My current work represents an encounter with the shrinking private-public distinction and its impact on the domain of the sacred in a technosavy world.  This encounter takes form through paintings and installations that explore the Hindu and Buddhist practices of creating sacred spaces for personal worship.  The puja or personal shrine is more than just a material representation of items of worship but rather expresses a series of rituals and objects that carve out a sacred space in which devotion takes place not only through verbal prayers, but also a visual encounter and dialogue, darsan, between the object and its seer.  It becomes a way of seeing the sacred, of experiencing it and palpably touching it by means strictly of its visual representation. 
 In my Puja series, I re-interpret this practice and the experience of darsan to investigate tensions in contemporary practices such as web-based social networks, communities, and forms of communication.  These practices appear to expand the public at the expense of annihilating the private: one’s everyday experiences are up for public consumption.  In this expansion, however, I also see fruitful tensions that speak to what might be a new modern phenomenon, the emergence of a public sacred and an accompanying new practice of darsan.  Through sites like facebook, one’s everyday experiences become privy to the gentle and not so gentle eye of the public by way of the content but also importantly the images that create a dialogue between friends and acquaintances.  In the process, we create a private space that is at once also public and also sacred.
 Working with these themes allows me to express my own attempts to navigate the public and the private divide and to challenge representations of my art and my identity as an artist.  My public identification, my name, says nothing of my own heritage (my name is Toby Barnes, but I'm Thai-American).  Neither does the public identification of my art as “Asian art” or “Asian-American art.”  For me it is important to explore and challenge what it means to be an Asian artist and do Asian art.  Does it attach itself to a specific nationality (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc)?  Or to an experience?  How does the label include and exclude? By working through both religious and technological themes which are taken to occupy two different registers (religious, as the private, technology as the public), and through iconography that is largely pan-Asian I attempt to investigate these questions.