This is a stained glass window: Sydney Artist Collective Barbara Cleveland Gets Reflective

A working relationship spanning 15 years and a friendship spanning even longer means the connection between the members of Sydney artist collective, Barbara Cleveland, is undoubtedly multi-faceted.

Barbara Cleveland, This is a stained glass window, 2019, video still, HD single channel video. Image courtesy of the artists and Sullivan+ Strumpf Sydney.

Their latest work, This is a stained glass window, sees the collective reflect and craft a portrait of how they interact as Barbara Cleveland, both within their friendship and their working relationship.

The video portrait, which is available for viewing at Sydney’s Sullivan+Strumpf, showcases not only the interactions that occur within the collective but also the variety of ways in which these same interactions can be perceived.

Barbara Cleveland member, Frances Barrett, remarks that a stained glass window is reflective of the density that exists between the collective.

“Because of the history of our relationship, we see the world through each other and each of us has viewed how we see the world – whether that’s something that makes the world more beautiful or like a rose-coloured glass. It can distort the world as well, so it can also be a difficulty or make it more difficult to see. We thought a stained glass window was a nice way of thinking about the beautiful artefacts of friendship but also the difficult parts – the hard parts.”

Inspired by experimental theatre practice and contemporary art practice as well as the history of collaboration in the visual arts, Barbara Cleveland extended this history of collaboration in This is a stained glass window by working with musician Corin Ileto. Creating with someone who “understood music’s relationship to the body and to the performing body as well” was something that was essential to the execution of This is a stained glass window, and that’s exactly what Ileto brought to the table.

“We would send her images and the video edit and once she started responding we then wrote the narrative over the top so it was this really nice accumulative process where the video then fed into the sound design, that then fed into the narration that you hear us reading over the top, so it was very responsive in that way.”

Creating This is a stained glass window in the medium of video allowed Barbara Cleveland to create a “balance between authenticity and fabrication”.

“You’ve got the added bonus of being able to edit things so you can shift or change the narration. It's something that lies between fact and fiction. We like that tension, so even though it’s a portrait of all of us, you know, we’re still kind of self-conscious as well, to shape that portrait.”

Not only through work like This is a stained glass window but through all their work over the years, Barbara Cleveland have sought to create spaces and platforms for everyone to be able to create ambitious work and have a voice.

“It’s visibility, it’s audibility. It’s touching. It’s feeling. It’s everything. A lot of our practice has been performances and so it’s about full, embodied practice. It’s not just about being visible but all the different avenues in which people – you know, women, non-binary, trans, people with disabilities – can have different ways of working and different ways of having a voice.”

This is a stained glass window will be on display at Sullivan+Strumpf Sydney until 21 December.

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