Art has always served as a powerful means of expression, a conduit for communicating complex ideas and emotions that words alone cannot capture. It has the ability to transcend boundaries, bridging gaps between individuals, cultures, and communities. Karma Barnes, an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans site-specific installations, painting, and participatory practices, is a true exemplar of this transformative power of art. With a career spanning 15 years, Barnes has explored the profound connections between people and the land, using her art as a medium to facilitate community engagement and understanding, particularly during times of crisis and change.
Palimpsest: Echoes of Creation and Transformation
Karma Barnes and RobeĚrt Franken, 2023
Earth pigments, acrylic, oil paint and ink on canvas and prepared marine ply.
Photo credit: Simon Hughes Photography
Karma Barnes’ artistic journey is a testament to her unwavering commitment to exploring the relationship between humanity and the Earth. Her works, often large-scale and collaborative in nature, delve into the intricate web of connections that shape and transform us. One of her most recent collaborations, “Relative Terrains,” created in partnership with Dutch-born painter and sculptor Robèrt Franken, serves as a profound exploration of these themes.
This immersive and collaborative exhibition takes viewers on a journey through the geological terrains of Bundjalung Country, New South Wales, Australia. It delves into how elements, time, and life experiences shape and change us. Through a palimpsest of the Earth’s endless cycles of life and death, creation and destruction, the work examines how our internal and external experiences transform us. Earth pigments, formed over aeons by natural forces, become the material and mediator carrying the records of the land’s creation and transformation, symbolizing our own stories as co-creators of our life’s evolutionary process.
Karma Barnes and Robért Franken, 2023
Photo credit: Yaka Adamic
“Relative Terrains” is a symphony of echoes – whispers of creation and transformation that unfold. It resonates with the rich tapestry of Earth’s never-ending cycles, where life intertwines with death, and creation harmonizes with destruction. The artists use earth pigments, acrylic, oil paint, and ink to create a visual language that speaks to the interconnectedness of all life forms.
The use of earth pigments collected from disturbed landscapes, including landslides and eroded sites from the region, adds layers of meaning to the artwork. It highlights the pressing issue of increasing climatic events that have occurred in Australia and serves as a catalyst for reflection, prompting us to contemplate how these external forces are reshaping and shifting our internal landscapes and terrains.
Originally conceived for the regions for Lismore Regional Gallery, “Relative Terrains” faced an unexpected relocation to Grafton Regional Gallery after the devastating floods of the region in 2022. This move serves as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of both the exhibition and the power of art to transcend challenges.
Karma Barnes’ artistic journey is intrinsically tied to her collaborative partnership with Robèrt Franken. Their journey, which began as a student-teacher relationship in Pōneke-Wellington, New Zealand, has evolved into a deep friendship and artistic collaboration that spans over 25 years. “Relative Terrains” stands as a testament to the strength of their creative bond, where their individual talents and perspectives come together to create a harmonious whole.
The exhibition invites viewers into a shared space where they experience reverie, equilibrium, and calm. Barnes’ sculptural installation, “CO-Lapses (2023),” consists of delicately suspended pods releasing pigments onto the floor, echoing geological processes and the passage of deep time. Franken’s “A Window to Reflect (2022)” explores life cycles and growth through buoyant movement and color dialogue. Barnes’ floor installation, “Earthly Embodiments: Shifting Landscapes (2023),” reflects on the intersection of human experiences and climatic and geological events, using soil spheres inspired by Japanese dorodangos.
“Palimpsest: Echoes of Creation and Transformation (2023),” a three-year project, combines painting and sculpture to explore how landscapes influence human experience. “Mapping Internal & External Terrains – Community Cartography (2023)” documents Barnes’ recent social engagement practice, highlighting the significance of pigments in capturing personal experiences and shared stories of the community where the work has been produced.
“Relative Terrains” presented at Grafton Regional Gallery, New South Wales, Australia serves as an invitation to reflect on our interconnectedness and the transformative potential of collaboration. It underscores the idea that art can be a bridge between individuals and communities, fostering understanding and empathy in the face of change and adversity.
Karma Barnes, originally from New Zealand and now residing in Bundjalung Country in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, has gained global recognition for her site-specific works. Her ability to harness the power of art to engage communities and explore the profound connections between people and the land has made her a standout figure in the contemporary art world.
In conclusion, Karma Barnes’ work is a testament to the transformative power of art. Through her interdisciplinary approach and collaborative spirit, she brings to life the connections between humanity and the Earth, inviting viewers to contemplate the profound impact of relationships on our lives. “Relative Terrains” stands as a shining example of how art can transcend challenges and provide solace and reflection during times of crisis and change. Karma Barnes is not just an artist; she is a bridge-builder, a connector, and a storyteller who uses her creative expression to unite us all in the shared journey of life on this Earth.