The Beauty in Things Gone Wrong: Barbara Long’s Artistic Experimentation

In Barbara Long‘s artist statement, she talks a good deal about mess. The mess in our environment and in our heads, the mess of life. As an artist, Long seeks to take the detritus that surrounds us and find order.

It’s an idea many of us can relate to on a variety of levels; wanting to make our homes less messy, organize the thoughts in our head, finally get the garage cleaned out or alphabetize the files on our computer. But what if instead of organizing the mess you had, you attempted to create something from it?

“Disconnected, confined.” Performance 2020
image courtesy of the artist

“The basis of much of my work,” explains Long, “is about incorporating things that have gone wrong…” Some of this includes bits of materials sent from her siblings, who both work in the textile industry, or old linens from her mother. Long’s process is oriented around experimentation, playing with different materials and methods, and seeing what comes together. Even when there is an intention in place, Long finds that the end product is rarely as planned. “All of my work is manifestly about mending and transforming; making do and making the best of things; doing, redoing and redoing again,” she says.

In this way, Long’s work is about transformation, taking something and seeing how it can be modified, how art can elevate or mutate materials into something beautiful or thought-provoking. It’s not surprising, given her background in art therapy, that Long sees art as much more than a medium. Instead, it is an agent of healing. There’s something almost spiritual about taking discarded items and making them into beautiful sculptures, that process of recycling and renewal.

Long’s unconventional background also informs her approach. After a move from England to Spain 20 years ago with her husband and two children, Long decided to make a change. She began taking classes at a college for adult learners where a teacher encouraged her as an artist and championed her experimental approach. Her time in Spain has no doubt affected her work, and she has explored various cultural elements of her adopted country that range from the plant life in the northern Spanish woods for an installation entitled “Mother Material,” to the gender disparity in housework responsibilities in “Kitchen Keepsakes.”

“No Place Like Home” from the ‘Kitchen Keepsake’ series; embroidery
and darning on old dish cloth, 2020
images courtesy of the artist

At the moment, Long is primarily working in 3D, creating unique sculptures that vary in size and scope. Her interest in the three-dimensional medium comes from a desire to engage more with a piece of art. With sculpture, “you can walk around it, look at it from different angles and, as in the case of some of my own sculptures, even get inside it,” says Long. She plays with her work “in the round,” not only looking at something as its own entity, but also considering the way it engages with space. For example, the cast of a shadow that ultimately becomes an integral part of the work.

Like of all of us, Long’s life has been upended by the pandemic, and many upcoming plans and projects are on hold. There is, however, much to look forward to, including a solo exhibition in Madrid, performance art developments, and work on a large installation entitled “Stairway to Heaven.”

While we are all trying to find our way through this mess across the globe, it is stories like this, an artist continuing to create, develop and find inspiration, that is most heartening. Soon we will come out of this pandemic, and artists like Long will be there to remind us of the beauty in the simple, the discarded, the things gone wrong.

I can’t wait.