In Conversation with Glenn Barry

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“These stories and this discovery of my Aboriginal heritage, the conversations, connections, is where art found me. The art found me amongst my identity.”

Glenn Barry is a Queensland artist who lives on the Gold Coast. His work in collaboration with Brian Keayes Light Rock comments on a contemporary world, while utilsing some aspect of indigenous conversation and shows how our modern and traditional worlds overlap.

Writer Nicole Browne spoke with Glenn about his art, identity and what role art and community play play in his art practice.


You have been a part of SWELL for a few years now, let’s start with how you first got involved and how that has evolved to today.

It was around 2010 when I first met Natasha and Ruth. I was involved in a program with the Griffith University called ‘Show us your world, and we will show you ours.’ Working with the local Black and Deadly Mob organisation we would bring kids down from Cape York and connect them with local indigenous kids from down here. As a part of that we brought the kids here to SWELL and did some work, and some photo shoots, so it has been a relationship from those days.

A few years later, I submitted a collaboration piece. We submitted a big net made from rubbish washed up from the ocean, and it was installed over the Elephant Rock. The piece reflected the throwaway society we have become and the effects of that, and mostly it talked about spirit asking ‘How do you connect with the spirit of the land?’ That was my first public sculpture. Ironically I have completed two degrees in art, but I never saw myself as a sculpture artist. I am a painter; so it has been interesting coming into this space.

Your piece this year is with projection artist Brian Keayes called Light Rock. Can you tell us a bit about the piece and how you both came to collaborate?

Brian and I met last year at SWELL. He was projecting under the bridge with Chinese artist Mr Liu Yonggang who created imagery using Chinese calligraphy titled 12 Zodiac. I was really interested in how those still images were transformed and morphed. This year I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Brian. I have taken some of my own images which speak about the contemporary world while utilising some aspect of indigenous conversation. It shows how our modern and traditional worlds overlap. The symbols aren’t only from a traditional aboriginal point of view but rather from a place where the symbols could be relatable to all people. I like to see it as utilising symbology. Using symbols, I hope everyone can get personal meaning from, and make their own. It will be interesting as a projection seeing these symbols come to life there on the rock, rather than in their 2D form. I think it is an expectation these days for things to have vibrancy, and are quick moving compared to the earlier days where the vibrancy was in the stillness. Time is different in this millennium the energy is different. In relation to my sculpture, it is addressing those changes and reflecting them.

Tell us about your background, and how you came to be an artist?

I didn’t ever think art came naturally, not in my western mind. I was a chef by trade for many years until I blew my back out and was left paralysed for a while. I was taken down some interesting roads in that time. I met one of our local elders Aunty Joy Summers. She asked me where I was from and I didn’t understand what she meant. She said, “Oh you don’t know you are aboriginal.” Three months later my Grandfather passed away, and my uncle (my mother’s brother) did the family tree. He discovered that we were from the Gamiloroi tribe who come from out the back of Moree, which backs on to Bourke.

This is a really big story of identity for me. There is an intuitive, nurturing, feminine quality in Indigenous culture that I resonated so deeply in. It gets masked in our society as what a value is, but in Indigenous culture it is innate. For many years I was so confused by our tribe’s name – Gamiloroi. What did it mean in English? It translates as People who say no, but I could not understand what that meant in application. Years later I asked Uncle Pauli, a traditional landowner of the area and he said; ‘It’s easy Glenn, it means that you have got everything inside you already. You don’t need anything that is not already inside of you. You just need to bring what is inside you out.’ These stories and this discovery of my Aboriginal heritage, the conversations, connections, is where art found me. The art found me amongst my identity.

What is your connection to the place of SWELL and what comes up for you exhibiting in this big open space versus exhibiting indoors?

When I travel, I am aware of the land and the connection I have or disconnection I have to that land. When I come to Currumbin, it feels different. A different light turns on, and I am in a different frame of mind. The space itself sets up a kind of open blank canvas for me to respond to. It is not me necessarily thinking of what I should do, and getting busy creating ideas. Rather it is me connecting to the place and asking for the message that the place is going give me. That is where my response comes from.

What have been some of the benefits for you exhibiting at SWELL?

I have been in the arts for 20 years now and what I have found unique about SWELL and exhibiting there compared to other exhibitions is it is like family there. Like all other exhibitions, we get our name, and number in a didactic, but SWELL is more like being a part of a family. That is not just with the artists. It is with the administration, the volunteers, and the people you meet. As artists we want to connect with our audience, the audience is who we speak to, but communicating and connecting with other artists that are important.

Where does your connection to art and community lie?

In Indigenous traditional community, everything was considered art. There was no such thing of ‘this is what art is.” Everything we do is art. What we are doing now is art. Driving here is art; having a coffee is art, and so forth. So it is really interesting listening to people’s perspectives of where art fits into their world. There has been interesting conversation these days about how our creativity is being dumbed down. Our modern world and the basic education system push with Science, technology, Engineering and math. (STEM) I always ask about the ‘A’ the arts. To be able to think creatively is a trained situation and of that comes the art. Sitting and watching a whiteboard won’t feed the creative mind. Relating that to my connection to art and community;

We all living in this modern world, we all have phones, cars, but what is the communication device within us? I am interested in articulating that, giving space for that to have a considered reaction and responsibility. Because that is where creativity lies, tapping into the quiet inside us.

Nicole Browne @mothersofourhood

See Glenn Barry and Brian Keayes’ Light Rock projection at Currumbin Rock at Site 7 from 6pm Fri 14, Sat 15, Sun 16 and Fri 21, Sat 22 and Sun 23. 

Image courtesy BlankGC

Ruth Della