Tarik Barri has spent much of his working life crafting the kind of audiovisual masterpieces that leave you wondering what you've actually just seen, but incredibly grateful for having had the experience.
My first experience with Barri's work came last year at Braga's superlative Semibreve festival. As part of that event, Barri exhibited Continuum , a piece he'd worked on with Paul Jebanasam. It was apocalyptic, cacaphonic and catastrophic—a work of immense beauty and power.
Barri has found himself back in Braga for his latest project, Matter of Perspectives. The installation was developed in an artistic residency under the Scale Travels program, with artistic direction and production by gnrationand scientific supervision by the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory
"I'm very thankful for the Scale Travels program for offering me an opportunity to learn in detail about INL's pioneering work," Barri told us. "I'm very much looking forward to expressing through algorithmic art the scientific beauty of the invisible microscopic universes they operate in. Universes with laws and structures which seem alien to our regular daily understanding of life, but which are simultaneously completely fundamental to who we are and all that surrounds us."
Watch a short extract from Matter of Perspectives below:
That was quite something, wasn't it? Yes, it was. Now, scroll down and read our interview with Tarik himself right this second.
THUMP: Let's start back at the very beginning. Can you tell us a little about where your interest in the audiovisual world stemmed from?
Tarik Barri: Actually, I wasn't really aware of an 'audiovisual world' until I became part of it. As a kid I loved doing some very basic programming, and as a teenager I liked to paint and make music. MTV was often showing me shit videos but also sometimes blew my mind—like Chris Cunningham's work with Aphex Twin. These were just things that I enjoyed but I never suspected they would define my future so strongly.
It was only when John Peel played a track of mine on the radio that I made the decision to take a risk, quit my studies in psychology, and apply for the school of music and technology. During my time at the school, I began to get obsessed with combining programing with music making, and making visuals too. As I got deeper and deeper into doing that kind of stuff, I started realising that there were other people doing similar kinds of things: this whole new world of audiovisual art was emerging.
You've now got a seemingly great relationship with the arts scene down there in Braga. what is it about that city that means it seems be thriving at the moment?
Well I haven't spent enough time there outside of my work to tell you about the secret ingredients that fuel Braga's scene. I have no idea, but I am truly amazed to see how much interesting stuff is going on in a relatively small city where one normally wouldn't expect this. There's lots of forward thinking and interesting performances, art, and amazing research. I've met a lot of very nice and passionate people there, too. It's exciting to see all of this combined and I'm curious what the future will bring.
In terms of the nitty-gritty, with a project like this one, are you left relatively unsupervised, or does the INL stay involved in the day to day?
Basically the INL gave me an opportunity to explore and ask around as freely as I'd like, and they were generous and enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge and fascinations. I was free to focus on the aspects of their research that I found most interesting. This meant that they were very involved in the beginning when I was hungry for knowledge and inspiration, but as ideas started becoming more concrete I chose to let both my brain and the work take their course without any external input or dialogue. Both those phases were important because I needed a proper foundation to work with and also the freedom and independence to make the end result truly my own.
Does it rankle that people might, if they're being very critical, think about this work and assume a level of pretentiousness on your part?
Well, there's different ways to treat an audience. There is, indeed, the pretentious approach where, for instance, you use a lot of hollow, complicated words to convince your audience that you are really smart and that your work is something more than it really is. Doing this means you assume people are too dumb or insecure to see that you're bullshitting them. That is obviously cynical and disrespectful.
Then there's the commercial bubblegum angle, where you carefully make sure there's nothing too weird or intelligent about your work in order to have a maximum number of people understand it. God forbid anyone be scared off by your pretentiousness or opinions! That too can be disrespectful because you're again assuming people are too dumb to communicate with in a straightforward way.
Those are both ways of selling a kind of superficial packaging rather than actually sharing ideas and perspectives. That works when you're in the world of marketing but not when you actually want to say something. If what you've got to say is worth saying there's no need at all to fluff it up or dumb it down. Still, it can be tricky to choose the right words and methods, especially as something always gets lost in translation. But as long as I'm honest in reflecting what actually drives those choices, I won't feel overly rankled by any assumption of pretentiousness.
Tell us a little about the practicalities of making the kind of work you make?
A common theme in my work is my software programming, which is basically the creation and manipulation of rules within the computer. Those rules define how the computer reacts to me, how it reacts to itself, how it expresses itself in sounds and visuals. And those rules, all together, make up a complex virtual universe which behaves in ways which I can't always understand, even though I created it. And though I obviously want to have some control over what I create, it is the points where I don't completely know what's going on, when things go differently than intended, that it becomes bigger than myself and starts feeling magical. It's impossible to create this magic deliberately, but I do try to realise when it appears. And when that happens I try to help it develop into what it needs to become.
So in order to develop an environment for that to happen, I've been coding, expanding my virtual universe and its algorithms for the last eight years, experimenting and curating the results, constantly reacting to and learning from my software, as it also reacts to and learns from me when I re-code it.
A Matter of Perspective runs at gnration, Braga until June 17th.