Last week I mentioned my recent trip to Edinburgh. You may also remember that there was so much to write about in that initial post, that I barely had time to go into any detail about any of the specific exhibitions I saw. So, this week I wanted to give some thoughts on the Anna Barriball exhibition I saw in 'The Fruitmarket Gallery'.
Ok, so first impressions were, 'Wow! What an amazing, large and contemporary art space.'
Followed by, 'Oh...and the first thing I see in it is an entire wall covered in black...somethings...?'
Note the tone of disappointment, but also curiosity, for WHAT were those black squares or somethings covering the gallery walls?
On closer inspection.
'Ahhh, they're plastic, material. Are they bags? Something stitched. Canvas? Wait, I can see faint traces of coloured stripes. Wait! I see, they're wind breakers. Covered in..ink? pen?'
'And what's that noise? Sounds like the wind blowing, rustling?'
'But its not coming from the windbreaker wall, artwork....'
Looks around gallery.
'Ah, ha! Its coming from in here!' (enters dark corner room inside gallery)
Sees, video projection.
*I have to admit here, I've never been much of a fan of video art, and I was already feeling disappointed at the windbreaker wall. However...
'Hmmm...it looks like a fireplace, but with one of those vacuum forming things over where the grill of the fireplace would be...oh...and its moving, in and out. So sometimes one sees a flat sheet covering where the hole to the fireplace is and then, fwoosh, something sucks the flat sheet in, revealing the form of the fireplace grill and space within....'
You, know, that is actually pretty interesting. Not quite a drawing, not quite a sculpture, not quite an event or even a film, but a combination of all of those (image 3.). And then, when you think about the sound of the wind in relation to the windbreakers it seems like a theme is emerging...
The exhibition continues upstairs.
'More domestic recognisable forms, I can see squares. Are they windows? Doors. But they are silver and shimmering. There are cut out, uh.., leaves on the floor. I wonder if I can step on those? But they're in the way of getting closer to the silver shimmering window/squares. I need to step over/onto them to see them closer...'
I tentatively proceed...
'Ok, so they're cut out leaves from a fabric design, they look like from curtains (which would certainly tie-in with my domestic/interior theme). And these window/squares are actually walls, they look like a pencil rubbing of a brick wall, then framed in a window shape.'*
*All of this actually happened pretty quickly, whilst it sounds here, more like I took my time considering and pondering what it all was, in reality it all happened fast and I was desperately trying to search for something that would make it all appeal to me. Isn't that to some extent what everyone looks for, when going to an exhibition? To see something of themselves in the work? Not in a narcissistic way, but in the way one looks for something to relate to in the work.
For me, it wasn't until I saw that the work upstairs and down all had something to do with drawing or traces that I started to look at it all differently.
These windows, or bricks (image 1.) were in fact drawings and rubbings of walls. Just as the door (image 2.) was also a drawing, but I liked the way they, like the fireplace, could also be sculpture and challenged what I thought a 'drawing' to be. If you looked at drawing, as a word, then 'drawing' can mean to 'draw' out in the sense that one 'draws breath' or 'draw blood'. Now, when you look at 'draw' that way it all becomes a lot more bodily and especially the idea of 'drawing breath' seems so appropriate to the imagery of a window or a fireplace which are places where wind, breath and air-flow are part of what makes them functional/needed as a window or fireplace. Barriball herself states,
"I am drawn to the unfixed quality, the destabilising feeling that things can shift or eve disappear; the sense of movement. the rhythm of breathing is echoed in the rhythm of the drawings. Time, air and light become materials in the work, animating either the space or the thing itself."
So, for all its subtlety and minimal appearance I was beginning to find the work was not only a 'drawing out' but it also invited me to look closer and 'drew' me in. In many ways it was more like Barriball was enquiring into surfaces and the fact of whether it was the surface of a door or a brick wall were no more important than acting to unite the work as an exhibition. Unless you consider taking the drawing-in, drawing-out idea a little further and see windows and doors as portals/thresholds between inner and outside spaces. That way, the surface of the drawing up-close and sculptural quality it creates give an illusion of what space might be behind the drawn on surface. As Barriball herself, alliterates,
" [she is] interested in the confusion of being inside or outside, in a liminal space. Thresholds that are no longer ways in or ways out - drawings that hold you in a space while hinting at what might be behind the surface."
'Woah, I'm confused.' I find myself thinking. 'Do I actually like this exhibition or not?'
I'm still not sure. In many ways I hate its minimalist aesthetic that forces the viewer to come up with conceptual ideas or meaning, but then I like the drawing, the surfaces and creating attention to the everyday. It has taken me 25 years to learn to see or even consider a rubbing of a door as art. I think I have for a long time considered a real door as being art in seeing it in the context of a house or woodshop. But seeing windbreakers covered in ink inside a gallery still fills me with some scepticism, like I am looking for some come of proof or validity as to justify its worthyness to be in a gallery context. Outisde a gallery I might see a stained windbreaker lying on a beach and think, 'interesting', but in a gallery I am always expecting someting more. I don't know exactly what that 'more' might be, maybe I think too highly of the gallery as a context. I'm not sure. I do know, however, that I enjoy the debate it raises and having my faith in art questioned is probably what keeps me still doing it; the constant search for meaning. There's a lot of contradiction in that statement, but something worth pondering longer on another day.
So on the surface of things, I wasn't initially that impressed with Barriball's exhibition at 'The Fruitmarket', but then on retrospect, and thinking about it here, it did definitely raise a lot of interesting thoughts about the nature of drawing and my perceptions of art in general. Which goes to prove what Barriball was perhaps intending to express in the work all along, that nothing can be judged merely on surface value and in fact, surfaces can have hidden depths.
Image 1. (above) 'Mirror Window Wall' 2008 -ink on paper
Image 3. (above) 'Draw (firepalce)' 2005 -video projection
"Anna Barriball (b. Plymouth, 1972) makes work that blurs the boundaries of conventional art disciplines. She uses traditional materials, but her actions test the limits of how materials can be made to behave, so her work often transcends its original medium: drawings are also sculptures, sculptures are drawings and films are drawings and sculptures."
Ann Barriball Exhibition 21 January - 9 April 2012, The Fruitmarket Gallery. Text in Italics taken from exhibition phamplet. Images from postcards bought at The Fruit Market Gallery.