“Women that changed my life”: An article by Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick is revisiting Le Guess Who? with another captivating live show, as a part of Perfume Genius-curated program of the festival. One of the most unique composers of her generation, Barwick compiled a list of women artists that remarkably touched her life and vision.

Article by Julianna Barwick

Number one for me is definetely Björk. She changed my life, I really believe that. I picked up her CD from a mall in Tulsa when I was 13 or 14 and took it home, and my whole world expanded in an instant. I’d always been a fan of the weird –I had a sign in my bedroom as a child that said ‘Why be normal?’– , and everything about her appealed to all of my senses, especially as a music fanatic. I must have watched the film Vessel, a live concert of hers, 10 thousand times in high school. Then she soundtracked my move to NYC with Vespertine, one of the most beautiful records ever made. I could literally go on and on. I did get to chat with her once at a show in Brooklyn, and I was struck by how this is the one person I would most want to meet and also, wow –she’s so easy to talk to– a human. I adore her, I’ll stop there.

Close second isTori Amos. Discovered her in high school also. Until her (and Björk) solo women artists I was familiar with fell somewhere between Debbie Gibson and Amy Grant. So to discover a solo artist who liked to play piano and sing like I did, but was a total punk in her way, and singing pretty racy and zany stuff was a real revelation to me. Her history with the church (her dad was a minister, mine was a youth minister) really resonated as well. Superficially, I thought she was one of the most gorgeous creatures I’d ever laid my eyes on, I watched her music videos literally over and over and I can still draw her to this day without looking at anything.

An overarching power and influence in my life is the human and the music of Whitney Houston. Her record Whitney was the first record (actual vinyl) I bought for myself as a kid. Her voice and her story moves me like no other –I watched a documentary on her just last night and it left me in shambles– gone too soon.

I love the work of Janet Cardiff, in particular The Forty Part Motet, a work I saw at PS1 in Queens in 2001 I believe, right when I moved to NYC. I could hear singing from a distant room and of course followed the sounds to what opened up to a giant room with forty speakers on stands in a ring. As I walked by the speakers, I noticed that each speaker was assigned to a different singer –40 different singers with their own speakers. It blew my mind. I think about this piece very often.

As a photo major, I can’t help but bring up the spectacular work of Francesca Woodman. I saw her show at Guggenheim a few years ago and have rarely been so moved. Deceivingly simple compositions just wrought with so much intense emotion and narrative. I think of her work often as well. Literally every photography from that show is etched into my mind –that is rare. I usually breeze through museums and galleries, and the ones that stick –I never stop thinking about.

Julianna Barwick performs at Le Guess Who? on Sunday, 12 November, together with Perfume Genius, Jane Weaver, Linda Sharrock, Sun Ra Arkestra, Black Lips, Yves Tumor and many more. Full line-up and tickets can be found at the festival website