Uta Barth paints her photographs with light. An intangible force that dictates composition, determines atmosphere, and manipulates interpretation. The suggestion of her presence in the work is suggested by subtle shifts in light- a shadow cast on concrete or hand reaching across fabric. Her photographs initiate a dialogue not only about what we see but how we see.
Why did you decide to pursue your artistic practice on the West Coast?
I came to Los Angeles to go to graduate school at UCLA, where I met the man I lived with for a long time. He was from LA and never wanted to leave here. It was still the time when most artists moved to New York and I had originally planned to do so as well, but I did not mind it here. So while I did not actively choose Los Angeles, it really grew on me because it provides an incredible freedom for artists. The discourse in New York is so dominated by its history and by the market place, whereas in Los Angeles it comes out of the many great art schools. Most artists here teach (often only very part-time), not necessarily because we need to, but because we feel we learn things from doing so. Art schools also provide a sense of community and community is something we court. LA is so spread out that my closest friends live an hour or more away from me. Since LA is a car culture, it also is quite isolating in many ways. We may be stuck in traffic jams most every day, but we are alone in our own vehicles while in the crowd.
What do you find distracting about your urban environment?
Los Angeles is in many ways a pretty ugly city; it is chaotic, disorganized and full of hybrids of all sorts. It is a giant patchwork of strip malls, gas stations, car lots and clumsy churches, all woven together by mostly single-story housing built in a seemingly inexhaustible variety of styles. LA is organic and messy and often I miss the picturesque cities and towns of Europe. On the other hand we have the ocean, the mountains and desert, which are a very real and accessible part of the esthetics and experience of this place.
What do you feel is unique to your city?
The vastness of it all. Drive the freeways at night and find yourself gliding through an endless ocean of lights, as one city melts into the next. The vastness, the incredible diversity and its ability to constantly surprise you, as it changes faster than one can keep track.
Installation has selected the following works to include in our issue. In what ways do these works reflect your understanding or fascination about your urban environment?
You have chosen several works in which light is literally the medium that creates the images photographed here. They are images of the light that pours into my house every day. The light in Los Angels is a visceral presence in one’s life here and has been a primary motive of my work for over twenty-five years now. The other two works were made on daily walks in my neighborhood and (coincidentally) render the fact that walking in LA is a solitary activity.
Untitled (composition #12), 2011 inkjet print
Untitled (composition #5), 2011 inkjet print
…and to draw a bright white line with light (Untitled 11.3), 2011 inkjet print
Untitled, 2010, Mounted color photographs
Untitled, 2010, Mounted color photographs
What do you find most appealing about New York?
The sidewalk. I will run into two or three people I know (from all over the world) within the first hour after leaving my hotel. Everyone comes to New York and everyone is on the same crowded sidewalk together. The density of the city makes it easy to see people, it’s just a few blocks or subway stops to meet up and grab dinner at some corner restaurant. I have more of a social life in ten days in New York than I do in months here at home.
What artists have influenced your practice the most?
Robert Irwin, along with many of the ideas that came out of the Light and Space movement. It is no coincident that Light and Space came out of Southern California, as it embraces the light and vastness found here. I myself can think of no way that I could make the work I do in New York or most other large cities I know and that is the reason I have stayed here.
Featured Image: Uta Barth, Untitled (composition #5)
Images courtesy of 1301PE, Los Angeles and the artist
THE 20+20 PHOTOGRAPHY ISSUE
Uta Barth is featured within Installation Magazine’s special 20+20 Photography Issue, which highlighted 20 Los Angeles and 20 New York City photographers. Download the full issue on your iPad and iPhone.