Words: Abi Goodman
Before the Easter break Dave Chatton Barker came in to talk to 2nd Year students engaged on the Unit X Option 5 project (Archive – The Imagined Museum).
This was a lecture theatre within the Business School, but not as we’d seen it before. With the main lights dimmed, spotlights produced a room of light and shadow. Echoing percussive sound created by kinetic objects made you think of caves, windswept moors, Catalans and the rattle of Triffids. Silhouettes appeared on screens back-projected by an OHP. The floor and front row of the lecture theatre was adorned with intriguing objects, foil embossed boxes, record sleeves, an instrument made of stair-rods, sketchbooks and a workman’s carry-kit full of feathers and teazles. Dave Chatton-Barker stood there in his socks dressed in a moss green polo shirt and light brown denim dungarees and got ready to speak.
“My practice is really varied. My art and my life is completely folding into each other. With me it is unavoidably clashing together. Waves of kaleidoscopic wonderment.”
Dave was in his work clothes. After donning robes he explained that the clothes he wears helps him get into character. Dave describes himself as a performer and explained that this element of his practice took him by surprise.
After studying Fine Art:
“I kind of crash-landed afterwards. I had to get a job. I was not able to go straight to being a fully-fledged artist.”
Dave worked part-time whilst continuing to do art until he was made redundant. At this point he approached Exeter art centre and set-up a trial shop for which he made pieces to sell at affordable prices. It could be a struggle (one that saw him foraging for food at points) but through this he gained experience of what would sell and he became interested in the folklore, myths and legends of the area. He teamed up with a friend and went to record the sounds of the landscape (on cassette tapes) at sites of folkloric interest, conducted research and made/found related imagery.
“Without knowing what we were doing we were creating a world for these things to orbit in.”
Dave set up a record label and made a “constellation of material” (e.g. foil embossed boxes containing screen-printed cassette tapes, small items from the landscape, booklets full of imagery and notes) that now has an international following (including buyers in the UK, USA and Japan). Each project is site-specific; so far he has been to twenty sites. He makes instruments from ‘junk’ that he takes into the environment to interact with it. He also makes use of natural interventions in his artwork (e.g. burying films and photos in the earth and then exhuming them later).
Asked by students how he makes a living Dave responded that:
“I make tangible things which people are interested in and want to buy. You have to wear many hats when it comes to self-publishing. It’s worth it as it is in your hands.”
He talked about the value of arts funding to get projects off the ground and of the value of the internet for self-publishing. Dave is also involved in performing the works using sound, shadow story-telling and puppetry.
Given that the Unit X Option 5 project is about retrieving narratives from archives, Dave was asked how he would archive his works in the future.
“It’s more than books and printed material. I’m really into interactivity. The barriers of museums should be dissolved. It would need to be an interactive, immersive archive for the Folklore Tapes. Inspiration for the project has already been exhumed from dusty shelves and closed spaces and taken out into the environment where metamorphosis happens. I’m not precious about the instruments, I’d love for people to interact with those. I would love it to be a travelling archive.”
Many thanks to Dave Chatton-Barker for being such an inspiring speaker. For more on his work you can see his website here.