Phyllida Barlow in conversation with Louisa Buck

Phyllida Barlow produces monumental installation work, which is all about texture, surface, the sensation of scale, and precariousness. Her work is very different to my own, but on a visit to her exhibition at the Hepworth, I enjoyed her pieces and found some similarities in her interest in surface texture. So I jumped at the chance to go to a talk between her and Louisa Buck at Leeds Beckett University as part of the Yorkshire Sculpture International.

Some definitions cropped up early on in the discussion. Barlow thinks it is pointless to define ‘sculpture’, she thinks of sculpture more as a language, which then takes it into a realm beyond physical works and explains why you now get video or smells/sounds as sculptures. She also feels she has no idea what ‘conceptual’ is, which is encouraging!

She sees her work as an active protagonist once installed. However, she doesn’t think about the audience when she makes the work. Work is made specifically for places, but it is the dimensions of the space which are critical, it is not site specific, but it is fitted to the dimensions.

She likes making work which is about the experience, looking quickly and leaving behind a memory for the viewer is enough for her. But she feels that sculpture is not passive. Audiences have to be very involved to get anything out of it.

Her works make associations to do with actions, rolling or pulling, etc. and the surfaces are developed after that. She likes to portray qualities of weight, gravity, precariousness or absurdity. Her works aren’t specific forms that are planned in advance. She doesn’t know what the subject of her work is whilst she is making it, the subject is embedded in the making, even the accidents which happen. She likes ambiguity, the feeling of change and not knowing if a work is finished. Nothing for her is conclusively finished.

She draws throughout the making process. She finds it is a way of gathering information and an escape from the making process. Drawing for her is about the memory of form and colour, about the process of losing information. She feels this also passes into sculpture and that is also about losing information and the transitory experience whilst viewing.

Issues emerge in her work because of the psychological influences on her, not through setting out to make ideological work.

Her use of colour began from viewing how colour was used on the streets to draw attention and she borrowed this for her work. Colour is often used to mark where other pieces are to go, or where further work was required and was intended to be covered up later. The remains of this started to alter the work and this was then affected in other works. This is the embracing of happy accidents which I can associate with.

It was great to have the opportunity to hear a sculptor discussing their work like this and I will try to get to some of the other talks taking place in the next few months.

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