Fie, fih, foh, fum…
Phyllida Barlow: Cul-de-sac
RA , The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries
23rd May, 2019
The first encounter with Barlow’s works took place outside of the main gallery rooms. Untitled: stack: 2019 consisting of a number of long poles placed in a tight bunch, imitating flowers and a large sculpture Untitled: smallholder: 2019., really failed to prepare me for the enormous installations squeezed inside of the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. These three spacious rooms were flooded with lots of light coming through the incredibly high ceilings and looked like they were built to measure for the artworks that occupied the space.
The adjective “overwhelming” comes to my mind when I think of Barlow’s sculptures and installations. Her works are massive and often appear fighting the rules of gravity, on occasions creating the feeling of fear of being buried beneath the structures which appear to be on the verge of collapse. This applies especially to Untitled: blocksonstillts; 2018-2019, which could only be reached after passing through the first two rooms. The first gallery room was completely filled with just one work - Untitled: lintelshadow; 2018-2019 consisting of four thin and long wooden legs supporting a huge triangular concrete slab casting a three-dimensional shadow beneath while being cheered by an audience of what appeared as ogre zombies crowded on the side. There were two almost identical sculptures, reminiscent of a lava rocks coming off the wall, which although being rather large looked like small pebbles compare to the rest of the objects in the room.
The following room was again fully invaded by Barlow’s sculptures. Untitled: barrel; 2018-2019 was towering over a piece shaped like it would perfectly fit as a jigsaw. This sculpture was pierced through by many wooden poles, which also lifted the object above the ground - Untitled: shadow platform; 2018-2019.
I needed to dodge several more gigantic shapes before I reached the back of the third, final room, the dead end inhabited by Untitled: blocksonstillts; 2018-2019.
Just for a brief moment I was disappointed with the small amount of works on display, but it was clear that the rooms which would normally accommodate much more than just fifteen artworks were filled up to their maximum capacity.
The sculptures’ surfaces carry for Barlow typical handmade, rough finish which often includes combinations of spray paint, concrete, scrim, PVA, plaster, sand and timber and comes in striking, contrasting colours. Some of the works reminded me of a theatrical props, imitating stones and boulders. I left the exhibition feeling thrilled to survive the company of these majestic structures.