‘Each evening I lie on the scorched village rooftops, gazing up at the labyrinth of caves, dwellings and granaries scattered across this sandstone monolith. I become audience to conversations in a language not my own, the wordless being of others. The chattering and laughing emanating from the dark corners feel like remnants of my indigenous soul looming in the expanse of awareness. We are engaging in a shadow dance, framed by an infinite dome of glittering intelligence, my cells slightly altering their form. The trace particles become part of me, and we change together.’
-Diary Extract, Dogon Country, 2004
Oliver Barnett began his artistic journey over a decade ago as he travelled through the remote areas of Northern Mali, Niger and Chad. This journey allowed him to experience both the beauty and the austerity of nature, awakening within him a deep appreciation for the complexities of the natural world. The body of work represented in ‘Polymorphic’ delves deeply into the micro-environments of found plant and insect matter. The term ‘polymorphic’ refers to a biological phenomenon in which organisms of the same species develop distinctly different characteristics in accordance with their environments. Barnett’s image making method in some ways mimics this evolutionary process. Working with multiple images, Barnett breaks down the forms of various objects and then reassembles them into abstracted composites, each with a unique and distinctive life-force of its own. Many of the works in this series also resemble tribal African masks and pay homage to the sense of magic that Barnett encountered on his travels. In many African cultures magic is part of the fabric of everyday life. During his time spent with various African tribes, Barnett was exposed to ancient ceremonial rites that are believed to part the veil between the physical and the mystical realms.
‘This trip signaled a broadening of my perspective of the notion of reality as held in my western mind. The opening of this channel has culminated in a series of bilateral portraits that honor the ancient traditions of voodoo, divination and shamanism, offering tools to interact with the metaphysical nature of plants and other organic matter.’
‘Polymorphic’ develops a language that allows the viewer to interact with nature in an entirely different way from which we are used to. It subverts the quantifiable and factual vocabulary of science that strips organisms down to a sum of their parts and instead introduces a sense of wonder in the face of the intricacies of the natural world.
‘It is about being a human in a world that is all magical, and has always been, and is best left that way so we can read the information it offers us.’