Meet the extraordinary British artist Phyllida Barlow in this personal, thoughtful and moving portrait.
“There is something about that edge where those two things co-exist: damage and repair. And nature gives evidence to that in extraordinary ways where you see the rotting tree, but you also see the new green shoots springing out of it.”
Barlow, known for her multi-dimensional sculptural work, reflects on her practice, the nature of sculpture and the question of whether the artist forms an object or the object has demands of its own.
“At what point does the sculptural process take over? For me, this is almost the high spot of making: When it’s beginning to say, this is the way I want to go, this is what I want to be. But it doesn’t always happen.”
“Doubt and failure – both are incredibly important. They aren’t necessarily destructive, not a big heavy black mood or anything like that, but more like a desire to find the unfindable. The process of remembering and forgetting becomes very significant in what the object might end up being.”
Over the years, Barlow has become increasingly aware of greater social issues as well as the role and responsibility of the art world within society:
“The more the issues of sustainability and the environment become significant for all of us, what happens in the studio is now reaching a critical point in terms of how things are built, wasted and retained. And I have to begin to examine that. It may be cheap wood, but it still comes from a tree – and that needs respect.”
“Coming back to damage and repair: We also see this in the urban environment. Things we have been very familiar with are almost overnight wiped away by demolition, and then the new glass building goes up. And I think psychologically, we are constantly adjusting to how we relate to global disasters, how we relate to our own more intimate disasters within our families. We have to constantly shift our lines of focus to see where the two meet: the reparation in relation to the damage. So for me, including this in my process of making is a kind of subject. It’s a crucial part of being alive.”
Born in 1944 in Newcastle upon Tyne, Phyllida Barlow has spent a life in art – both as a teacher and an artist in her own right. Today, she belongs among the most interesting, acknowledged and honoured figures in the British and international art scene, representing Great Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2017. For over 50 years, Barlow has taken inspiration from her surroundings to create imposing installations that can be menacing and playful at once. She creates anti-monumental sculptures from inexpensive, low-grade materials such as cardboard, fabric, plywood, polystyrene, scrim and cement. These constructions are often painted in industrial or vibrant colours, the seams of their building left visible at times, revealing their means of making. In October 2022, Barlow was awarded the prestigious Kurt-Schwitters-Prize for her important contribution to contemporary art.
Phyllida Barlow was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at her home and studio in London in April 2022.
Camera: Kyle Stevenson
Edited by: Jarl Therkelsen Kaldan
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022
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