Sol Bailey-Barker MRBS (b 1987) is a British multi-disciplinary artist working primarily with sculpture, sound and performance. Fascinated by the development of technologies that were for millennia seen as shamanic for their transformative power upon the landscape and their influence over life and death, Bailey-Barker’s practice follows this journey of body-hacking and augmentation from the ancient sacred axe to contemporary prosthetics and machinery. Working with found objects, building immersive environments which combine the constructed with the found, he explores the uncertainty of history, revisiting narratives from a parallel non-colonial perspective.
Hello Sol! Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your background?
The sculptural and performative nature of my work is a means of seeking to transcend my experience of multiple dimensions into a physical form. I think this began when as a child, I had an autoimmune disease which completely paralysed my body and left my mind stuck in a liminal state, on the threshold between the conscious and subconscious. My fascination with this experience led me from an early age to investigate spiritual practices, perceptions of history and how these change over time.
How do you go about creating your art? Where do you start? What is your process?
My process often begins as research into an object or place which provides an access point to non-linear history. Walking across diverse landscapes and handling found objects, I explore place memory with a process akin to psychometry (drawing history from an object upon contact with it). During this time I produce sound recordings, photographs and writings, which feed into my work. I bring this material into my studio, where I begin to extrapolate core themes and narratives to manifest as sculptural, performative or canvas-based works.
You sculpt with various mediums, which one is your favourite to work with and why?
I do not have a favourite material. When making a work, the dialogue between the form and the material from which its hewn, plays a role in communicating the concept of that piece. Materials themselves have inherent properties; physical, cultural, and spiritual. For example, copper was the first metal that humans cast into tools and is used today to conduct electricity throughout the world. In spiritual practice copper is used as a channel for energy.
“My process often begins as research into an object or place which provides an access point to non-linear history.”
We’re curious to hear about your latest exhibition The Perpetuity of Ruin. Could you tell us about that? How did that come about?
Until recently the route objects behind my practice have been concealed and sculptures have been exhibited without their corresponding found objects. In my exhibition at FieldWorks I revealed the equation behind my sculptural process. They range from objects found and cherished in my childhood to debris recently washed up on the banks of the River Thames. The objects I’ve amassed include both certified antiques and fakes, calling into question the importance of authenticity in historical relics. This challenges the hierarchy affiliated with their value, the emotional attachment to them and the resulting tapestries become a means of presenting abstract yet meaningful information about the inherent form, history and qualities of materials.
The show also explored and challenged the patriarchal narrative of colonial history, which focuses on violence and war. In the installation I bound the entire space in raw cotton, covering the walls and ceiling, sewn together with red thread. The same thread bound objects to the hanging walls and held objects onto canvass. Many of the found objects in the exhibition and the sculptures have a sharp, heavy often aggressive form, these are the objects that have survived decay, some dating back thousands of years. But these long-lasting objects are no more significant than the material, which encases and supports them – this material however is not as enduring and only small remnants of this element of our past remains. The material becomes symbolic of a domestic history of love, co-dependence and community.
This year you won the 2017 Ashurst Emerging Artist Sculptor Prize. Could you tell us about the prize, and what it means to be recognised as an emerging artist?
It is wonderful as an emerging artist to be recognised, especially for a work that spanned 2 years. The piece Bullets to Spade, which I was awarded for, is a spade made from 300 bullet casings, collected in Colombia. It refers to a programme which rehabilitates former child soldiers through farming projects. The work came out of From Myth To Earth, a collaborative project with Gabriella Sonabend in which we travelled across Colombia, seeking to engage with its diverse history of internal displacement, civil war, folklore and indigenous and rural tradition.
What are you working on at the moment? Do you have any exciting trips planned?
I’ve just returned from a residency in rural Bavaria, between Munich and Nurenberg, associated with the Royal British Society of Sculptors. I was staying in an area which had a deeply traumatic history, which I experienced through place memory. This fuelled me to engage with materials from this landscape as a process of healing through the ritual of art-making. My host was the son of a Nazi Luftwaffe soldier and he began to share the experience of growing up in a family with a pro-Nazi narrative, and how he had struggled to reconcile with the past and make his own identity beyond this. I have begun to create a body of works which address questions about inherited guilt and trauma, but which also address the re-emergence of Neo-Nazi and alt-right political rhetoric and organisations in our society today.