Wriston Plays Welcome Host for artist Julia Barello’s installation, “Wisteria”

Paul Smirl

The Wriston Art Center’s Hoffmaster Gallery opened its doors Friday, March 30 to present the work of New Mexico-based artist Julia Barello. A jeweler by trade, Barello’s multi-faceted work traverses two-dimensional and three-dimensional realms and is bound together by its unusual medium of X-ray film.

Accompanying her gallery installation, “Wisteria,” Barello gave a talk in the Wriston Auditorium explaining the trajectory of her life as an artist, from her alternative college roots to her graduate jewelry work and ultimately her current forays in large-scale installation.

Focused on the presentation of the human body, Barello noted the fleeting nature of human life as the driving force of all of her art. Seen most clearly in the gallery in pieces such as “Adornments: Cellulitis of the Neck and Vascular Studies,” Barello foils diagramed drawings and X-rays of human ailments with essentially non-wearable jewelry pieces, creating silver and gold necklaces and brooches in the shapes of decaying body parts.

Using X-ray film in a more abstract fashion, Barello continues her studies of the inevitably disease-ridden human body by cutting the film into different shapes. Be it flowers, leaves or birds, Barello takes records of human descent and breathes new life into them, constructing grandiose wall installations that provide entirely new meaning to the fragile, human-centric qualities of the X-ray.

One piece that exemplifies Barello’s life-alteration art is the piece “Wisteria,” which takes on the form of a massive tree, harbored in the corner of the room. Assembled from an array of individually cut leaves, Barello’s tree appears mainly black with flourishes of green and purple in its upper-right branches. However, upon close examination, vague images of the human form emerge as well as medical text. Consequently, Barello deconstructs notions of life and reassembles and obscures the human body, presenting a life-like entity that rests inches off the wall and meanders up to heights far greater than that of a human.

Furthermore, while “Wisteria” does an excellent job of showcasing the dichotomy of life and death, pieces such as “122 Brooches” favor aesthetic presentation over concept. Set up as a circle of blue, green and purple flowers, Barello’s wall piece is mighty beautiful, but is a far cry from the figure studies of her early jewelry days. Moreover, while Barello does indeed use her favorite medium of X-ray film, the pleasing organization of flowers in a circle doesn’t exactly strike to the heart of human transience.

Barello herself noted that her latest work borders on commercial, joking during her talk that she hopes people don’t buy her more colorful wall pieces just to match their sofas. This problem does seem to make sense though, as it is evident that viewers looking for deep meaning in all of Barello’s work won’t always find concrete places to latch onto.

However, having made a career as a self-made X-ray film artist, Barello seems confident in her death-inspired work even when viewers see it merely as decoration. She remarked that she doesn’t care if viewers truly understand the intent behind each piece. From here on out, Barello does face one major artistic challenge: Her stock of X-ray film is dwindling, leaving her to contemplate the same glaring inevitability of ending that her work examines.