Bambuco creates temporary Art installations with bamboo.
There is nothing original about that; people have been building with bamboo for thousands of years.
What makes our work different is the sheer scale of the structures and the spectacular way these are put together.
We use bamboo, climbers, rope and not much else.
The installations combine theatre, sculpture and architecture.
The audience is often captivated by the apparent danger.
We consider each construction a performance.
Bambuco is typically engaged by Arts Festivals.
Bambuco consists of climbers. Most of us live in the small rural town of Natimuk, in the west of Victoria, Australia.
Natimuk’s population hovers around 500. It is a place known internationally for the exceptional rock climbing on nearby Mt Arapiles and it is almost famous for the Nati Frinj, our bi-annual arts festival.
This remote setting (320 km from Melbourne) is in curious contrast to the International presence Bambuco has established.
Between 1998 and 2008 Bambuco constructed more than 30 large-scale installations, the majority of these outside Australia for International Festivals.
A bit of history
Bambuco was founded in 1998 by Simon Barley.
Simon had a background in spatial design for theatre/dance and installation sculpture. His leitmotif was manipulation of vertical space.
In 1993, while sitting by Melbourne’s Yarra River, Simon pondered building his own bridge. He concluded that what was required was a light material; strong, versatile and inexpensive.
He spent the following two years researching bamboo and experimenting with methods of construction.
In 1995 Simon presented his first public, large-scale bamboo installation. At the time he was in his seventh year as Designer in residence with Melbourne’s contemporary dance company Danceworks.
Simon constructed a dense bamboo sculpture, which hugged the existing footbridge across the Yarra at Southbank.
The project was part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. The construction was followed by a season of aerial dance performance on the installation by Danceworks.
What Simon observed here, and which became so crucial to the philosophy of Bambuco, was that the audience seemed more captivated by the construction process than the spectacle of the performance.
In February 1998 Bambuco collaborated with the “5 Angry Men” at the Adelaide Arts Market. Simon built a bamboo structure for the “Angries” to perform their show “The Bells”.
In the same period he was working on the development of “Arch”, including an attempt to construct it at his parents property near Forrest, in western Victoria..
“Arch” was an enormously ambitious project; huge, complex and visionary, but as became clear, Bambuco’s construction techniques and personnel were lagging a long way behind Simon’s ambition.
After weeks of toil the project hardly got off the ground.
In autumn 1998 Simon was invited to construct his “Arch” in Manila, in the Philippines, as part of a cultural showcase through the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
A small team of 7 tried valiantly against increasing odds; a typhoon, half the city under water, bamboo 10 days late and the deafening noise of a 10-lane highway beside the construction site and they were just the start of the problems.
But with the help of locally recruited Filipino climbers, something was built. It did not resemble what “Arch” was intended to be, but it was impressive.
By sheer coincidence Maria Magdalena Schwaegermann (then program director of “Theater der Welt” in Berlin) came upon the installation.
Maria invited Bambuco to construct “Arch” in 1999 in Berlin.
The installation went up, relatively free of problems.
With the successful construction of “Arch” the company had stepped onto the international stage.
Over the next 10 years Bambuco completed around 30 large-scale installations, most of these outside of Australia.
The images under “Past Work” elsewhere on this website speak for themselves.
Over time, the artistic philosophy that underpins the work became more refined (for more on this have a read of the “Art” pages).
Simon died suddenly at his kitchen table in Natimuk in August 2007.
Beyond Simon Barley
The company decided to posthumously finish Simon’s last project “This Bridge” in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK).
After its successful completion in 2008, Bambuco took time off.
For a while it seemed that the void that Simon had left behind was too big to fill.
In 2010 the desire to restart Bambuco was rekindled. It seemed such a waste to let all of our experience and knowhow drift into oblivion.
The one thing we knew was, if we wanted to reinstate the company, the artistic direction would have to change.
We could not depend on Simon anymore; we somehow had to find our own way.
We spent the next two years evaluating our previous works and established a new aesthetic direction.
We added repertoire pieces and built models for a site-specific commission.
There are dozens of ideas, some are already in development, some are no more than inspired thoughts.
Will we be able to successfully re-establish Bambuco? We can only find out by trying.
Materials and techniques
The bamboo we use is called Moso.
Moso is the common name of the species Phyllostachys pubescens; this is the bamboo most commonly used for scaffolding in Asia.
We get our bamboo shipped directly from plantations in Anji province in China. Our bamboo is selected for our requirements: six years old, large diameter and relatively straight.
Bambuco’s key construction method combines traditional techniques with modern materials. For example, we use hi-tech polymer rope to tie the bamboo together.
And our access and safety systems are adapted from rock climbing, specifically “big wall” techniques.
Most building is done by hand without the aid of machines, although we occasionally use boom lifts to speed things up and ensure safety.