Arlene Distler


Taking Shape - Barbara Garber

Barbara Garber’s work has always drawn its energy from the wedding of unlike things. Alliance is forged between industrial materials and lyric line; grid and motion; spontaneity and control; space and the flat plane; the machine-made and the humanized. Compartmentalism, fragmentation, which could be called the demons of the human condition in twentieth and beginning of twenty-first century life, are absorbed and transcended. Certainly this has been the concern of abstract artists from Cezanne on. Garber’s painting/collages, however, are far from the visceral existential paint-flinging of Pollack, or the slashing marks of Franz Kline. The gestation of the individual pieces that comprise the installation, “Taking Shape” is more like a wrestling match that turns into a dance – or perhaps a dance that becomes a wrestling match. Elements remain separate but held in a quivering equilibrium.

Even in small drawings that spawn ideas enlarged upon and ultimately changed, a monoprint is often the starting point, offering marks to work against, or with. A string is draped across the plate; cut paper is pressed into service -- anything, Garber confesses, to avoid the terror of the blank white paper. As an artist who loves the serendipitous, the given, if Garber’s art were likened to music, it would be less solo performance than call-and-response.

Created in Garber’s studio set in the peaceful hills of southern Vermont, the energy of “Taking Shape” nevertheless belies the rhythms and tympani of her city roots (and natal roots as well – her mother was a dancer). For years she traveled between the two – city and country -- adding yet another layer of motion to her life. But for all their hurly-burly, the motion, the energy in these pieces is not cataclysmic; rather whorls and vortexes turn with politesse, grace. The scale is human. The energy is fomentive, fertile. “All that I am”, says the artist, “goes into the art – this year in my life there was birth, death”.

In the installation at A.I.R. “So Near/So Far”, “Turbulence”, “Turning A Corner”, and the smaller works that spin off , dancing in their own orbits, lines and forms defy the deadening virtues of “pretty”, “nice”, “comfortable” and “comforting”. The sense is closer to the Buddhist precept of impermanence. Movement and ephemerality are the operating principles. The pieces are fragile, come apart easily. Earlier installations were created directly on the wall; these most recent pieces have a life that exists apart from the room they are in, but are nonetheless transient, depending for their esthetic impact on their placement, the way they interact with one another in this very room, on these very walls.


Even Garber’s process is kinetic -- stooping, kneeling, climbing, a line taking it’s shape by “what my hand wants to do”. Once the pieces are put together, the inked, mechanically printed grid and shapes are pinned one to another, held in a kind of suspended animation. She then attacks them, wiping some areas, darkening others, laying in hints of color, cutting into the mylar.


Material is important. Garber’s earlier installation pieces were made from metal bent at a local (Brattleboro) roofing shop. When that material started to feel unwieldy for what she wanted to do, she switched to rice paper. The drafting film made of mylar that she is currently using has the advantage of being both lightweight and substantive. Equally important is the film’s transluscence which enables a piece to bleed into the wall, become part of it. Moreover, it lends itself to layering, anchoring the swirling lines, and amplifying spatial relationships within the piece.

One of the strengths of Garber’s work in “Taking Shape” is the quality of containment. All this movement pulls against a taut inner axis, adding tension and another level of excitement to the pieces.

The final arbiter is the space itself, its quality of light, the dimensions, color, surface of the walls. A successful installation artist must be sensitive to all these aspects, both ethereal and concrete. And while the particulars of a space may be contemplated, the actual shape of “Taking Shape” must remain unknown until this final collaboration – when the visual idea is stimulated, enlivened by its nesting place.


Gallery show brochure
2007