Phyllida Barlow: An age of fallen monuments
'All our lives are about constantly losing. The moment is always disappearing, like sand between our fingers. So what is it, we are actually left with?,' asks British sculptor Phyllida Barlow.
‘All our lives are about constantly losing. The moment is always disappearing, like sand between our fingers. So what is it, we are actually left with?,’ asks British sculptor Phyllida Barlow.
The language of sculpture is not about perfection or exactness, according to Phyllida Barlow (b. 1944). It’s about approximation, about recovering moments. ‘I like the language of sculpture which is about space and time, smell and temperature. Opposite photography, sculpture constantly rejects the single image because of the way you walk around it. Oddly enough sculpture, despite it’s physicality, constantly disappears. You walk past it and it’s gone. You come back to it and you discover it in a new way. The powerful emotional impact is all in the moment.’
Furthermore, Barlow reflects on her recent commission for the enormous Duveen Galleries at Tate Britain – a space that is reminiscent of a cathedral and reflects the pomposity and political power of 19th century Britain. ‘I wanted to confront the incredible arrogance of that space with something that has gone and disappeared. I have always been interested in fallen monuments. We have lived in a decade and a half now with monuments collapsing. Maybe beginning with the Twin Towers in New York, and going on to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s monuments and then the Buddhas of Afghanistan. That’s what fascinates me about sculpture – its idea of monumentalism and its ability to collapse. Something that is slightly off-balance and precarious.’
Barlow has been a professor of art for more than forty years. In 2011 she was elected to the Royal Academy. After having retired from teaching at the Slade School of Fine Art, her own artistic career has received a major boost. In an interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, Barlow said: ‘I wasn’t ready 10 to 15 years ago to do that, but when you get older, you finally don’t mind if you make a fool of yourself.’ At the same time, Barlow stays modest: ‘Let’s go back to cave-painting. The desire to bring into those dark spaces an idea of representation, something seen and experienced and recorded – to make evidence of that. And that is what I feel my work is about: evidencing something about the world I am living in now. But it’s using a language that I think is as old as the hills.’
Phyllida Barlow was interview at her London studio by Marc-Christoph Wagner.