“I couldn’t tell you,” says multi-hyphenate artist Tim Barber with barely a hint of impatience. “I could only show you.”
Barber is enduring a plodding series of questions from a moderator at Drake Salon the day before his Tiny Vices poster show and book launch (presented by Aritzia) opens at Studio Gallery. This one is particularly facile: “What do you like about photography?”
Asking the Vancouver-born, New York-based mastermind behind Tiny Vices what he likes about photography is rather like asking an Olympic swimmer what he likes about water. Barber’s full-time passion is collecting shots emailed to him by photographers—some famous, some hoping to be, most just arty kids with lo-res cameras. He gets around 20 emails a day and is currently choosing which of more than 2500 photos to include in the 21st installment of his Tiny Vices online exhibits, titled “Various Photographs.”
“I’ve built a little spider web on the internet,” he explains, tipping a smile to the idea of using one web to describe another, “and I’m just constantly catching stuff and it’s totally unique and it’s self-perpetuating.
“No one else would get the stuff I get sent to me.”
The photographs on TinyVices.com range from the idiotic to the sublime, and best of all, both (a pair of silicone-suggestive white balloons on white sheets is a perfect example). There is also plenty of actual nudity, of course: Ryan McGinley, photographic prodigy and pied piper of exhibitionists across America, is one of Barber’s star participants.
If there is a raison d’etre in Tiny Vices, it is resistance. Barber despises and defies what he calls “art school clichés,” though he also believes the best artwork is “something that is so extremely cliché, but just brought to a new level.” (Like LOLcatz?) He also refuses to slot Tiny Vices into the art world’s even tinier categories. (When the moderator opines that it’s not socially acceptable to say, “I don’t know what I do,” Barber swiftly responds, “There’s a lot to be said for not being socially acceptable.”)
On the contrary, he’s expanding his efforts, turning the assorted ephemera of his web project into tangible goods. Using his favourite genre of book, “the crappy little homemade photocopied zine,” as inspiration, Barber is publishing books of photos and artwork by Aurel Schmidt, Ben Schumacher, Chris Dorland, Gordon Hull, Jason Nocito, Kim Krans, Michael Schmelling, himself, and others.
The books are printed one at a time, on demand, so that “the thing doesn’t exist unless someone really wants it”—something of a beautiful idea in a time of overconsumption and oversaturation.
In addition, six posters for each book have been printed and hung on the walls of Studio Gallery, a space Barber says serves as a platform to experience the work in more dimensions. Sure enough, at Studio’s sweaty-packed opening party, we spy at least three pairs of disingenuously dressed girls (head-to-toe thrift store; half-grand handbag) taking off-kilter photos of themselves in front of off-kilter photographs of other people. They are entirely self-conscious and utterly unaware at the same time, missing the point while underscoring it.
“After all,” Barber says simply, “the computer can only look so good.”
Well, so what are you still doing on this thing? Go! Get three-dimensional! The TV Books show goes on til September 17 at Studio Gallery.
Photo of TV Books exhibit at Partners & Spade, New York, courtesy of Tiny Vices.