Interview: Sara Barker – 'Ali Smith said as an artist I was constantly changing, evolving, metamorphosing.'
- Susan Mansfield
- 19 April 2016
The artist dicusses asking world-class novelist Ali Smith to write about her solo show at the Fruitmarket Gallery
Of all the guests for an artist to be hosting in her studio, award-winning novelist Ali Smith is one of the more intimidating. 'I was petrified really,' admits Glasgow-based Sara Barker, who approached Smith by email to ask if she would write a text for the publication accompanying her solo show at the Fruitmarket Gallery. 'She’s such a fierce intellect, but really down to earth as well, as her writing is.'
Barker, who describes herself as 'a huge fan' of Smith, whose highly acclaimed novels include There But For The and How To Be Both, said she wanted a writer who would bring a fresh perspective. 'We didn’t want a piece which would pull the work apart and analyse it like a bit of high school poetry, I wanted her to make her own interpretation as anyone would coming to the work.'
Smith readily agreed and was soon on the way to Glasgow to spend a day in Barker’s studio. 'She picked up on everything around my studio. I felt it gave me real insight into her process as a writer – everything makes its way into the text. She got the essence of each work really quickly. I thought her response to things was really beautiful.'
In her essay, Smith compares the shape-shifting, malleable quality in Barker’s work to Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Barker says: 'Both she and Fiona (Bradley, Fruitmarket curator) said as an artist I was constantly changing, evolving, metamorphosing. I’ve never really seen it myself, though you’re always pushing out beyond what’s familiar to you. It was really nice to read that, to feel that there was this kind of energy and evolution in the work.'
Smith’s fascination with some of the maquettes in the studio led Barker to make them into larger works, even though she didn’t intend to. 'It did change the course of the works that went into the show. I didn’t intend to get that out of it, I just wanted a piece for the book to take someone on a journey, but took me on more of a journey than I imagined.'
Barker is known for drawing on the inspiration of writing in her work. She returns, time and again, to writers such as Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing and imagist poet Amy Lowell, describing their works as 'a pool to dip into'. 'It’s also a crutch to coax the work, to distract away from the work to allow my mind to think more clearly about what I need to do. It’s very multiple.'
Other artists embrace writing directly as a strand of their art practice: Lawrence Lek’s film QE3, being show at Tramway as part of GI, relies strongly on its spoken text. Janice Kerbel’s work for the Turner Prize last year, ‘Doug’, was a libretto written by the artist which was then scored and sung.
Increasingly, artists and curators are inviting written responses which sit alongside visual work. Glasgow-based artist Tessa Lynch, in her work for Glasgow International (GI) at GoMA, invited writers Jenny Richards and Rhona Warwick Paterson to respond to her theme and create text and performance works. Charlotte Cousins, who runs Home Platform, an ongoing curatorial research project showing at Skypark as part of GI with artists Will Kendrick, Sulaiman Majali and Lewk Wilmshurst, commissions a piece of writing by artist Trevor H Smith to accompany each show.
'It feels like it’s setting a tone or giving a feel for what you’ll be walking around,' she says. 'Writing takes you somewhere, maybe bridges a gap. It’s different to a piece of critical writing, a bit richer, more tangible than something telling you what to think.'
Sara Barker: Change-The-Setting, Fruitmarket Gallery, until 5 Jun; Tessa Lynch: Painter’s Table, GoMA until 12 Jun; GI Group show, Tramway, until 22 May.