Interview with Arthur R. Rose – Robert Barry
Q: How did you arrive at the kind of work you are now doing?
BARRY: It’s a logical continuation of my earlier work. A few years ago when I was painting, it seemed that paintings would look one way in one place and, because of lighting and other things, would look different in another place. Although it was the same object, it was another work of art. Then I made paintings which incorporated as part of their design the wall on which they hung. I finally gave up painting for the wire installations (two of which are in the show). Each wire installation was made to suit the place in which it was installed. They cannot be moved without being destroyed.
Color became arbitrary. I started using thin transparent nylon monofilament. Eventually the wire became so thin that it was virtually invisible. This led to my use of a material which is invisible, or at least not perceivable in a traditional way. Although this poses problems, it also presents endless possibilities. It was at this point that I discarded the idea that art is necessarily something to look at.
Q; If your work is not perceivable, how does anyone deal with it or even know of its existence?
BARRY: I’m not only questioning the limits of our perception, but the actual nature of perception. These forms certainly do exist, they are controlled and have their own characteristic. They are made of various kinds of energy which exist outside the narrow arbitrary limits of our own senses. I use various devices to produce the energy, detect it, measure it, and define its form.
By just being in this show, I’m making known the existence of the work. I’m presenting these things in an artistic situation using the space and the catalogue. I think this will be less of a problem as people become more acclimated to this art. As with any art, an interested person reacts in a personal way based on his own experience and imagination. Obviously, I can’t control that.
Q: Exactly what kind of energy do you use?
BARRY: One kind of energy is electromagnetic waves. There is a piece in the show which uses the carrier wave of a radio station for a prescribed length of time, not as a means of transmitting information, but rather as an object. Another piece uses the carrier wave of a citizens band transmitter to bridge two distant points in New York and Luxembourg several times during the run of the show. Because of the position of the sun and favorable atmospheric conditions during January – the month of the show – this piece could be made. At another time, under different conditions, other locations would have to be used. There are two smaller carrier wave pieces which have just enough power to fill the exhibition space. They are very different in character, one being AM, the other being FM, but both will occupy the same space at the same time – such is the nature of the material.
Also in the show will be a room filled with ultrasonic sound. I’ve also used microwaves and radiation. There are many other possibilities which I intend to explore – and I’m sure there are a lot of things we don’t yet know about, which exist in the space around us, and, though we don’t see or feel them, we somehow know they are out there.
These were originally published in Arts Magazine, vol. 43, no. 4, New York, February 1969.