Allison Barnes beautiful photographs from her series ‘Neither For Me Honey Nor the Honey Bee’ are an exploration of ideas and meanings, her pictures an attempt to articulate her own history, what it means, what its rooted in and her identity as an indelible part of the land, the terrain of her psychological being interwoven into her physical geography.
Her wonderful crafted large format pictures of living and dead things, of everyday work on the land, in the garden are all invested with a quiet resolve and a deep sense of meaning, a desire to make sense of herself through the ground she walks upon and nurtures. Each image resonates with a life force that begs us to look beyond its physicality and search for its immaterial connections to the world around us. In many ways this earthly garden is a microcosm in which all humanity has lived and will into the future, it contains our history, our sense of place. Our identity.
This notion of identity, of how we identify ourselves in terms of land, history and politics is a deeply problematic question that has spilled blood upon the earth for millennia. Who exactly are we? Is our identity fated to us? Is it dependent on where we grew up, the stories we heard, the colour of our skin, our religion? Or do we get to choose?
I had this discussion with my brother a number of weeks ago. We both see ourselves as being from different places, different continents yet are blood kin. And both of us from a different place from our parents. So how does that manifest itself, how is it realised in our daily lives. It’s these questions that Barnes raises in these pictures. She sees identity as a shifting ground, a landscape in in which we’re free to determine our own fate. To forge our own identities in the fire of history. Here’s what she has to say about her project:
The landscape in which identity is supposed to be grounded is made out of memory and desire, of shifting gestures that point towards what has happened and will happen. There are places that make us, and in some way, we make them. Our means of survival speak of how we value and use the natural world according to our senses, and shows how our own history becomes aligned with the history of a site. The terrain of these stories are built out of personal geographies where we seek comfort and sometimes solitude, where the light is regenerated into three hundred golden bees, calling forth desires that are reconcilable.
I was intrigued by the title of her series and so went on a search. The title comes from a fragment of a poem by one of the great lyric poets of the Ancient world called Sappho. She was a Greek writer and musician whose work was was well known and greatly admired through much of antiquity. Most of it is now lost yet her reputation has endured for over 2500 years. As Barnes puts it:
Sappho’s poems are all whimsical….each missing word navigates the visual and literary world like bees, carrying the knowledge of al our secret manners. This collection [of photographs] is merely a whisper, a suggestion to view the work as the content of though, a noema within the recurring habit of existence.