Néphéli Barbas at Fait Gallery Preview soloshow curated by Eva Labá at Fair Gallery PREVIEW in Brno.

25 October,  2023 - 13 January, 2024
Curated by Eva Slabá
Fait Gallery PREVIEW, Brno


In her most recent body of work, Néphéli Barbas explores the everyday metropolitan experience by recording small details such as rain-soaked bus stops, the reflections of mirrors in bars and glass arcades. In this way, she reveals her fascination with contemporary cities as she captures the complex interplay of different historical layers that occurs in these places. Her small, meticulous drawings replicate the verticality of large cities, while her installations in metal and coloured glass present a serene alternative to the usually bustling and ever-changing urban environment.
The latest series of works by the French artist of Greek origin, Néphéli Barbas, is based on her long-term wanderings through the urban environment. Although these are personal captures of the flickering reflections of bus stops after rain, mirrored bars, glass-roofed arcades and fishmongers, Barbas succeeds in sensitively interpreting the shared everyday of metropolises. Through the artist's tracing, we therefore find places that are difficult to pinpoint on a map, places whose signs and structures are similar. Just as Italo Calvino, in his Invisible Cities[1] shows that each person carries in his mind a city that consists only of differences, a city without shapes and a certain form that real cities complete, so Barbas shows through her works how Prague can be Paris or Brussels Buenos Aires. In Calvino's words, it is precisely a kind of fascination with the timelessness and magic of contemporary cities; a fascination with the layering of different cultural or architectural expressions and styles at different points in human history that surfaces.
In addition to Calvino and his atlas of lost cities, Walter Benjamin can also be seen as the compiler of a "magical encyclopaedia".[2] Benjamin defined the metropolis through a "new" (non-theoretical) way of writing about civilization in his unfinished work, The Arcade Project (Das Passagen-Werk)[3], a montage of textual fragments drawn from the past and its contemporary present, which Didi-Huberman called an anthropological topography of the city.[4] As the title of the collection of texts suggests, Benjamin was fascinated by (among other things) arcades and passages in which the streets merge with the interior. He thought of them as interior boulevards, assemblages of places, figures and objects where the repetitive and unexpected intermingle, paused dialectical images in which the past kaleidoscopically collides with the living multilayeredness of the big city. In the arcades, people can indulge in activities under an undisturbed sky, in a miniature world of their own without the intervention of the elements. The fascination with this type of environment can also be found in a certain type of flâneurism inherent in Barbas' work.
The above aspect is evident upon closer examination of the themes of the drawings, which combine three key elements: the first is always the space of modernity, the second is the collision of different temporal planes within this space, and the third is the finding of liminality, expressed through a reflective surface such as glass or a mirror. Whether it is the aforementioned bar where the "baroque" stucco ceiling and columns meet a plasma screen, the wooden neo-Gothic doorman with a security camera, or the self-portrait in the Art Nouveau passage. The Néphéli Barbas exhibition can be understood as a travelogue of ambivalent places floating in limbo; an attempt to excursion into the memory of a space that becomes the central narrator of a story. Tiny, meticulously executed coloured drawings on paper are adjusted in structurally sophisticated installations at the intersection of object and exhibition architecture. On the one hand, we encounter bent metal frames, on the other, stained glass display cases, both distantly adopting the nomenclature of mid-century modernism.
The choice of materials is not accidental for the artist - the particular attention represented on paper by the aspect of the reflection of light, the permeation of views and reflections that the artist seeks to anchor in her walks is accentuated beyond the surface of the painting through the properties of the metal and glass spatial installations. The direct lived experience of the verticality of the contemporary city is ultimately inscribed in the format of the small works themselves, whose inhabitants are often abandoned, left to their own introspection or work, lost in the busy collective gaze of public places. Yet even these places often end up seeking private corners in spaces characterized by their permeability and transparency. By depicting fleeting moments, a mixture of experiences, impressions and insights, the artist ensures their permanence and defends against their and her own oblivion, "... because the city and the sky never remain the same."[5]

[1] Italo Calvino,Neviditelná města, Prague 1986.
[2] JM Coetzee, The Man Who Went Shopping for Truth, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/jan/20/history.society
[3] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, Cambridge 1999.
[4] Georges Didi-Huberman, Ninfa moderna: esej o spadlé draperii, Prague 2009, pp. 68–70.
[5] Italo Calvino, Neviditelná města, Prague 1986, p. 124.



Photo: Anna Pleslová