LONDON — We’re huge fans of Barnaby Barford at Cfile. We’ve profiled several of his projects in the past and it’s difficult to pick a favorite. They’re so different, but united with a strong narrative sense. Whether he’s making satirical kitsch, mirrors that reflect your deadliest sins or a tower of consumer decadence, there’s always a critical voice communicated through contemporary ceramic art. His newest exhibition at the David Gill Gallery Me Want Now (November 18 — December 21) is no different, though the topic has changed a little. From the grunting id-like voice of the title, Barford tackles greed, me-first culture and — my new favorite topic— the implications of living in a post-fact society.
At first glance there’s a Noah’s Ark look to the exhibition that made me think Barford had put down his knives for a moment. But as is usually the case with Barford, his narrative is hinged on an uncomfortable, even grim, message. Animals (similar in shard structure to his Deadly Sins mirrors) wait patiently in line but for what? The next room shows them mounted as hunting trophies. In this way it’s a great box to store all of the anxiety of the last few years. The certainty that we’re headed for a mass extinction event and just have to ride it out until the inevitable happens. The racist populists who scream loudly about their superiority while they do everything within their power to guarantee that they’ll be serfs within a generation or two. The temporarily embarrassed millionaires who saw away at the branch they’re sitting on. The concept of being so invested in a lie that it would never occur to you to simply walk away. If you’ve spent the last few months wondering if you have any skills that would translate into a post-apocalyptic society, this is the exhibition for you.
As grim as it is, I’m grateful for it. It’s possible to have these thoughts and encounter dissonance as you see life continuing as normal in the coffee shop, at the grocery store. People going about their routines, seemingly unaware of the danger written plainly all around them. Waiting patiently in line for their turn.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
From the Gallery:
Have more, buy more, do better, move forward, grow, succeed, win. Barford’s installation ME WANT NOW offers a metaphorical narrative on the dominance of this ideology and debates our values in an increasingly polarised political landscape. The world moves forward at a never-ending pace driven by the powerful desires of the individual feeding the engine of the ‘me first’ culture. But, understood hegemonies are in flux. Uncertainty promotes fear. This in turn triggers an animalistic self- preservation instinct in us.
The exhibition compels the viewer to question our relationships and the world around us. Large scale energetic Word Drawings, offer a departure from the meticulous planning, order and structure of Barford’s sculptural works. These Word Drawings embody the chaotic immediacy and almost forceful nature of the ‘me first’ mentality and act as the voice of the powerful, trapping us by offering things that ‘we’ want now, with no regard for the consequences. The drawings appear deranged but also serene and beautiful and form claustrophobic ‘nets’ that envelop a series of life-size animal sculptures and Trophy Heads. Repetition is carried through to these sculptures which are constructed from thousands of individual ceramic pieces featuring fragments of the Word Drawings.
More’, ‘Power’, ‘Change’, ‘Choice’,’Hope’, ‘Glory’, ‘Greatness’ – These are the emotions that have often driven mankind to achieve great things, words that are inherently positive, however once repeated incessantly, their meaning becomes warped. It is the egocentric pursuit of these bastions dominating the current climate which has driven this body of work. Barford says: “it feels like words have never been so important – those written in the press, posted across social media and in speeches from our politicians, in volatile times words can be dangerous.”
At the heart of ME WANT NOW is a series of life-size ceramic sculptures, a queue of animals lining up patiently waiting. Seemingly powerful creatures alongside the vulnerable from the 8ft Polar Bear to the Rabbit. The queue places them all side-by-side, powerless as they wait for the unknown, a visual allegory of human existence. A series of Trophy Heads in a separate room, featuring the ceramic animal heads mounted on mirrored plaques may suggest the future of the waiting animals, offering a disturbing sense of doom. Barford once again employs the mirror to both physically and metaphorically present us with an uncomfortable glimpse of ourselves reflected in the work.
“Individually the words I have chosen are positive as are the pieces in isolation, it is in their relationship to each other and ultimately the installation as a whole that drives the narrative of the exhibition. Fear promotes the ‘me first’ culture, the disregard of consequences and the collateral damage that ensues seems to be eroding our sense of collective humanity.” — Barnaby Barford
Barford goes onto ask: “In the face of our insatiable need for more, and the resulting constant sense of discontent, is this what we really want?”
British artist Barnaby Barford offers an uncomfortable glimpse of the world around us, using beauty and often humour he invites us to question our place in it, our values, our choices, ourselves and asks us to ‘look again’. From sculpture, to drawing, to film, Barford’s work has a clear thread of enquiry connecting his pieces, the human condition. Barnaby Barford (b. 1977) graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002. An internationally exhibited artist, he has had solo shows across Europe and the USA, including a recent exhibition charting his practice to date at MoCA Virginia. Represented by David Gill Gallery in London, his work is included in many public and private collections, such as The V&A Museum in London and MoFA in Houston, Texas. He has received countless prestigious commissions including Louis Vuitton and a permanent public artwork in North East London.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.