Claire Barclay: Openwide
You would have to be made of stern critical stuff to leave Openwide without being profoundly impressed by Claire Barclay’s work. The artist is known for her installations, which often consist of a supporting structure or frame with smaller, individual objects. This is not exactly site-specific work, but site is certainly a considered element. Using a range of familiar materials, including leather, fleece, straw, wood and metal, Barclay creates beautifully balanced and crafted installations that resonate with the viewer, despite (or even because of) their intentionally ambiguous meaning. Much of the charm of Barclay’s work resides in this simultaneously wide and narrow meaning: it is both profoundly personal and closely related to collective consciousness and experience. In this difficult balancing act, Barclay effortlessly succeeds.
In last year’s brilliant exhibition at Washington Garcia, Barclay worked within the context of a hay barn, while she created an installation in a palazzo as part of Scotland’s contribution to the Venice Biennale in 2003. But Openwide is a different type of exhibition, in a completely different type of space. This is a retrospective of sorts, and the first time that the artist’s old and new work has been shown together.
This is an ambitious task. How does one present older works originally designed to be seen as separate, almost site-specific sculptural installations, without having each aspect meld into a giant hybrid ‘super-installation’? In practice this is virtually what has happened and it is hard to see how these works could have been presented in this type of gallery otherwise. The large lower space contains various sculptural elements from past installations, reconfigured to reflect both these separate aspects’ original presentations and their status as a new complete work. The viewer is able to visually differentiate between these constituent parts while also making connections between motifs and possible subjects, although admirers of Barclay’s work may long to see these works installed as they were in situ. Hopefully these visitors will be mollified by the exhibition’s fine publication, which features images of Barclay’s installations in their original incarnations.
The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 12 Apr