Barbara Penrose

Span—The geometry of labour

Barbara Penrose's installation, Span-The Geometry of Labour, utilised the entire large top floor of the Institute of Modern Art and, through its fluid gestures, cast allusions well beyond the walls, causing the busy roadways and surrounds to be caught in the net of its speculations.

Elizabeth Ruinard in her catalogue essay wrote, "Pen rose likens the temporality of the performing of her artistic tasks to the labour of the criminal fulfilling a sentence."

Pen rose took incarceration as her theme and dealt with it in fragments of literal metaphor and of vernacular gesture, producing momentary breakdowns between real and metaphysical spaces. A number of elements of this work focused on the windows and seemed intent on barricading the space within or, at one point, in reeling-in the white line of the road below. These 'gestures' formed a strange, halting relationship inviting a sense of the space as a carefully positioned fragment of its own view.

Jean Gene!, a major source for Penrose in this work, describes his transportation to prison-"My arrest had been in mid-summer, and my most haunting memory of Paris is of a city completely empty, abandoned by the population, fleeing from invasion, a kind of Pompei, without policemen at the crossing, a city such as the burglar dreams of when he is tired of inventing ruses".

There was, in Penrose's approach to her subject an inherent statement of fact-the world is as it is-and in the works' more literal elements (including the partial bricking up of a window; a section of stick-on bars) the signal of the fragility of place in specific temporal experience. On one window a stained cloth, similar to those hanging within the room emblazoned with prison designs, dropped to the ground from the glass, its angle taken from that of the winding fire-escape of a building opposite.

As counterpoint to these elements, a large floor piece, consisting of over a thousand plaster bricks with their cast surface displaying a texture of wet skin, was laid out in cruciform: '1he motif of the prison where the four points can be seen to designate respectively faith, hope, enclosure, freedom." The cobbled matter of the cross set up a strange attraction to the bricks of the white gallery walls, highlighting their hair's difference in construction and in spatial enclosure, and holding off from Lao Tee's dictum of a vessel built for the serviceable space it defines.

There was little serviceable comfort in the space. A process of evacuation seeming to draw in outside details and to empty out all matter-a meeting at the walls which tingled as if in the kind of minute settling motion of 'inert' objects.