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Karen Barnes

Karen Barnes

A few years ago, whilst tidying up, I came across a sketchbook from the mid-nineties in which I'd written a note to myself on the bottom of a page saying, 'must look up pinhole photography'. It wasn't until 2003 that I did so and began a quest of exploration whilst working as an artist in residence at a secondary school in my hometown of Folkestone, Kent. Our first task was to put theory into practice and construct a camera obscura in a corridor. Following that, the construction of pinhole cameras out of any found object became second nature to me. My work has always remained on the primitive side of life, with ramshackle darkrooms and constant experimentation. The images have always been exposed directly onto black and white photographic paper, resulting in a variety of small yet unique photographs.
Eileen is a 1978 Ford A Series that I bought as an abode at the end of 2005. I soon decided to convert her not only to live in but to be a photographic camera obscura as well. Over time, her walls have become a constantly changing notebook, screwn with glimpses of passing time. Our most notable park up was outside the Tate Modern with St.Paul's coming in upside-down and a night in the Turbine Hall. In 2009, we found ourselves in the midst of Climate Camp on Blackheath, during which a great collection of stunning images was produced. Many great adventures took place with the Bimble Inn and our last outing ended with a night on a tow truck in a yard following a brief yet massive slip up on a road in Bristol when I accidently drove Eileen first into a parked car and then into to the doorway of a building. We're currently in Deptford Creekside, as we were in 2007 before arriving at the Spike in Peckham, an old workhouse come squat. Although I took Eileen on as a long-term project, it is my wish now to find her a new heart.
'Camera obscura' literally means 'darkened chamber', a dark room where then given an appropriate aperture (an opening like the pupil of the eye), the view of the outside will pass through and appear inside, upside-down and back-to-front on the opposite surface from the hole. I constructed my first obscura during an after-school club in 2003. Eileen functions as a camera obscura offering a viewing experience, a giant pinhole camera enabling the outside image to be captured on photographic paper or digitally and a darkroom to process the photographs. Living for such a long amount of time where in the world is literally turned upside down before your eyes has extremely inspired and influenced my thought processes.
Climate Camp
Although it seemed slightly ironic to be rocking up in a massive, old diesel vehicle, we landed up parked within the fences of Climate Camp on Blackheath for the duration of the occupation in 2009 and garnered a series of images taken from 3 main points of perspective and included my first attempts at portraiture, resulting in group portraits of the final 39 or so activists. Communication comprised a couple of children relaying information to the patient group of me banging from inside the van as to when the exposures were taking place.
The Bimble Inn consists of a group of friends who live a nomadic lifestyle and during the English summer months run this extended tipi structure, solar-powered, music bar and venue. Involvement with such beautiful folk living for the love of life and people offers a magic unbeknowst to most. The hard work, ingenuity and cooperation that exists behind the scenes in order to create a safe space for people to party and perform within has been a gift in my life and to many others too.
Following a long and rocky season in 2007, 15 or so of the Bimble crew were jam-packed in the back of a small campervan and with minimal battery left, I managed to take a few portraits looking through an old-fashioned kaleidoscope. So magical is the realisation that although each individual segment looks identical to the next, they are on closer inspection, each slightly different and unique from the rest. Looking through things has been a steady theme in my work since my early college days, from around 1993.
This project was unwittingly planted as an idea back in the mid '90's, becoming slightly more clearer in 2003 and then steadily forming fruition as of my time parked at the Spike from the end of 2007 and beyond. It's a 'mass scale political postal protest strike' and is formed of a series of gifts for influential people, mostly politicians and members of the monarchy, made mainly out of rubbish. When considering the OCD aspects of my life, this tops the list by far. The act of repetition in my creative practice has been extended within this project to breaking point. Collecting discarded Royal Mail rubber bands for 2 years; spending a week non-stop sticking them together; cutting out the phrase 'i have done my lines now' for more hours than I care to remember; spreading my arse in the name of peace for what is almost 3 years now; I could go on, for example, the postcard came quite accidentally, slightly over 5000 of them. I'd made a personal pact to only use ink pen and labouriously numbered them each out of 5000, the the first 2,500 also containing a code linking to the 'i have done my lines now' piece; this took 9 days and 9 nights as I also hand wrote a postcard to every member of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Editing them again this year when I'd found a magical means of postage took a further couple of days. I posted them not so long ago, I couldn't wait any longer; who knows if they got lost in the post or not.
In October 2010, with the help of my friends, I orchestrated a 10-day event of art and music as a part of the E.R. My Arse project and formed my initial dialogue with the Metropolitan police in order to gain legal permission to hold 'Mass Moon For Peace, High Tide For Change'. This continued with me using the area opposite parliament, Old Palace Yard, as my studio every Tuesday afternoon thoughout the month of March, 2011 for a series of 'conceptual art happenings' entitled 'reBeLieVer'. Footage of this can be seen on youtube via my 'thearmed909' channel. I'm planning a revised version for this year too, with not much time left and still a lot to do.
Bird's Nest
This is my local! The staff and locals are a bit like family and consider me the best cleaner ever! I've also frequented the venue for various art and music events and held a rolling and evolving narrative exhibition throughout the duration of reBeLieVer. History tells us the pub was a revolutionary meeting place back in the day and the peasants revolt would've passed right by. They say history repeats itself...I wonder?
My closest page, I often write over myself...or any given surface available. Perhaps my issues with language as a child made me wary of words but as I've grown older, I've become more willing to capture then and use in a creative manner.