Reviews & Essays

“Altered Perspectives: Terrorist attack’s ripple effect touches artist, her work” by Bonnie Langston

Daily Freeman, Kingston, NY, Tuesday December 4, 2001

After winning a career-achievement award at the prestigious Biennale Internazionale Contemporanea in Italy two years ago, Barbara Bachner, an artist who lives in Bearsville and New York City, was preparing for a follow-up with a one-person show in Milan. Her crated work in SoHo awaited air transport on Sept. 17. She was excited. She and her husband, Bob, planned to fly shortly thereafter, arriving in time for the show’s opening and afterward touring Italy.

Then Sept. 11 intervened. Excitement turned to horror as Bachner, in her apartment along the East River, watched on TV the destruction of the World Trade Towers. It was very very frightening”, she said. “Everyone was absolutely transfixed. The whole week was like total chaos and disorientation. I just threw up my hands.” Eventually, though, after streets near Ground Zero re-opened and airlines began again to schedule flights, Bachner, her husband and her works flew on Sept. 21 to Milan. Four days later by 4 p.m., her art was hung, and by 6 p.m. her show opened. Favorable notices appeared in the Milan publications, including the Corriere della Sera, which Bachner said is that city’s equivalent of the New York Times. Meanwhile, the exhibition moved to Bologna, where it continues through Dec.11.

Among the ironies in the juxtaposition of the terrorist attacks more than two months ago and Bachner’s show, is the fact the unifying element of all her work is memory. It is likely that her Milan exhibit “Memory into Matter”, a retrospective of the last five years, will be supplanted in future years by a radical change caused by the seismic, mind-transforming events of September. In fact, Bachner has been invited to show three years from now at the same Milan space, D’Ars Studio, so that visitors can not only view her pieces again, but also observe changes in her style. Already, since her return from Italy in mid-October, she has begun incorporating the clement of tubing in her art. “These things come to me. I don’t plan them,” she said. “I said to myself ‘I have to go to Canal Street and get some tubing … It makes you think of the hospital. I think it has to do with illness.”

The works in Bachner’s Milan exhibit are based on abstract paintings. Some incorporate text, while others include objects like baby shoes. She also showed a video conceived after last year’s outdoor art show “Utopia/Dystopia” at Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, a community where she is also involved in her art. Bachner has shown at the Klcinert and Fletcher galleries as well as the Woodstock Artists Association, and she has taught at the Woodstock School of Art. A few years ago she was a judge for the Artists’ Soapbox Derby in Kingston. Bachner’s local connection is also apparent in one of two curatorial essays in the catalogue for her show in Milan. I t was written b y Linda Weintraub, former director of Edith C. Blum Art Institute at Bard college, Annandale-on-Hudson, and current Henry Luce Professor of Emerging Arts at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio.

Back in United States Bachner continues to reflect upon the responses to those attacks by the Italian people. Bachner said that she and her husband received palpable looks from people in Italy, looks reminiscent of a person who does not know what to friends following the death of someone close. “I felt very exposed, like we’d just been diagnosed with national cancer,” she said, “and the United States is not like that. “We’re these big, strong guys who can do anything. People now think this kind of things can happen to us on a regular basis.” Although Italians feel badly for the plight of Americans, Bachner said, the curator of her exhibition in Milan said they were not altogether surprised. “She told me that in Italy it is thought that United States has made some very bad decisions in the Middle East,” Bachner said. “That we put ourselves in a position to make ourselves vulnerable.”

Vulnerable is how Bachner feels back in New York City. When she returned, a man on her flight was escorted off by a customs official with a German shepherd. Xerox photos of people missing from the World Trade Towers remained on several buildings, and sirens have continued to blare near her apartment situated close to the United Nations building. “It’s unbelievable. If it isn’t fires or the police, they’re always taking these dignitaries somewhere, sirens sounding,” she said. “It’s been non-stop sirens since this happened.” Meanwhile, Bachner is preparing for exhibitions in New York City this coming year, one at Gallery @ 49 in February and another at the Actor’s Institute from may to June. And she keeps recording more material in 25-year-old dream journal, comprised of small black books that now include post-Sept. 11 matter. “I’m up to page 3,400,” Bachner said.

— Bonnie Langston

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