Andrew Barco: Understory
Truland Gallery, Lower Level
Layering objects and text, fact and fiction, history and the present moment, artist Andrew Barco’s Understory explores the possibilities and difficulties of understanding across culture and time. Understory incorporates sculpture, projection, and hand-drawn texts to tell the fictional story of a Chicago theater group creating a live-performance version of The Cave (2019), a real-life documentary about a subterranean hospital during the Syrian civil war.
The characters that populate Barco’s story about the theater group are modeled on real artists in his community and the location of this story–a disused swimming pool in the basement of a building in downtown Chicago–is a real place he once visited and dreamed of using for performance. The project’s texts, written by Barco, present the perspectives of the different characters, inviting viewers to move back and forth across different viewpoints to piece together the layers of the story.
Understory incorporates mythology into this layering of fiction and reality, taking inspiration from the Cult of Mithras, which Barco describes as an “anecdote of sublime misunderstanding”. The Cult of Mithras developed in the 1st century CE, when Roman Italian soldiers garrisoned in what is now Germany developed a set of religious beliefs and practices centered on their interpretation of the Zoroastrian deity Mithra. Their (mis)interpretation of a figure drawn from the religious beliefs of another time and place, Mesopotamia 400 BCE, became the foundation for a new, earnestly held belief system.
In Understory, references to the Cult of Mithras seep into the work’s aesthetics and narrative, connecting Barco’s contemporary story to an ancient attempt to connect across the boundaries of time, language, and experience. The characters in Understory are so moved by The Cave that they risk their own misunderstandings and cultural miscommunication in attempting to adapt it, an endeavor that is well-intentioned but perilous. Understory invites viewers to consider the ways human beings make sense of the world and, specifically, of experiences beyond their own personal realm of understanding.
Andrew Barco: Understory takes place as part of MoCA Arlington’s SOLOS 23-24, a series of solo exhibitions by artists based in the Mid-Atlantic taking place at the Museum throughout 2023 and 2024. The exhibitions were selected from an open call by a jury that included artist Nekisha Durrett, Betsy Johnson, assistant curator, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Jova Lynne, director, Temple Contemporary, Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University.
b. 1979, Durham, NC
Lives in Manassas, VA
Andrew Barco’s work is concerned with the often strange and improbable ways ideas and habits can be transmitted across cultural landscapes and through time. With an MFA in sculpture from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he researches intellectual, cultural, and craft histories and takes his viewers on philosophical detours. Barco has exhibited professionally since 2003 with his work featured in group shows in many US cities including Chicago, IL, Baltimore, MD; Boston, MA, Durham, NC; Hartford, CT; and New Orleans, LA. Major performance works have been presented at venues in Chicago, and Boston, and he was a featured artist in the Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival (2013) and Rapid Pulse Tour (2018). Recently, the primary audience and participants of his work have been his amazing students from the SkyArt youth art program in Chicago, IL with whom, for example, he staged public interventions erecting temporary monuments to historic Black female Chicagoans. Barco has presented solo exhibitions with Threewalls Gallery, Chicago, Il (2014), FiveSevenDell Boston, MA (2010), and in Durham, NC with WestVillage (2006) and Transom Gallery (2004). Born and raised in Durham, NC, Barco recently relocated from Chicago to Northern Virginia.
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