Our position as artists is political. We have a responsibility for both content and form. Today, the preservation and respect of nature should be more than ever at the heart of our personal and shared concerns.

Ut Barley

The Secrets of Spirits: A Whisper to the World | Ut Barley

The Secrets of Spirits is a project of analog collages made from recycled materials, mainly paper, and flowers that I press and dry, as well as organic materials collected during walks, such as moss, bark, and leaves. It is a tribute to mythology, to simple gatherers, to our creative power, to femininity, and to our connection with nature. The themes I delve into are the poetic, the living, and the organic: the power of nature on our emotions, on our bodies, and on our spirituality.

It is an artistic manifesto that stresses the urgency of taking care of our ecosystem by listening to it and observing it.

Our position as artists is political. We have a responsibility for both content and form. Today, the preservation and respect of nature should be more than ever at the heart of our personal and shared concerns.

I invite us to embrace our anger, preserve our kindness, and kindle our hope, to welcome creativity and love everything with the immensity of possibilities, be they beautiful or ugly—who cares so long as we are capable of loving! 

We must not be ashamed of trying or failing. We must believe to act! And if you no longer believe, you still have the right to seek. Maybe that’s what art is all about at the end of the day! A whisper to the world, even if everyone doesn’t listen and not everyone receives it. Maybe someone will be touched by these chaotic expressions of love, rage, struggle, and resilience: For me, it’s just a simple and humble act to not destroy the essential: Mother Nature (the one who humbly offers you the possibility of breathing to exist).

The intimate relationship between us and nature and our aspirations for the future are at the heart of my project, The Secrets of Spirits. Through the creative process day by day, my faith grows.

There is no ego, no pretension, and no narcissism in nature. We were born. We will live and we will die. But in this in-between, there are emotions and feelings—all full of secrets that our human eye doesn’t see. If we listen, if we arm ourselves with patience and humility, we may perceive the unfathomable.

What is there in absence?

In the void?

In the eyes of our species?

What we don’t see and what we don’t live, exist. These are the secrets of the spirits, just waiting to be heard. Nature is above us, and thanks to her, we are simply alive. Let’s listen to her. Let us value her. Let us glorify her, if necessary. Let us protect her, but above all, let us stop ignoring her.

I approach The Secrets of Spirits as an exploration and experience in the world of the invisible and of perception: to see beyond appearances to appeal to one’s intuitions and feelings through what nature has to offer.

The idea is to create works from what I identify, find, harvest, and respectfully gather from nature.

I like the idea of working on this project in places that allow the possibility of in situ creation in an environment that respects the balance and development of nature without constraining it. Total immersion allows creation by appealing to all the senses in an atmosphere that favors meditation, isolation, and benevolent encounters. The notions of duration and elements such as air, fire, water, and earth are essential to living creation in the rhythms of what nature offers.

The aim is to create a series of new works that feature artifact creatures (spirits, monsters, goddesses, nymphs, etc.) from natural materials such as flowers, bark, moss, insects that I find already dried, earth, seaweed, leaves, pollen, feathers, etc., but also to use spring water (e.g., a puddle of water, collected rainwater) to create plant paintings from flower petals, grass, or earth.

Besides the analog collage that reuses existing printed images recycled from magazines and other media, I would like to go further and explore new ecological techniques that would support my way of working to combine art and the climate emergency.

It is difficult but possible to use 100% recycled materials and environmentally friendly and sustainable paints, papers, inks, and glues made without solvents or chemicals and unprocessed in short circuits or by hand. Of course, this approach has a cost that can be fatal to the creative process, especially in the reproductions of the prints of my collages. The transition to an absolute eco-friendly approach in my prints is progressing. 

For the past three or four years, I have been working on an artist’s book of collage collections that will also include notes, research, archives, and writing. Finding collaborators, including printers, who are turned towards an entirely ecological practice while preserving the original and handmade stage of the conception of the design of a classic book is not yet so simple

In and of itself, the transition in the printing sector is real but complex. We can find vegetable inks, but in the printing process there are photosensitive and corrosive products that still contain harmful substances. That is why this transition takes me towards new practices and learning, such as creating my own paper and learning new techniques such as handmade screen printing without toxic products.

For the original works that mix collages, paintings, and dried flowers, I use a flower “press”. I don’t use any treated flowers from florists (only if it’s unsold flowers destined to be thrown away) and use 100% wood, recycled paper, and unbleached and untreated paper as a support for my analog collages.

I may not harbor concrete hopes for the future, but day by day, my faith in ecological and responsible art practice grows. 

Words and Art by Anaïs aka Ut Barley collage artist @utbarley

Note on the collages of the series « Joy of Nature »

My first creations (collage and painting) based on real plants and flowers have been made from flowers which were hand picked by the herborist and plant dyer Elisa Ritter which was done specially for the occasion. Elisa gave me the necessary confidence in my artistic practice towards the living.

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