they ended up inviting me to come and both be in residence and make this large-scale installation.”

Barco said that with the installation she’s asking herself the question of, “How do we proceed with competency and aplomb in a world we can’t fully fathom?”

“How do we position ourselves in our world? What do we know, what do we not know? How is the world malleable or legible or overwhelming or coherent?” she said.

“That kind of fluidity and messiness and a way of being in the world is part of what I want to think about, and it’s also how I operate,” she said with a laugh.

Barco’s installation will incorporate elements of both Phoenix and Chicago into the design. On one end, she has recreated the sidewalk that connects her home to her studio in Chicago. 

On the other end, she has recreated a slice of the local Salt River, complete with a working kitchen sink that represents the position of the Roosevelt Dam.

Recalling a conversation she had with a student, Barco brought up the question of how one claims space.

“How does one feel safe in a space, how does one feel at home in a space that’s yours or that you know it, and I think that’s part of what’s happening in this process of bringing a piece of Chicago with me,” she said.

“I think that it’s really wonderful that she (Barco) is part of the preparation process in creating the exhibit because of the fact that she’s physically there,” said Christine Boisson, a registrar intern with the art museum and double major in art history and museum studies.

“A lot of the times in galleries and exhibits the art is years old,” she said. 

“The artist does have a connection still with the art but they don’t have a connection with the process of installation. So I think it does give a lot more connection to the art itself and, consequently, to other pieces in the exhibit and to the meaning of the exhibit as a whole.”

Boisson said that Barco’s residence benefits the students as well.

“There’s been a lot of groups that have come through and talked to Hannah, which is really interesting as well because I’m sure it’s a great experience for them to see an artist succeeding,” she said.

“It gives inspiration to people to continue creating art. And I think it’s very impressive.”

Reach the reporter at djulienr@asu.edu or follow @legendpenguin on Twitter

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