at the 2017 venice art biennale, the british council presented ‘folly’ – a sculptural installation by phyllida barlow which explores abstract and densely-packed forms which dominate the space. works are placed outside the british pavilion, while areas inside are disrupted by each of the pieces, creating a sensory and evolving dialogue between viewer and artwork.
image by ruth clark

 

 

in english the word folly has several meanings. it can refer to a solely decorative architectural feature whilst also conveying a jovial foolishness, and both of these references are simultaneously present in this installation. the title of the exhibition suggests the themes that the artist explores, both here and in her wider sculptural practice: for example, the nature of a façade, the dualities of front and back, questions relating to the decorative, the deceitful, the theatrical, and the interplay of real and fake. 

 

on reflection of this phyllida barlow states ‘making art is a political act. I have always believed that. it wrestles with beauty, fear, emotion. it doesn’t have a verbal language attached so it becomes a game. it’s feral in its existence. and we have to fathom it.’ 


image by ruth clark

 

 

the entrance to the british pavilion is populated with brightly coloured baubles which appear joyful and celebratory. however, these pieces appear as monstrous bulging forms which take on a sinister quality as they press towards the viewer, taking over and dominating the space.

 

inside the pavilion, the viewer is confronted by a sculptural ensemble of columns that ascend dramatically up to the ceiling. these densely-packed forms encourage the visitor to take on the role of an explorer, picking their way around and through a sculptural labyrinth. barlow’s use of scale is tempered by the seeming impermanence and fragility of these constructions. as barlow explains, she has driven herself to work at such scale as ‘a means to explore the potential of making to go beyond my immediate control, to tempt a condition of being out of control … reaching beyond what is physically possible in terms of my height, stretch.’


image by ruth clark

 

 

throughout the pavilion, barlow uses colour to contrasting effect. her choice of dark grey is reminiscent of the modern built environment, which is offset by contrasting bright pinks, reds and oranges. these brilliant colors confront the visitor dramatically throughout the exhibition in the form of teetering, sloping walls that both dominate and split the gallery spaces. the muted tones of rack offer a change of emphasis; this work, consisting of carefully ordered painted canvas sheets, which allude to the artist’s studio and the process of making art, suggests a repository of future and potential works.


image © designboom


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark


image © designboom


image by ruth clark


image © designboom


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark


image by ruth clark

 

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