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'BOMB Magazine' Q&A with SVA's Dara Birnbaum

From BOMB Magazine: "Depictions of trauma can be blunt, oblique, and sometimes even both. In many cases, trauma is simply beyond representation. In two separate, simultaneous exhibitions at Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris, artists Dara Birnbaum and Matt Saunders explored the terrain of such upheaval and strain—be it world conflict, personal illness, rising seas, or inside the image itself.

Birnbaum and Saunders may seem, prima facie, worlds apart. Birnbaum, for over four decades, has been a master of media intervention. Her video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978 – 79) is a cornerstone of avant-garde and feminist canons. Saunders's camera-less photographs and animated films deliberately dissolve media boundaries, creating a space where painting, photography, and film question their own specificity. But at the gallery and in this conversation, which took place May 4, 2016, their pairing felt completely symbiotic.

Chris Chang Could you both briefly describe your work, specifically in terms of the titles?

Dara Birnbaum Psalm 29(30). It's a Psalm I heard maybe a few times, but most importantly, when Pope Francis came to St. Patrick's, it was sung at Vespers. It hit me deeply. I like the cadence and its message. It is, in part, a direct call to God—if that's what you believe in—that asks for help, asks for healing. The work I was doing in Paris is maybe more personal than most work I've done. I'd undergone what I experienced as a traumatic situation in 2014. The origins come from there, and the Psalm is just one of the sources of this work.

CC Is it too personal to ask what the traumatic situation was?

DB I needed what became life-threatening surgery. When you break open inside, parts go where they don't belong, and the idea was to get the pieces back together again, almost like an artwork. I felt I was on a very precarious edge, and things like Psalm 29(30) were comforting agents. I was in the hospital at the same time as the Syrian Civil War in 2014, footage of which I decided to use in the new work. It was very strange to be in a kind of life-or-death situation in isolation, but also to know of that kind of trauma in the outside world. It's an external world that you have hardly any ability to affect, but you're affected by it..." (For the full interview and images, click here)

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