Door Window Draw
Catalogue essay for exhibition of works by Anna Barriball at Galleri Bo Bjerggaard, Copenhagen, Denmark
There is something in the simplest act of representation that touches on the uncanny. It lies at the heart of the act of doubling or a ghosting of an object that otherwise lies out there in the world, which, through human agency, we bring, momentarily, under our control, into being. This is a fugitive moment: once constructed, the representation becomes itself an object with its own narratives and directions, some of which are autonomous, some of which are linked to its original. John Berger talks of how moving the charcoal over the dark cave wall, to amplify the bulges in the rock and form them into the images of bison and lions and aurochs and ibexes was perhaps a way of recalling them, of returning them to the world after they had disappeared over the horizon of death, thus partaking in the mystery of an animalÕs dual nature as mortal (killed by the hunter) and immortal (the herd returning again) (Ways of Seeing). In the generation of the mysterious connections between that which is represented and its representation, the shift between scales, orders and dimensions, we can identify the Ōeverlasting emphasis on macrocosm and microcosmÕ that, as Frances Yates writes, 'lies at the heart of occult systems'. (Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment). This electric suspicion that something 'other' is being conjured up when we make a model or likeness, animates the earliest Stone Age outlining of a bison or buffalo, the latest outrage about things being shown on a web site or other media, or the iconoclastic drives and other refusals of representation of some of the world religions. Certainly its spark charges much of Anna BarriballÕs subtle and considered work.
A represented object suggests the possibility of contacts across time and space normally denied in the everyday entropic flow between us (the now), and that which is now positioned in its own narrative or in the past (that which is being been represented). Transformations made by time are central to much of Barriball's work. Images are made from the pooled wax of melting candles; an old tabletop is carefully rubbed with paint to reveal the scratched and pitted topographies left by people's actions in the past. A video shows the dancing spots of light thrown upon a wall by the sequins on the artistÕs t-shirt, spectrums of refracted and reflected light travelling through the third and fourth dimensions. The means used are minimal, almost day-to-day; rubbing, wrapping, scribbling with biro or pencil, pointing a camera, but the energy contained in these actions is enough for a subtle transubstantiation to take place, a dislocation of orders.
Everyday spaces and everyday objects are a focus of the practice, lamps, windows, doors and walls. Barriball's work speaks of how the past is inscribed into the spaces and objects that surround us and suggests ways that it might be animated through representation, whilst recognising the impossibility of its reclamation. The gap between object and image speaks inevitably of loss, the divide that cannot be bridged. These objects and spaces represent structures and orders and certainties that are gone and cannot be recreated in the present, no matter how much we may yearn for their reconstruction, what George Steiner has called, 'a nostalgia for the absolute'.
The visual codes and languages used in the work are linked to the cool outcomes of conceptualism and structuralist and process art, where aesthetic effect was dependant on, and secondary to, the instructions and intentions that generated them. But although the aesthetic is linked, the matter of the work is very different. Rather than revealing the hidden modes of economic and cultural production, the codings of ideology, or the conditions of its own being - as was the intention of much of the earlier work - what is made manifest here is far less to do with the Politic and more to do with other psychological, subjective and ineffable narratives that shape our understanding of art and the workings of history.
Untitled (Front Door) presents us with two shiny battleship grey rectangles, framed so that there is a border of paper visible to one side of them where we can see smears and fingerprints and traces of powdery pigment at the edge. Each square is a thick layer of graphite that has been made - we guess - by rubbing the stuff hard onto the paper's surface. The constant movement back and forth required to build grey layer upon grey layer has caused the paper to bubble and stretch through pressure on its surface. This bulged skin exists in counterpoint to an underlying structure of hills and declivities locked into the graphite. The rectangles are rubbings taken from the frosted glass panels used in domestic front doors; the paper was placed on the bumpy surface of the glass panes and rubbed with pencil until the forms are registered. The work is mounted at the same height from the floor as a door in the artist's childhood home. Although the mark of graphite on paper is usually called a drawing the materiality of what is in front of us makes this inadequate, the weight and matter of the graphite, its presence and gloss, demands its status as an object in its own right. Untitled (Front Door) flickers between states and natures; it is drawing and sculpture, it has the qualities of abstraction and minimalism whilst at the same time remaining faithfully representational. Its forms are simple non-organic geometric ones that profoundly refer to the human body, it is a two dimensional plane that suggests an entrance to three-dimensional space. It is of the past and of the present. The dark squares are negatives of the transparent material that gave them form and rather than letting light through, they reflect light back at us from their shiny impenetrable surfaces.
Windows uses a strategy of isolating and reframing a photographic image that has stylistic links to the sixties and early seventies when artists abstracted and reframed photographic imagery to reveal and disrupt dominant narratives, as well as echoes of other approaches; perhaps surrealist art, for instance some of the paintings of Magritte. Small black and white photographs of the exterior windows of buildings and houses have been framed in white mount board that has been carefully cut to follow exactly the outlines of a single window. This (what is punningly called in the framing trade a) window-mount, isolates them in a large field of blank card. The mount-board has been placed behind glass and contained in a deep picture frame, and when all is taken together - the frame and glass and mount and photograph - a volume, a small box, a chamber is formed, and this inevitably becomes a model, the most reduced abstraction, of the room or building that a window may give access to (or once have given access to). The image of the window shifts from being an element in pictorial space to working in sculptural space and it (almost) becomes that which it is an image of Š a window into an enclosed space. Some of the windows have been photographed from an angle, and these become narrower towards the vanishing point, their lines converging according to the laws of perspective. The mounts faithfully echo these rhomboidal shapes so they shift between being geometrical forms on a three dimensional volume and signifiers of three-dimensional space on a two dimensional plane. The frames aren't big so these possible spaces, these abstract dwellings, seem fantastical and Lilliputian and looking at them turns us into a giant LB Jeffries, the photo-journalist watcher in Rear Window, peeking into distant chambers to see what might unfold. But we are to be constantly frustrated, unlike the movie it's not only the viewer who is immobilised here - the windows we are looking at are no longer penetrated by light and the spaces are caught suspended between orders of representation, their narratives are to remain frozen and unknowable.
Draw (fireplace) uses video projection to translate the image of a Victorian fireplace with a sheet of tracing paper draped over it from the building that contained it, to the space where we are now seeing it. The image occupies a place where we might expect to find a hearth. We can see that the paper is being sucked and drawn into the mouth of the fireplace and then exhaled. Obviously there were drafts being generated in the building where the footage was shot, maybe people moving through spaces that we cannot know, all sorts of activities that we can only guess at. This stuttering breathing in and out hints at a strange miscegenation where the animate and the inanimate cross over, blur states, where the intentional inhabits inert matter, and the architecture comes alive. We are returned to echoes of earlier stages of consciousness as described by Freud, where the barriers between ourselves and the outside world are blurred, less differentiated. A time of enchantment, Draw also suggests another haunting, outside of the actions contained in the video frame; the projection here suggests returns or alternatives where past or potential structures manifest themselves. Was there a fireplace here before? May there be - or have been - one....in some alternative room or world?
Richard Grayson 2007