Claire Barclay: Pastures new

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Claire Barclay: Pastures new

Claire Barclay talks to Neil Cooper about the importance of space and environment as she unveils a major solo exhibition of new and existing work

Claire Barclay is safe inside the glass-fronted confines of Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery putting the final touches to her new show, Openwide, on the day we speak. Given the gallery’s smooth interiors, it’s a knowingly apposite title for two large-scale works which are either being built in situ in the Fruitmarket’s upstairs gallery, or else combine bits and bobs from Barclay’s decade-long back catalogue in the downstairs space.

‘Everything’s kind of inspired by what’s gone before,’ Barclay says on taking time out after spending the morning collecting straw bales which will form part of Openwide’s upstairs installation of the same name. ‘So I suppose the work partly has a kind of retrospective feel. I don’t think I’ve shown work in that way before. In my mind all these works are related, but it’s interesting as well, because they were all originally developed for a specific space. So that means that they’ll be separated off from the original context in which they were shown, and it’ll be interesting to see if they stand up or not, and what new relationships they forge with everything that’s around them. It is a test in a way, and it should be an interesting experience.’

If such an approach suggests a continuum of inter-connected work, the show’s title also hints at something, if not autobiographical, then certainly very personal. Using the gallery as a studio too creates a particular and quite self-protective set of physical circumstances.

‘Sometimes the change of space will be overwhelming,’ Barclay admits, ‘and you have to work within that in a theatrical kind of way – more so than you do in neutral spaces. You have to negotiate your way around, which you can never do in a studio, because there isn’t the space. And if you are working in a studio environment, you don’t experience the work until it’s in the gallery. By working in the gallery, I can exploit it and accentuate it.

‘There are different layers,’ she adds. ‘There’s the outer skin of the gallery, then the inner skin of the work itself. Beyond that, you can go into the work itself and look into all the small details, though it’s not some kind of architectural intervention.’

Since representing Scotland in the 2003 Venice Biennale, Barclay has developed pieces that counterpoint the organic with the manufactured, hence the bales of straw in Openwide.

‘I’m always trying to create environments which have a number of different reference points,’ she says. ‘I’d much rather they suggested things rather than relate to anything specific, because people are always going to bring their own emotional baggage to a show, and interpret it how they want. So I do use a kind of sculptural language. The straw bales, for instance, might tick all the emotional boxes about thinking green or whatever, but there’s a contradiction there as well with something that’s cold and constructed. I don’t work with any kind of literal meanings for things. When I feel things are becoming too specific, I always try to bring in a new reference, just to make it more ambiguous.’

Claire Barclay: Openwide, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Sat 7 Feb–Sun 12 Apr.

Claire Barclay

  • 4 stars

Major solo exhibition of work by Claire Barclay, a Scottish artist known for her highly-crafted sculptural objects brought together into precisely plotted relationships.

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