And then one day I picked up a bicycle saddle and a set of handlebars, and I put one on top the other and I made a bull’s head.Strong stuff. But later on, I flung the bull’s head away, as far away as I could. Later still, a labourer walked past and salvaged it from the ditch, thinking that perhaps he could make a saddle and handlebar out of the bull’s head. How magnificent if he had done so. For this is the art of transformation.1
Historiographically-speaking, the practice of assembly refers to adopting materials and objects for the purpose of exploring their unrealized potential.
Overturning a way of seeing in the history of art that divides art between major and minor arts, this artistic process earned itself a following throughout the twentieth century, as indeed it continues to do to this day.
Interestingly, the “rejected” materials usually employed in this artistic approach became a fixture in the art world at a time when these materials began to provide a stimulus for expressing and updating specific concerns. Chafing against codified genres such as painting and sculpture and the close relationship between works of art and everyday objects typified artistic research from the earliest experiments of historical avant-guard movements, which regarded the technique of assembly as a not-traditionally artistic pursuit that could therefore be used to forge a new dimension of reality.
This outlook challenged the very concept of representation, gradually allowing the presence of fragments of everyday life to stand in for the mimetic illusion.
Building on Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades and the tradition of the objet trouvé from the 1920s, after the Second World War this approach gathered strength and autonomy to become its own category of artistic production; indeed, it triggered a total rethink of the traditional classifications that had, until then, characterized stylistic approaches to the figurative arts.
Enthusiasm for this new “archive- and taxonomy-driven” approach typical of the 1900s was not solely the prerogative of early avant-guard movements or a matter of jumping on the bandwagon of the latest artistic trends. It is, rather, an idea that in its various forms – collages, readymades, photomontage, assemblies, remixes and found footage – has historical and philosophical roots that go back a long way indeed, implying a desire for control over and measurement of the ego, even of the general way in which the world is structured.
In our lives, people have always had a primary need to “put things in order”. Recognizing unclassified specimens and differentiating reality into taxonomies helps us to limit the perceived gap between order and chaos.
It is, through this process, possible for parts of our unconsciousness to rise to the surface that we would otherwise have difficulty getting in touch with; even if only in an illusory manner, plugging in to the relationship between memory and forgetfulness offers us an illusion of mitigating the sense of malaise that is so closely bound up with memory.
Combining heterogeneous images or objects to reveal assonances and connections of which we had been unaware is a consequence of digging down into memory and coming back up with images chosen on the basis of what they bear witness to, what baggage they bring in tow.
When all is said and done, assembly is an approach to art that lays bare a process in which, to borrow from Szeemann,2 habits take form.
Recycling objects and materials from real life is a complex practice that embraces a series of approaches and actions: accumulation, appropriation, juxtaposition and finally assembly. It all begins with an initial fragment. Juxtaposed with others through a system of filiation and “historical” sequencing, this fragment becomes the genitor of a new composition.
As an artistic practice, assembly is capable of conjuring up new and unusual spaces for art because it is a method associated with structuring thought; it lends itself to being “deciphered” and implemented as a possible exercise for breaking up and reimagining reality – an experience that is applicable to a large number of contexts and stylistic approaches.
Marco Barina seems to truly wish to create a new, imagination-driven world out of a retinue of effigies birthed in his own imagination, which he has reconstructed into a history of art made up of distant cultures and ethnicities that differ from one another and yet all of which magically bear testament to a lost, alchemical world.
Barina works by building figures out of items appropriated from the real world; through the practices of fragmentation, accumulation, juxtaposition, repetition and assembly, they take on the form of an autonomous subject, until, ultimately, they become a new body of work.
A host of objects, tools, odds and ends have undergone an evolutionary process to become artefacts through which the artist has dealt with the constituent elements as living and ever-changing materials; materials that escape all categorization: removed from their customary contexts, all of a sudden these objects appear to us as if for the first time, sporting a brand-new anthropic identity.
Barina’s found objects exist in a kind of limbo, in a no man’s land between magic and rules, between past and present.
For the most part, Barina has plumped for originally manually-crafted tools that had long since regressed to a state of abandonment, degradation and decay. It is almost as if the artist wanted to save them from the existential disarray to which they had been consigned, to restore order and harmony to such chaos by giving rise to new forms, arrogating to himself the right to navigate up and down through time and history.
Barina’s ability to preserve things that have been cast aside, to try and save these rejected items from the oblivion and decay that would otherwise await them, and his desire to make his mark and leave clues for onlookers further imply a psychological dimension in terms of being able to perceive a work of art as the sum of its individual parts, that is to say, consider it in its globality, while at the same time making the reverse journey and undertaking an analysis of its constituent parts.
In a world where any notion of unity seems to have been lost, where life itself appears to recompose itself into ensembles comprising so many elements, Marco Barina has intuited that it is possible to portray the real by appropriating and assembling its very fragments.
Barina invents new forms; he looks to the past without alluding to it nostalgically; rather, he leaps off into time and space to cross-pollinate a multitude of cultural evocations and different styles.
Rearranging these pre-existing elements alongside one another – elements identifiable in real life, with their own memories, stories and specific functions – makes it possible to repurpose them as high-definition, eclectic images of a perfectly illusory nature; like a metaphysical artist, Barina imbues them with new meanings of visible tangibility, the synthesis and interpenetration of their final unity in an effervescence of continuous association.
“A little corner, the trash corner, which is part not just of physical gesture in our tangible everyday existence but also of our intimate world, the way we relate to objects, photos and cast offs.The futurists did it; Picasso too. Everybody wanted to try their hand at it. Everybody wanted to give it a go. It burgeoned during the early years of psychoanalysis, when abandoned objects took on ever-stronger symbolic value. Sooner or later in our lives, each and every one of us suffers rejection, is treated like a piece of rubbish, abandoned, destroyed and trampled underfoot. It is part of human experience ” 3
Like other artists who have chosen to work with “cast offs”, Barina has travelled an artistic path in which the artist chooses which forms to use from the many available; a world in which art can indeed be made up of “any thing”; and yet he explores it with a desire to escape the trail Duchamp blazed: the planned execution of works crafted from objects of mass consumption, without any particular “quality” – in other words, objects defined by their “indifference”.
On the contrary, thanks to Barina’s decidedly heightened taste for showcasing the physicality of the materials and myriad combinations of unusual objects, he bestows on them a more lyrically-emotive interpretation, elevating cast offs into materials of mythological and poetic proportions.
Barina invites us to examine these remnants of materials with a different gaze; he prompts us to revise our initial perceptions, for all of a sudden each individual thing sloughs off its original meaning as an indistinct ensemble becomes a sculpture.
At first sight apparently seemingly lacking in form, these compositions resolve themselves into meticulous, detailed portraits projected into space: a land populated by divinities, underground spirits, ancestors, benevolent images of maternity, protective fetishes, kings and queens from an imaginary past, a universe in which we glimpse an admixture of the sacred, of millennial human experience pitted against the forces of nature.
Barina appropriates this premodern world for the very purpose of going back to the origins of the creative experience, aware of the conceptual complexity and the aesthetic elegance of the finest tribal art.
The essentially pared-down nature of sculptural forms is only apparent simplicity; on the contrary, much the way that all modern art has learned synthesis and reduction from those sources of culture, it is the result of deeply-considered mental elaboration.
The difference is that Barina achieves this through objets trouvés and an incredible reserve of skill – not to mention rising to the incredible challenge he has set himself – to create original sculptural effects despite such stark formal simplification.
One might posit that through this project the artist has deployed an almost Warburgian intolerance for history of art conceived in terms of strict chronological sequences and techniques pigeonholed into sterile categories. Barina has achieved this by focusing his attention on cast offs, discontinuities, unexpected combinations and displacements.
For Barina, it is merely a question of outlook: nothing is trash or an unusable material, nothing is beautiful or ugly; it merely depends on how you look at things.
Through his readymades,Barinadeliberately insists on the aesthetic quality of the materials he has assembled – objects capable of exercising a strong sensory impact on us: our senses are filled completely by his surprising and vitalistic combination of materials, which he presents to us without interruption, as part of a composition that liberates them from fixed positions in historical chronologies.
Every visitor is free to follow or otherwise the compositional paths suggested by the artist. Every visitor concurs in completing each composition: the image returns in such a way as to be determined by the overall visual experience of the person beholding the object through ever-new attributions and sense-based paths.
Through a kind of perceptual reversal, Barina entrusts his own image to a simulacrum imbued with its own life, which acts as a guardian of memory on our behalf. The trick he pulls off is somewhere between truth and illusion, infused with a subtle yet vaguely troubling appeal.