phyllida barlow

Phyllida Barlow: Dock

Phyllida Barlow: Dock

Phyllida Barlow’s current work ‘Dock’ is part of a commission for Tate Britain supported by Sotheby’s.
Having seen Barlow’s ‘RIG’exhibition in Hauser and Wirth in late 2011, I had some incline as to what was to be expected before entering Tate Britain; I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Similarly to ‘RIG’, this show demonstrates Barlow’s successful idiosyncratic style on an even larger scale than previously.

Upon entering the Duveen Galleries (the largest open space in Tate Britain), the viewer is immediately confronted with the scale of the imposing structures; the wooden frames tower overhead as they envelop the surrounding space, occupying the usually vast expanse of the gallery. The protruding struts and lattices provide a path in which to traverse further into the complex, enticing the viewer to explore and investigate the space.

A previous commission by Fiona Banner also demonstrated the way large works occupy the space; Harrier and Jaguar was a work that consisted of two fighter jets, one on it’s back and one hanging from the Duveen Gallery ceiling.

The sheer scale is immediate, as is the presence of the massive hanging objects; the massive tube structure is suspended with industrial cord, tied haphazardly around one of the higher struts, regardless of the apparent casualness of it’s application, the forms are solid and far from being precarious.phyllida barlow


The verticality and situation of the work encourages the viewer to observe the space in which the work is situated, and to also traverse the gallery through and around the work.

An affinity with architecture and sculpture is formed through the way the structures swallow the space they fill, and secondly how the protrusions extend the current space; the forming of a new synthetic space allows viewers to investigate the internal and external structure of the objects.

Aside from this affinity, a more stark contrast between the pristine architecture and the invasive harshness of the structures becomes apparent, drawing even more attention to the casualness of the materials in conjunction to the quality of the Galleries. Furthermore, the tactility of the works becomes manifest, the intricacy of the surface detail draws the viewers to near the works and appreciate the surfaces. Ultimately the work bares qualities that draws attention to the minute detail and the sheer scale of it’s form.

On closer inspection, the harshness of the execution and the manipulation of the materials becomes a primary curiosity, a privilege offered through the situation of the objects and the enticing nature of the forms. On occasion the height of the work inhibits further investigation, Barlow’s work is concerned with the human interaction with materials therefore the viewer is forced to interact with the work, one feels compelled to investigate the surface. After this I certainly felt compelled to touch the works.

The materials battle with their common fragilities through their integration with stronger more stern materials; polystyrene and cement, chord and wood, cardboard and so on are materials unified with solidity and rigidity. Phyllida’s work to me has always given the illusion of weight and mass, yet with enough observation the integrity is revealed to consist of more flexible materials, thus demonstrating her considered interaction with the materials.

Context is important, especially the physical context in which the objects are placed. The contrast of its situ was more overwhelming in ‘RIG’, due to the immediacy of the placement of the work (as it was adjacent to the entrance) and through the way the structures interacted with the unconventional space; ‘Dock’ consists of primarily object based sculptures rather than architectural extensions (although they are still present) or interventions.

Ultimately, ‘Dock’ is an impactful commission that encapsulates Barlow’s achievements and successes, and is certainly worth experiencing.

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