British artist Phyllida Barlow’s ambitious installation for the British Pavilion, folly, playfully challenges audiences to explore their own understanding of sculpture.
Barlow’s sculptures inhabit the entire Pavilion, reaching up to the roof and even spilling outside. In the central gallery, she encourages us to take on the role of explorer, picking our way around a sculptural labyrinth of densely-packed towering columns.
The word folly has several meanings and the exhibition also explores dualities, such as fun and foreboding. Brightly coloured baubles jostle joyfully, yet these bulging forms also have a sinister quality as they press towards visitors and dominate the space. Sculptures resembling chairs on a fairground ride allude to festivity yet their folded forms imply decay and desolation.
Barlow enjoys juxtaposing familiar objects with abstract sculptural forms - a gnarled anvil sits on dismembered pianos in piano/anvil and the cast concrete holedhoarding outside the Pavilion resembles a billboard, surrounded by abandoned debris shaped like shoes, tyres and placards. The dark grey used in these sculptures, reminiscent of the urban environment, is offset by bold colours, with pinks, reds and oranges punctuating the works.
Barlow challenges the limits and possibilities of cheap, everyday materials, such as timber, concrete and fabric. Her bold installation feels monumentally vast but the sculptures remain grounded by a distinctly human presence evident in their creation.
Phyllida Barlow CBE RA (b. 1944 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England) studied at Chelsea College of Art (1960–63) and the Slade School of Art (1963–66). After joining the staff in the late 1960s, Barlow taught at the Slade School of Art for more than forty years before retiring in 2009 and is now Emerita Professor of Fine Art.
Phyllida Barlow has had an important influence on younger generations of artists through her work and long teaching career in London art schools. At the Slade School of Fine Art, her students included Turner Prize-winning and nominated artists Rachel Whiteread and Angela de la Cruz. In 2011 Barlow became a Royal Academician and in 2015 she was made a CBE for her services to the arts in the Queen's New Year's Honours.
Best known for her colossal sculptural projects, Barlow uses "a distinctive vocabulary of inexpensive materials such as plywood, cardboard, plaster, cement, fabric and paint" to create striking sculptures. Drawing on memories of familiar objects from her surroundings, Barlow's practice is grounded in an anti-monumental tradition characterized by her physical experience of handling materials, which she transforms through processes of layering, accumulation and juxtaposition.
"Obtrusive and invasive, Barlow's large-scale sculptural objects are frequently arranged in complex installations in which mass and volume seem to be at odds with the space around them. Their role is restless and unpredictable: they block, interrupt, intervene, straddle and perch, both dictating and challenging the experience of viewing." Her constructions are often crudely painted in industrial or synthetic colours, resulting in abstract, seemingly unstable forms.
Since 2010, Barlow has been represented by Hauser & Wirth. Barlow's work has been presented in solo exhibitions around the world. In 2014 Barlow was commissioned to create new work for the Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain, London, England.
Phyllida Barlow: folly is commissioned by the British Council for the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, 2017.
Commissioner: Emma Dexter
Deputy Commissioner: Gemma Hollington
Curators: Delphine Allier, Harriet Cooper
Phyllida Barlow | filmed by Out of Sync | Venice May 2017
Interview | Jesper Bundgaard
Camera and edit | Per Henriksen
Producer | Out of Sync
Artworks courtesy | Phyllida Barlow
© Out of Sync 2017