'What We Keep': Interview With Artist Taylor Barrett

Trang Le '17 Contributing Writer 

Taylor Barrett is a senior art major at Smith College. Her honors thesis exhibition “What We Keep” is an exploration of installation art through objects associated with human lives, creating a tinge of nostalgia and piquing our curiosity in lives that have passed before us. Through an interview with Taylor, we get to know an amazing artist with a fresh set of ideas rooted in an antiquated scenario.

When I walk through your exhibition, I felt like I was walking through an old house with remnants of a past life. How did you come up with the idea for the exhibition?

I think I came up with it because I have been thinking about how to work with the idea of memory. I tried a bunch of different things and came up with the idea of making portraits using people’s objects, for example using your hair brush and your shoes… But the idea of portraiture is a little too limiting. And then I tried the idea of going through an estate sale.

What challenges did you face when implementing the idea?

I think the challenge I faced was the development of the idea in the creative process. As sometimes I feel creative and sometimes I don’t. Besides, I have way more objects than presented in the show; I got back from estate sale and had 30 or 20 objects, and I had to figure out which ones were compelling enough to use. That was one of the tough parts. It’s a lot of fun but challenging. My choice also depended on whether I have personal connection to it or something that is more accessible for viewers.

Did you make all the works out of the materials from the sale? Such as the work “Dinner Party” and “Sandbag”?

“Dinner Party” was made out of table cloth and a couple of dinner napkins. The shirts from “Sandbag” were also from the estate sales. The paper is also from the estate sales. I tried to use most of my materials from the sales I attended.

About the idea of “Sandbag,” I found the shirts from a tiny closet. Seven of them remind me of days of the week. It builds the image of a man doing the same job over and over again, the repetition of a lifetime. It is like the accumulation of routine from someone that passed away.

I am most curious about the work “Orderless Heap of Pulp.” How did you manage to assemble it?

I got inspired by a story called “The Man Who Never Threw Everything Away” by Illya Kabakov. The basic premise of the story is people living in an apartment building and he had access to one of the apartment and had all these catalogs organized, all these scraps of paper. Part of the story talks about how we are basically the accumulation of paper.

The work “Orderless Heap of Pulp” is made of journal entries. I found at the estate sale a journal with entries of every day of the year. I blended it up with water and made into a pulp and put into the mold that I made. That one was interesting because that was the most information that I had, given it was a journal and contained information about someone that I don’t have to make up; you could literally read it. I guess in a way, with most of my work I don’t know if these things are actually important to people. But now that I do, I kind of take up the creative liberty to make up the meaning that I think that may have had with something so direct to somebody’s thoughts. I think it contained too much information and I blended it and made it into a pulp. It was meant to condense the block of time. Sometimes you don’t need all the information in front of you.

Did you start out at Smith intending to study art?

I transferred here and intended to major in history. I took four history classes but I felt like there was a lot of reading and writing. I then took a class on photography with Professor Fraser Stables and it was really awesome. I used to study architecture at my old school and a good thing about art is that after I accomplished something, I have something to show; whereas, after writing a paper, I never again take a look at it. I was more enthusiastic about what I was doing compared to other classes.

Do you have any plan after graduation?

I plan to do work relating to archive. I had an internship at Whitney Museum, which was great. I get to work with art without making the art. Being a professional artist is a very grueling career. I think I am behind the scenes of the art world and I really like it.