|All Washed Up in Africa would play itself out in various contexts in the two years leading to Barker's 2000 retrospective at the Johannesburg Art Gallery - the same gallery that he had visited to copy the Pierneefs and that now houses his work in its permanent collection.|
All Washed Up in Africa was the title of his second solo at the Frankfurt Hanel in 1997, and of a beautifully crafted Pretoria exhibition at the Millennium Gallery with Ian Waldek in 1999. His contribution to the 1998 Angolan/South African exchange Memorias Intimas Marcas was another version of Nantes, drawing on both personal and political histories.
There was a wax room with the washing line projection, debris, blood, a waterfall and photographs of himself and his brother playing on the beach during the time of the Angolan war.
There was also "an army room" and again Barker drew on his role as a public art agent. He put out an appeal for donations of old South African army uniforms so that he could offer them to Angola as an apology for the pain caused by the country's involvement in the war. Thousands arrived.
By now, though, the populist side of Barker's work and personality was about more than just offering the artist up as a public facilitator. When combined with his ironic jester act, he was starting to create a fairly significant breed of performance art.
Visiting the 1998 Venice Biennale with Waldek, for example, the artists were outraged to learn that not a single African country was represented on one of the world's most important exhibitions. Barker and Waldek invited the curator of the Biennale to join them in St Mark's Square, where they asked to wash his feet in public "as a sign of forgiveness, so that next time he would take care to remember that Africa does exist."
Barker had videotaped himself playing the piano in the gallery - having discovered a talent for grandly insane compositions with a flow like lyrical jazz after his brother's death in an aeroplane crash earlier that year.
In Krems Barker lay on the gallery floor naked and covered in chocolate while a video of himself playing the piano flickered over his body. Next to him was a neon sign reading WCB. It looked a lot like the Dutch East India Company's VOC logo he had used in work before, but spelling the initials of Wayne Cahill Barker, or, he adds: "White Coloured Black". In later performances Barker would play the piano live, covered in chocolate which he once had licked off his body as he pounded the keys. Why chocolate? "Because it's brown," he says.
Once Barker had posed as a black man in a national drawing competition and bronzed racist dolls to elevate their status. Neither act is too far removed from covering himself in chocolate. Lying on the floor in Krems, his name a multinational cultural logo, Barker then rose to switch on a television set. On the screen appeared hundreds of butterflies as, all around him in the gallery, projected bird silhouettes danced on the walls.
"I think I was trying to find a free space to work in," he says, "trying to move away from work related directly towhere I live. And trying to find a new kind of freedom."
|A New Kind of Freedom|
Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph