In February 2019, the curators Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy and Samuel Saelemakers from Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam) invited Grace Ellen Barkey to create a visual and performative interpretation of their current exhibition. For this, Grace Ellen Barkey took over the third floor with a range of installations that invite the viewer to become a part of her sensory work. This resulted in an explosion of images depicting nature.

As she moved, the birdsong fused with the images of dark leaves and the place took on a mystical charge as it became possible to drop all manner of thought and simply be. – Ellen Mara De Wachter, Art Monthly, April 2019

For several years, Grace Ellen Barkey has been collecting, filming and photographing flowers, leaves and other flora from her garden and immediate surroundings. Her almost obsessive recording of the incredibly detailed movement of a flower or leaf transposes the natural elements into autonomous, almost abstract organisms and beings with their own sensory story.

The installations explore the transposition of a space into a narrow channel. I filmed the flowers, leaves and grass in my garden for several years. Transfixed by the details of nature until they are no longer nature, until they become abstractions, birds appropriating the image and distorting their singing into a hysterical noise. A claustrophobic insight into the idea that humans are mortal and nature is eternal. Beauty is only beautiful if it is transient. Only then does it acquire a history.
– Grace Ellen Barkey

Grace Ellen Barkey began developing her new project ‘Night’ by filming her garden in the dead of night. This led to her creating various records of plants, gradations of light, and shadows, with each coming to life in its own way. During a performance at Witte de With in 2019, she went one step further with her research. Starting from a landscape composed of her own night-time videos, Barkey made her way through the museum like a nocturnal gleam. The follow-up to her research is based on her own Indonesian roots. Inspired by Javanese wayang puppet theatre, whose name literally means ‘shadow’ or ‘phantom’, and which harnesses shadow and light effects, Barkey enters into dialogue with the obscure. In Old Javanese poetry, also known as ‘kakawin’, the poem ‘Arjunawiwaha’ (dated between 1028 and 1035) is the first in literature to mention shadow theatre.

There are audience member who cry in response to wayang; they grow sad and become distressed,
although they are perfectly aware that it is cut leather which is moving and speaking.
The same is true of a person who is attached to sensory observations.
He does not comprehend that they are not actually there, that all things are an illusion.

Etymologically, wayang also means ‘imagination’, which is inextricably linked to wayang. Here the dalang or puppet master is the central figure bringing the imaginative puppets to life in Barkey’s obscure universe, where the night will play a central role.

concept, performance, video, light drawings, objects: Grace Ellen Barkey
music: Rombout Willems

production: Needcompany

photo: © Aad Hoogendoorn