Barbara Howey was born in Chippenham, 1954.
She studied a BA in painting at Leicester Polytechnic, an MA in social history of art at Leeds University and a PhD in creative practice at Norwich School of Art and Design.
She lives and works in Norwich.
'Techniques of Memory' consists of work stimulated by the time that Barbara Howey spent as Artist-in-Residence at Huddersfield University during 2003. The work takes various forms - paintings, jacquard weaves and a short film piece. All the works hold the film 'Whistle Down the Wind' as a common theme. The large painting on the end wall contains a pair of figures walking toward the viewer. They appear to be lost in a mist or possibly walking in clouds as a dark sky broods above them. The other large painting is of a family eating a meal around a table. They seem to be concentrating on their food and a tense atmosphere prevails. The paintings are constructed with swirls in a white painted surface revealing parts of a coloured pattern beneath. The two jacquard weaves sit on low sloping plinths. They contain scenes from the film organised as if in a film reel; repeated images scroll down the cloth sometimes stuttering. One piece shows the negative side. The video work contains a time-stretched scene filmed by the artist through an acetate sheet printed with a textile pattern. A man and child can be scene moving together in what could be an eerie dance or an elegant fight. A smaller canvas shows a female head.
A discussion between Kaavous Clayton and Barbara Howey at Outpost on 28 September 2005.
Kaavous Clayton: Can you tell me a bit about the significance of the film 'Whistle Down the Wind' in relation to your work.
Barbara Howey: My work uses "found images" from textiles, film and photographs. These images stand in for aspects of memory both personal and cultural. I remember watching this film as a child and it had a strong impact on me. The main characters are children, they move the plot forward and I could identify with them and with their lives. Films evoke personal memories but they also connect to a broader cultural domain. Most people who have seen the film remember different aspects and this opens up the work to them.
KC: How do you select the scenes that you use from these memories?
BH: I select through a process of collaging and combining images that when brought together evoke resonances with past and present experience because in many ways memories are evoked in the present through the act of remembering.
KC: So a memory for you is something that is happening now rather than in the past, more of a feeling than a process?
BH: Yes the act of remembering always exists in the present and is variable. The act of remembering in my work is performative in that it serves to tell a version of the past. I am not sure what you mean by 'more of a feeling than a process'.
KC: Neither am I. I think I meant that a memory is something that we feel as a result of the act of remembering. Maybe that distinction is not really relevant.
BH: I suppose that the act of remembering evokes a residual trace of long forgotten or repressed feelings.
KC: It seems that textiles are integral to your work and to the way you evoke feelings of memories. Why is this?
BH: It is more the cultural aspect of textiles that interest me in that they evoke both the past and domestic "homespun" lives.
To achieve your paintings you first paint an image of a textile pattern upon the canvas then white it out. Are the patterns used for the paintings in this exhibition taken directly from the film or the era?
BH: Some of the patterns are taken from personal items of clothing, some from textiles produced during the time of the film and some from today.
KC: The scene in your video piece feels quite elusive and has an eerie quality. How does it relate to the other works?
BH: I think some memories evoke aspects of the uncanny and some are inconsequential. The film is a different way of telling a story. All of the work: paintings, jacquards and the film piece are interrelated both in theme and in the use of borrowed images. The work is both true and a total fabrication, fact and fiction, a reworking of the past to meet present needs.
KC: I guess a memory is a misleading thing as it changes over time and is never the same as the real event, a bit like Chinese whispers. Maybe when we leave the gallery and are left with a memory of your exhibition all that will actually exist is a memory of a memory, which is possibly the most misleading thing of all.