10 minutes with Bibo and Brian 

26th Jan · Dawn Hawkins

Who are Bibo and Brian?

Who are Bibo and Brian?

We are an artist couple and we are based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Bibo is originally from Germany. She has been an artist for a number of years but only went to art school as a mature student following the life changing experience of Brian’s sudden critical illness and heart transplant in 2013. She graduated from Gray’s School of Art in 2019 with a first class BA(Hons) in Contemporary Art Practice.

Brian graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 1984 and went on to work in various fields including as a commercial video editor, and a teacher of Art & Design. As a result of his illness he is now re-focussing on being a full-time artist.

We have always collaborated at the intersection of our respective art practices, but due to our joint shielding and other adaptations necessitated by the Coronavirus since 2020, working together has since become a central aspect of our work. Our different approaches prove to be valuable resources for a colourful collaboration. We never seem to run out of ideas and topics for lively and constructive discussions.

Bibo Brian Keeley Garden December 2020

What are you working on at the moment?

We are continuing to explore how we can use our art practice to become more connected with Nature. During the first lockdown and shielding in 2020 we spent a lot of time in our small city garden behind our flat, which provided us with an inspiring framework.

Our current interests in particular are

- the (assumed) hierarchy within the human and non-human natural world

- the perception that land - once claimed by humans - must be defended against encroaching nature

- the environmental impact of our artwork through its life cycle

In response to this, we have been experimenting with low impact materials - from clay mixed with recycled paper to plantable sculptures and bird boxes - with the aim to create artwork which helps to establish a symbiotic relationship with Nature.

Screen Shot 2021 01 26 At 13 54 02
Bird nesting box sculpture

What is your earliest memory of art?

Brian: When I was in primary school, around the age of 8 or 9, I had the chance to attend Saturday morning art classes at the local secondary school. It was very specialised, with a small group of kids from several schools in the area. As far as I remember I was the only one from my school. I remember being really impressed by the art classroom, and with the drawings and paintings all over the walls, doubtless done by senior pupils. It was a revelation, and it showed me what I could aspire to. I was taught how to observe subjects closely, and I picked up many basic drawing skills which stayed with me.

Bibo: I grew up in Germany, and I vaguely remember adults in my family in the 1980s exchanging strong opinions about the controversial artist Joseph Beuys - and the accidental removal of one of his artworks by a cleaner in 1986. Since then in German there is a popular phrase “Ist das Kunst oder kann das weg?” - which roughly translates into “Is this art or is it for the bin?” which always amused me.

What work of art do you wish you created?

We wish we had created Louise Bourgeois’s monumental bronze spider sculpture Maman. However, for us it would have a very different meaning. Our intention would be to challenge the position of humans at the top of any assumed hierarchy within the natural world. The reversed scale of spider and human would aim to raise questions about the power relationship between humans and the non-human nature. It would be a pointer to the interdependence between humans and nature, and the dramatic loss of biodiversity of our times.

We feel that a sculpture of such a large scale would give us the chance to reach wider audiences with the themes which we care about. At the same time, it would be an exciting opportunity for us to undertake a once-in-a-lifetime sculpture project. We both have an affinity for sculpting and have had some experience of creating small scale bronze sculptures.

What elements of your work connect with or are inspired by nature and the environment?

Nature is very inspiring and has been an important element of our work for a while, particularly in Bibo’s performative work which is often set in natural surroundings and captures the solitude of ‘wild’ Scottish landscapes or coast lines. She has also had environmental themes at the centre of her work for a number of years, for example her ongoing photography project of marine litter around the coasts of Scotland, Mother Ocean.

However, as we always discuss each other’s work, help each other out and end up collaborating, our respective interests usually cross over quite a bit. Now both nature and the environment are one of the central themes of our joint work which is generally informed by our personal experiences and revolves around the need for healing, allowing time and space for reflection, re-thinking and re-connecting.

What does nature mean in your day to day life?

We spend a lot of time outdoors. Since we don’t really travel abroad anymore on health grounds we usually spend several weeks each summer exploring Scotland. We are also fortunate that we live close to the sea, so the open space of the beach is always a welcome place to walk. When we had dogs, up until a year ago, a beach walk was almost a daily event. Since the Covid pandemic, and without dogs, our outdoor radius has significantly shrunk. We have been spending a lot more time in the garden - but that too has been very inspiring.

Brian Keeley Sawing Wood For Bird Nesting Box Sculpture Jan 2021

How do you know when a work is finished?

Generally, a work will just come to a natural conclusion. We usually agree on when a work is finished. In a moving image piece for example, this might be when we feel that the timing, audio and overall mood is right - when it seems to have fulfilled everything intended at the outset. With something more traditional, like painting - which is one of Brian’s media - it is more difficult because it’s so nuanced.

In any case, it usually helps to take a break and then revisit the work in progress with fresh eyes.

What music do you play in your studio?

We are not really in the habit of playing music in our studio as we both generally find it quite distracting to have anything on in the background. Listening to music and working both require concentration and attention - and neither of us is very good at multitasking.

What will you be exploring in your Art by Post booklet with the Barn & Southbank?

We are exploring themes around soil and the importance of biodiversity. One of the artworks which the participants are invited to create will be composted as part of the subsequent exhibition and help to actually feed the soil. We feel that this is quite a good way of creating a positive impact of art on the environment. We are also drawing parallels between the fragility of nature and aspects of our own life experiences.

To download a copy of Bibo & Brian’s Art by Post booklet...click here


Art by Post has been developed in consultation with Southbank Centre community partners and (B)old project participants and is funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.