Phyllida Barlow: set
Resurgent in her later years, the influential tutor and sculptor brings an impressive set of new works to Edinburgh
This article is from 2015.
It’s the sheer, literal volume of Phyllida Barlow’s sculptural work which excites when it’s glimpsed in person. It fills the space, bearing a sense of weight and of oddly-manipulated scale which ends up leaving the viewer feeling dwarfed, forced to take circuitous routes around the gallery. The 71-year-old sculptor and former tutor to Douglas Gordon and Rachel Whiteread’s new work for this show is a mish-mash of large-scale productions cast in wood, plastic and polystyrene, and daubed with paint and plaster. The materials are mostly lightweight, but the visual effect of these pieces suggest they’re precarious, bone-crushing things.
In one corner a stack of stone grey plaster ‘boulders’ totters on a sandwich arrangement of wooden pallets. In another, a bundle of pallets are stacked dramatically in no particular – or traversable – order. Propped against the walls are chunky slabs of what might be concrete, while scaffolding and wooden posts are crudely cemented together in frame-like arrangements. In an anteroom is a stack of paint-daubed wooden slats and ladders, standing floor-to-ceiling and framed and mounted by the dimensions of the wall they fill. The sensations involved in viewing these works are mixed, with the rogue paint covering the objects reminding of the bright disarray of an art studio and the concrete-effect materials used suggestive more of a building site.
‘Untitled: blockade,’ is a breathtaking showpiece upstairs; a floor-to-ceiling circular wall of sharp-edged geometrical shapes ringing the room. Viewable almost entirely only from the outside, its occasional dead-end recesses accentuate the fact that any single viewpoint gives little opportunity to achieve a sense of perspective. The mind may be drawn to thoughts of the globalised economy by the piece; it’s like being lost in a maze of long-distance shipping containers, and only when we’re shown an accidental glimpse inside (peering over the stair balcony after we’ve crouched under the work to exit) are we given any sense of its internal fragility.
Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 18 Oct.