British sculptor Phyllida Barlow‘s exhibition “demo” (as in democracy, demolition or demonstration) is set up to disrupt patterns of perception and celebrate the power of sculpture to obstruct and play with authority. Two divergent, yet massive sculptural interventions both break and celebrate our ideas of sculpture, its contentious relationship to architecture, and the way we experience an exhibition as viewer, manipulated entity, and voyeur. Barlow’s work is an exercise in “as if” where impressions of weight and solidity can’t be trusted; where cardboard, raw cement, mesh wire, and timber have taken the place of bronze and marble; and where painting is not used to unify or decorate a surface, but to set apart and create divergence. While most art quite naturally decorates architecture, in demo architecture is asked to decorate art.
Unexpected to many, Barlow insists on being a sculptor and a formalist indebted to a classical notion of sculpture, and cites artists such as Germaine Richier or Barbara Hepworth as having an important influence on her. “When I first went to art school, the most exciting thing was to discover sculpture. Later on, I was even more enthralled by sculpture as a language. This embraced more than just literal materiality: it transformed anything and everything into materiality and physicality, and in particular the non-visual experiences of time, place, heat, cold, smell, dimension, in-betweenness, stance, posture, mood, atmosphere, dislocation, absence, displacement…Sculpture performs in some ways like objects in the world that are not sculpture. But as a language, it enables this constant manipulation between something being there to disrupt our relationship with place, space and time and for it to also be re-forming itself, to be constantly metamorphosing, as we encounter and walk around it.”
- View of Phyllida Barlow, demo, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2016. Courtesy Kunsthalle Zürich
- © Kunsthalle Zürich Photo: Michelle Akanji