Southern Exposure: Same Working Conditions, New Work

“For a show based around the concept of labor, there’s a lot of playfulness here: artists and visitors carve their names into a picnic table, undulate on a waterbed, play Donkey Kong and compete in mini tennis. The environment’s lightness — a hallmark of socializing — underscores the fact that Working Conditions is, at its core, a social project.

The group of artists in this social space is not random. Each artist was chosen by a different member of the Southern Exposure curatorial committee, who worked to develop a roomful of people who would actively investigate the concept of labor, but work in totally different ways. It’s like a tiny, themed grad school program without professors, deadlines or official critiques. In the absence of school’s structure, the artists have been sharing informal feedback by reacting to and interacting with the artwork of their studio mates.

Trial and error is one of the more conspicuous elements of the creative process rarely on display in a gallery setting. Working Conditions, though, is full of public prototyping.

Ethan Worden and Steven Barich, in particular, are working on meditative, inward-facing projects I wouldn’t have expected to function as smoothly in a public environment. Worden said he’s been challenged to move more quickly back and forth between engaging visitors in his space and focusing on the repetitive but strategic act of gluing small strips of lumber into an asymmetrical structure.

After Worden and Barich are periodically pulled away from the details of their meticulous work, they return to performing their processes with renewed perspective from peer feedback and from the simple act of conversing, an experience so different from the state of absorption fostered by their work.

Most shows celebrate the completion of a project, where you’re able to connect an artist’s intent with their final work. The opening of Working Conditions, of course, marked the beginning of a process, not the end. And throughout the rest of the show’s run, you’ll witness not a final product but nine simultaneous transformations from concept to creation. Each project here began with a particular conceptual basis, but the connection to these foundations continues to morph in response to the social environment. After all, while our party personas are born of our quieter, more thoughtful moments, they’re honed at the party.”

– Marion Anthonisen, KQED Arts, Art Review , December, 2011.”



Zen with a Kickstand – Branch Gallery – East Bay Express

“Steven Barich continues exploring the theme of cultural coding as embodied in artifacts; his well-executed conceptual drawings depict objects yet unmade, like Borges’ faux literary works by imaginary authors, lighted as if for a museum catalog. Four of the drawings (including “The Embrace and “Concentricity”) picture oddly shaped gerrymanderish fragments, flat like manuscripts or sculptural like ceramics, of indecipherable pixel patterning, set atop carved wood pedestals like the traditional Chinese “scholars stones” used for tabletop contemplation. Two larger drawings in color (“Visual Block-Aid” and “Little Big Boy”), depict deckle-edged fragments of Noland-style stripe paintings mounted atop pedestals. “Zen with a Kickstand” depicts a Zen enso, or hand-painted circle filled in with digital chatter, and propped up with bike hardware; a hand-painted print “with a single pixel, with a unique color” is available. ”

– Dewitt Cheng, East Bay Express ‘Picks’, June, 2011.



Happiness – Pro Arts Juried Annual – East Bay Express


“It may have the same name as Todd Solondz’s black comedy about family dysfunction, but Happiness, a juried group show judged by London independent curator Sherman Sam, is complex, provocative, and diverse…Some highlights from the thirty-odd pieces include Steven Barich’s graphite drawing, “Apophenia’s Sphere,” from his show at Rowan Morrison in July; apophenia is the perceptual error of seeing illusory patterns or meanings within visual chaos (an art reviewer’s occupational hazard, of course), and the globular Chinese scholar’s stone atop its carved pedestal that seemingly morphs into pixelated digital artifact or crossword puzzle expresses the arbitrariness of meaning in the floating world of signifiers.”

– Dewitt Cheng, East Bay Express, 2010.



Happiness – Pro Arts Juried Annual – Contra Costa Times


“On the less figurative side is a graphite drawing, “Apophenia’s Sphere,” by Oakland-based Steven Barich. The 14-inch sphere of pixels plays with the instinct to create meaning out of visual images and how technology and nature condition that instinct.

Sam Sherman, curator, said he narrowed down the selection from more than 1,000 works by 300 artists. Rather than picking through any specific groupings, he instead chose individual pieces that would create a diverse collection and ‘prove to be thoughtful experience.”

– Angela Woodall, Contra Costa Times, 2010.



The Logic Stones – Rowan Morrison Gallery


“Steven Barich’s show at Rowan Morrison is comprised of a series of mostly-compact graphite drawings of logic stones, in which the stones themselves are rendered in a pixelated greyscale grid. The images in reproduction look flat, but the drawings have a lot of “hand” in them; the teeny scale of the pixels seems to point your attention to the tooth of the paper, the grains of graphite. “Technology v. Nature” seems to be an overworked thread in contemporary art, but Barich’s drawings depict as well as enact this dichotomy. The labor of representing a machinelike perfection in pixels is contrasted with the labor in representing the baroque carvings of the stands. It’s also interesting to notice that so much pixel-based hand-made contemporary art uses full color spectra, whereas Barich’s work is limited to shades of grey. I imagine it’s not an easy task to create random patterns with only value contrast to work with. While the premise behind The Logic Stone may seem straightforward, these deliberate reductions reveal a tight conceptual and technical approach.”

– Christine Wong-Yap, r+d, 2009.



Studio Visit – The Oakbook


“[Steven Barich’s] newest work — most of which serves as meditation on Chinese Scholar’s Rocks, stones which were “improved” by human hands and meant to be a point of contemplation – all turns on a single word: Apophenia. It means to put it simply, the “experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” Perhaps sacrilegiously, this is what many would call faith. Whatever you call it, Mr. Barich’s intricate diagrammed meditations are a must see and remind me well of some of the work of another Oakland artist, Chris Duncan. Both utilize conceptualism towards a deep spiritual understanding of our rapidly changing and confusing modern world. It’s a welcome motif, I must say, and completely of our times.

Barich spoke to me during a recent studio visit of being influenced by Martin Puryear’s recent show at SFMOMA towards a certain elemental simplicity. The work he evokes, Scholar’s rocks, was almost always anonymous and the commonality is unmistakable yet the artist’s hand is palpable – that minor tension is what keeps your eyes affixed to the work. I must now note that the artist started out as a photographer and became a drawer by the end of his time as CCAC. I note that because the work here clearly is of the moment and you could tell that even if you didn’t know it was made in the space of a few hours. It is Barich’s sincerest “…hope that the viewer takes the time to consider and meditate on…” the charcoal and graphite drawings at view. I’d take his advice. It’s mine as well.”

– Theo Konrad Auer, The Oakbook, 2009.