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Interviews

5 Questions for Digital Artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo

New York-based artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo approaches technology as a tool and an active collaborator in the creation of work. His practice focuses on collections, memorialisation and the act of leaving one’s digital imprint for the next generation. His ideas have taken the form of video sculptures, immersive performances, large-scale projections and even vending machines that sell human DNA. Also a curator, the 35-year-old Barcia-Colombo launched a roving pop-up gallery called BUNKER, which since 2014 has featured artists work in the form of code-driven sculpture, augmented reality and virtual installation. “I was inspired to launch BUNKER because most digital work I saw at art fairs and galleries was so rooted in concept that’s was hard for people to connect with,” says Barcia-Colombo. “I want to see things that are conceptually rich and aesthetically beautiful.” Now Barcia-Colombo is bringing BUNKER to Sotheby’s, where as artist in residence he is curating an exhibition of eight artists who use technology in groundbreaking ways. The show’s 22 June opening coincides with The Art of VR conference Sotheby’s (22–23 June), where Barcia-Colombo will serve as moderator on several panels, including one on the future of VR in museums. We caught up with him ahead of both events. 

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ARTIST GABRIEL BARCIA-COLOMBO. TOP: A DETAIL OF HIS HEREAFTER LIFE, A VIRTUAL REALITY INSTALLATION THAT ALLOWS VIEWER-PARTICIPANTS TO REVISIT DECEASED LOVED ONES IN A VIRTUAL WAITING ROOM. 

How did you first become interested in VR?

As an artist I’ve always been very interested in the idea of creating digital worlds. I think the immersive nature of VR makes it a very interesting medium for artists to create artworks that you can quite literally step inside. I actually think art is the strongest use case for VR and many of the art pieces I've seen in VR are even more compelling than narrative VR.

What is your curatorial vision for the BUNKER show at Sotheby’s?

The show will present the work of eight artists who use technology as an artful lens to express desire, vulnerability and memory. The exhibition presents new digital sculpture, virtual and augmented reality artwork as a portrait of our time, a transition point between the physical and digital.

How do you think VR will effect the future of art making? 

I think the possibilities for virtual reality and art making are endless. Artists are already sculpting and painting within virtual environments. Imagine if you could sculpt virtually and then hit print and get a physical sculpture out of marble? I don’t think all art will be experienced in virtual reality just as I don't think we will all live only in virtual environments but rather that it will become an important tool in the creation of physical work.

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GABRIEL BARCIA-COLOMBO’S DNA VENDING MACHINE, WHICH DISPENSES EXTRACTED HUMAN DNA PACKAGED WITH A PHOTOGRPAH OF THE PERSON WHO PROVIDED THE SAMPLE. THE WORK HIGHLIGHTS PRIVACY ISSUES AND OWNERSHIP OF PERSONAL DATA.

Do you see an art-world hierarchy between digitally generated art and traditional mediums? Perhaps the two are not opposed in your work, because you often give tangible, physical form to the virtual. Are there misconceptions about what digital art is or how it’s defined?

People often think of a screen with cascading code when they picture “digital art,” like something out of the matrix, and a lot of digital work is bad and too designed for a particular audience. The work that I show at BUNKER blurs the line between digital production techniques and traditional art making practices. These artists make work that is tangible, the sculptures may have been crafted by code but they stand in front of you as real objects. Technology is such a large part of our world and BUNKER is a place for artists to comment on the ever-changing role and presence of technology in our lives.

You said of your virtual destination work Uncanny Valley Vacay that “it embraces virtual reality as an escape from everyday life.” As VR becomes more common, will the line between VR and “real life” be blurred or even erased?

I think augmented reality has the possibility to turn us all into androids, but do we really want that? I love the idea of escaping from the real world from time to time into a work of art, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to live in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. 

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GABRIEL BARCIA-COLOMBO, A POINT JUST PASSED, 2011, A VIDEO SCULPTURE OF A TIME-CARD PUNCH CLOCK WITH A VIDEO OF A PERSON PROJECTED INTO A DOME ON TOP.

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CLICK FOR A PREVIEW OF BARCIA-COLOMBO'S BUNKER SHOW, WHICH RUNS 22 JUNE THROUGH 10 AUGUST.

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