“I never actually intended to work in large scale,” Barnaby Barford explains. “I just make things as big as they need to be.” And increasingly for the British sculptor, size matters, as his art deals with some of the biggest issues our culture is grappling with.
His latest project, ME WANT NOW, started out as an exploration of “our insatiable appetite for immediate gratification, but the ideas developed much further.”
He continues, “I have realised through my work that success is only measured in terms of growth. Have more, buy more, do better, move forward, grow, succeed, win – this the dominating ideology in contemporary society.
“I think we are destined to feel inadequate and dissatisfied because if we were satisfied, our whole economic system would crumble. The world seems to move forward at a never-ending pace, driven by the powerful desires of the individual feeding the engine of the ‘me first’ culture.”
Barnaby sees this rabid selfishness everywhere he looks – a society often riven with fear, mistrust and a lack of empathy. Certain politicians have skillfully exploited this for their own ends.
ME WANT NOW – the childish sulkiness brings to mind a certain president’s Twitter style – consists of huge word drawings and ceramic animal sculptures.
The drawings take positive terms – like hope, glory, change, power and choice – and repeat them over and over, “warping the meaning and making abstract images.”
“They are large because I wanted the viewer to feel surrounded, captured, and for them to have a sense that these things, the words, the concepts, are bigger than us, physically and metaphorically.”
The life-size animals include a panther, a tiger, a bear, an elephant and a rabbit. In the show they are arranged in a queue, to form what Barnaby calls, “a visual allegory of human existence. The queue places predator and prey side-by-side, powerless as they wait for the unknown.”
Barnaby has been working with ceramics for 15 years, and often uses the medium to make provocative statements, whether through his Seven Deadly Sins series or his much-talked-about Tower of Babel at London’s V&A Museum.
“Once you start working with a material, you start to think in it,” he says. “I have always wanted to push ceramics into different contexts, to challenge the expectations of the material and the capability of age-old industrial processes.
“I am using processes which are not designed to make this kind of work. Each individual ceramic piece has to be perfect.”
It’s an incredibly painstaking undertaking; the polar bear in ME WANT NOW for example is made up of 7,500 handmade pieces. The word drawings are then “tattooed onto the animals’ coats,” bringing together the show’s two elements.
Barnaby’s work leaves room for contemplation. His messages are present without being overpowering. “At the very least I hope in some way it is a provocation, an invitation to question ourselves, our values, and our choices,” he says. “It explores the collateral damage that ensues when consequences are ignored.”
The Roe Deer and Fawn Barnaby Barford:
The Seated Bear Barnaby Barford:
The Polar Bear Barnaby Barford:
Change Barnaby Barford:
Change (detail) Barnaby Barford: