You are here
I become almost a shadow is a line borrowed from American poet Ann Quin’s ‘Three’, published in 1966, where Quin describes the sensation of sharing a room with a series of shadows moving across its walls and ceiling. Barker’s abstraction of this line from the poem seems compatible with what the sculptural works in this show are attempting. They are a series of large, wall-based reliefs on all four walls of the gallery, and three self-standing sculptures that occupy the central floor area. They are all delicate, almost improbable, constructions using strips of metal and aluminium, painted cardboard, plywood, strips of reflective material, and thin brass and metal wiring. They are organised improvisations with material.
The wall based works are reminiscent of windows, but ones so exploded and distorted that, as one navigates around these sculptures, they start to become framing and re-framing devices of themselves. The self-standing floor-based works are of the scale of doors, but ones that have been taken apart and fragmented, rotated, and rebuilt, and they are delicate to the point that they might slump or fall at any moment. They sit on slightly raised white pedestals, emphasising the threshold between these artworks and the viewer.
The gallery space is evenly lit from a series of skylights and by the lights in the gallery itself, all flat, diffracted light. The only shadows possible here are the ones that the sculptures represent—the sculptural lines of these works become analogical, they become tracings of shadows on the inside of a volume, the nature of which can be barely guessed. It compels the viewer to try somehow to clamber into them, and try to read their bounding volumes from their interiors.
Two of the five wall relief sculptures have black graphic background shapes (thin, hand painted planes of hand-cut plywood) fitted directly to the wall from which the constructions emanate. These backgrounds have the effect of suggesting some ideal alignment or viewing position to the viewer. But there are no ideal viewing positions for these works, they all seem to sit somewhere on a fold-line between inside and out, familiar and distant, cognitive and ‘in the world’, still and about-to-move.
The constructions that Barker proposes here have a structural language of their own too, they appear to have come into being after a series of urgent improvisations with this variety of materials, whose strengths and malleabilities were found to vary. What remains are faktura-like expressions of these experiments in construction and decorative thrust. Some of the elements to these constructions are laid bare, and one can see the types of welds, solders, bends, cuts, screws that were used at the joints; whereas some of the elements are covered over with strips of mirror, painted card, plaster, timber, corrugated cardboard or with painted marks made directly onto the small structural elements themselves. The painted strips of paper and card that are fixed to many of the parts of these structures have been cut from a larger parent material that has been painted upon some place else, and one wonders about that other place and how the paint was applied in this place, before the material was cut into these strips. One begins to realise that these constructions in the gallery, are not so much things in space as stilled-time and re-gathered gesture cutting into space. This then offers other registers whereupon imaginative coalescences between the works and the viewer might occur.
The thin geometrically arranged brass wires of the two wall relief pieces with black backgrounds suggest thin, poorly drafted construction lines on a technical drawing, lines that show the anatomy of fore-thought, that props gesture, and hints at intention—an intention here that emerges from the much travelled threshold between painting and sculpture.
Many thresholds are being emphasised in these works through a series of inversions in which the viewer eventually becomes complicit. In some of the works there are reflective strips placed in among all of these other building and painterly materials. On these slim and sometimes thwarted reflective surfaces small, elongated fragments of the surrounding parts appear and fall onto the eye as you go, each piece sliding past the other, interlocking and turned. The rush of some of the gestures that ghosts these works is tempered by their ‘present’ stillness, but when these small reflections come into view this evening-stillness is re-broken again, but now in a phenomenally quiet way. In these moments the clues as to the making of these works, or how they were haptically gathered into their forms, starts to pull gently at one’s curiosity.
I become almost a shadow suggests a barely held relationship between a light source, an object, its shadow drawing itself slowly across another surface, and an observer who occupies but wishes also to share this living space, this reading room, of acutely limber awareness.