words by Gabriela Acha
Danica Barboza (American, b. 1988, lives and works in New York) draws from her adoration of pop icon David Bowie in a recent solo exhibition at Berlin's Shinkel Pavilion
Danica Barboza’s practice encompasses a multiplicity of forms. The great commonality linking her sculptures, drawings and writing is the artist’s emphasis on the processes of deconstruction and discovery. Her narratives grow out from the dissection of bodies and structures, and are leavened with a sharp dose of iconoclasm. They are also strongly informed by evolutionary theories of attachment, based on the research of developmental psychologist John Bowlby—specifically, the notion that any figure associated with feelings of safety and protection is susceptible to being treated as a carer figure and recruited to feed others’ need for building affective bonds.
Barboza’s own affective tie to David Bowie is a recurring subject in her output, which critically examines the machinery behind the production of desire in popular culture, as well as the phenomenon of celebrity worship. Her callbacks to this one icon gesture towards a permanent state of incompletion inscribed within these kinds of unidirectional idolatries and the distorted perception of intimacy they trigger.
In Barboza’s work, the emotional disruptions that may result from such behaviors are conceptualized and rendered into casts of human body parts, which also reflect what she describes as her “personal love of human anatomy.” Her hand-modeled clay busts and limbs are then re-assembled into sculptural amalgams composed of paper, tape and video monitors, as in the work Interposition 003rd: Pavo-Mortem, Indiame (2019). The white busts reference Bowie, but they also allude the artist herself, and to a universe of archetypal figures that recur throughout her work’s diverse manifestations. These characters shift personas in each iteration, but Bowie retains a special position, his artistic legacy, later years and apparently sudden death informing the artist’s entire oeuvre. The pop star incarnates Barboza’s object of desire, with whom she (virtually) joins in what she refers to as a “Mystical Marriage.” This “sacred,” unconsummated union is documented in the sculpture Portrait of David and Danica at Home Ca. 2004, III (2017). Frozen in the millisecond prior to a kiss, their floating busts reach out to achieve a Rodin-esque narrative of proximal desire. Their heads, however, are detached from their sliced bodies, which are positioned on a row of pedestals and a toilet seat.
Another recurrent figure in Barboza’s narratives is the “‘ad-hoc’ yet loving” Draco Adollphus B. This 8-foot-tall creature appears in most of the tangible and virtual iterations of the artist’s work. When Draco physically manifests, his fractioned (but functional) anatomy melds with school chairs or plastic baskets, but he is also introduced in more volatile forms through the plot of Barboza’s roman à clef, Spondere. The novel is an ongoing project which began as a response to the science-fiction novel and subsequent film, The Man Who Fell To Earth. Like her sculptures, the book admits multiple readings: mutating from gothic novel to folk tale, the novel integrates an assemblage of different genres and styles into an essentially cohesive whole; the protagonists transcend their human condition to serve as metaphors, or they split into multiple voices, creating an encrypted second-order narrative that transcends the written text.
In her novel and in her wider body of work, Barboza seeks to view the icon and its meaning from a posthuman perspective. In other works, Barboza explores the projection of affection towards artificially constructed entities. This is a key theme in Barboza’s 2020 exhibition “Advanced Pair Bonding” at Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillon. In the middle of the room stands an octogonal basin replicating the shape of the Schinkel’s emblematic ceiling lamp. This structure allows the works in the exhibition to float on its dark waters. Bowie’s and Barboza’s features are once more hand-modeled in the busts stationed around the room, along with some of her sculptural assemblages and a headless RealDoll, still packed in its original wooden crate. All of the busts are modeled in clay, with the exception of a hyperrealistic silicone rendering of Bowie’s face. His aged, upside-down visage lies among other everyday elements in the central installation, A Chapter in Acclimatization / for Saturn, Wearing a Checkered Suit in Your 1964 Magazine (2020). The devotion manifested in these persistent repetitions is intended to reach a point of completion in this exhibition, as is hinted at by the digital counters submerged in the basin’s water. The ultimate pair bonding between the artist and her object of desire feels imminent. It might culminate as an everlasting feeling of incompletion, and thus stand as a kind of coda for an era in which the talismanic notion of the icon becomes obsolete.