Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Phyllida Barlow at Tate Modern

When I went to the Tate Modern to explore its Folk Art exhibition I stumbled across the enormous installations by Phyllida Barlow. They're difficult to miss since they are on a huge scale and fill that old and venerable Victorian space with its faux Greek columns with planks of wood, colourful tape on brown cardboard boxes and traffic cones stuck here and there. The culture clash is quite obvious and I walked under and through the installations with a puzzled expression - every so often with the nagging worry of, 'what it all collapses now, on me?'.

It didn't, of course, but one of the installations was built with the appearance of something big collapsing, of everything crashing down together and making a new piece of art in doing so. It was really quite strange and I couldn't help wonder which was the piece of the art, the pre-collapse or the collapsed work and, of course, it's the latter since the pre-collapsed version was never built. It was an odd puzzle but it kept me engaged for a few minutes. It did seem to be the most popular of the works with the photographers in the gallery this afternoon.

It was rather strange exploring these enormous works in the sterile confines of the Tate Britain, giving no clue what to expect or how to interpret them. And I think that's the right approach to something like this. Just place these incongruous structures in the available space and leave the rest to us, the audience.

I have no real idea about what I saw today. I saw lots of planks of wood stacked in different ways, but, collectively, what did I see? I don't know, and that, in itself, is quite intriguing. Was it so different, so unclassifiable that I couldn't engage with it on any level? No, I wouldn't say that, I certainly engaged, but the overwhelming feeling was of curiosity and of wonder, of wondering what it would be like to clamber over the installations, to climb up the planks of wood and see what was at the top and whether it was finished or rough.  To see whether it is really as strong and robust as it looks or if removing one nail somewhere would bring it crashing down. Jumping around, from one installation to the next with a sword exposed during a swashbuckling exercise sprang to mind more than once. I resisted the temptation, obviously!

So, OK, the installations didn't come crashing down on me and I didn't clamber around them. So what are they and what are they for? I still have no idea but take your wonder and awe with you and see them for yourself, walk amongst and under them and see what you think. You'll almost certainly see something I missed. Enjoy!

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