‘I’ll iron your clothes. I’ll shine your shoes. I’ll make your bed and cook your food. I’ll never cheat. I’ll be the best girl you’d ever meet.’ (CocoRosie)
When interviewed about her work, Claire Barclay refers more to the ‘placing’ of ‘things’, than to the creation of sculptures or the construction of installations. The objects she positions in a fragile tension against one another—in environments structured to suggest interior, domestic, architectural space—are meticulously crafted and subtly fetishistic.
Her installation Silver Gilt presents an almost indulgent take on her methodology of arrangement and display. In this installation, brass-cast household items or tools (bowls, combs, rulers) are suspended according to an obscure spatial plan, alongside more abstract and decorative objects. A beautifully turned solid wooden screen dominates the front showroom. In the back, a metal structure stands draped with silky fabric, sporting a motif of a running series of knots.
Barclay’s apparently laboriously produced objects evoke other unique and curious articles on show in the local area—particularly in the nearby Burlington Arcade. In fact, Barclay’s work can be seen as no less elevated or compromised by the conditions of commerce than anything else for sale in the neighbourhood. She speaks candidly of an interest in craft and its commodification: ‘Craft in a sense of things that come from a functional need, but then acquire some sort of decorative or designed quality, or in the actual production become special objects.’ She does not enter into a debate about the specific value of the ‘special’ object. Barclay developed her personal sculptural language in a scene that rarely reaped commercial rewards. It is possible therefore to move past the first thought (‘this stuff looks expensive’) and on to the second thought (‘if I trip and fall against this it will be costly to repair’) in the knowledge that Barclay isn’t oblivious to this predicament. Much of the work in the main showroom gallery appears to be precariously balanced: sheets of glass lean against the solid wooden screens; fragile objects are balanced on a seesaw arrangement. Barclay’s wry humour, often forgotten in discussions of her work, is easily felt when standing in front of it.
In considering this exhibition further however, in terms of the trappings of domesticity, consumerism and even taking a leap towards what might be described as the accoutrements of post-humanism, the detritus of some theatrical future culture, you are left only with Barclay’s coded display. The juxtaposed objects can only be accepted—or rejected—as strange, sequenced aesthetic statements, like the off-kilter lyrics of ‘new weird’ American folk music.
It is disconcerting that these statements seem to speak not only of particular arrangements in space but also of how the body fits within them. The work is all so beautifully manufactured and architecturally framed that incidental thoughts of the clumsy, abject realities of the flesh seem to emanate directly from you as you approach—just as they might in an overcrowded china shop—and can be dismissed when you leave, with a bit of luck, with everything still intact.
Caroline Woodley is a writer and publisher living in London