As the editors at Art Practical and Daily Serving get ready to take their end-of-summer vacations, we find ourselves swapping reading lists—the articles we’ll dive into once have some uninterrupted time to catch up on what our colleagues have been writing. We’ve gotten so excited about what’s on our lists that we want to share them with our readers. Between now and Labor Day, Daily Serving will feature the efforts of our fellow chroniclers of art and culture as part of our Summer Reading series. Today we are pleased to present an excerpt of Vincent Fecteau’s interview with Phyllida Barlow, originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of BOMB Magazine. Many thanks to the editors at BOMB for their help in making this series possible. Enjoy!
Vincent Fecteau: The way you pull apart the idea of sculpture from the idea of making is interesting. I wonder if the distinction could be expressed in terms of representation. So much art (abstract, representational, conceptual, etc.) simply represents something else—sometimes it’s even an idea of art. The alternative, which may be what you are proposing, is to try and make something that is, that exists in the world irreducibly and uncontainably. Could this be what you mean by a sculptural language or an invented form? It seems like we dove headfirst into the murkiest waters! I find these things very difficult to articulate, but if there is a reason to continue to make things I suspect it can be found within these ideas somewhere.
Phyllida Barlow: Yes, I am fascinated by the ongoing evolution of art that remakes art and whose aim is to re-present a particular art movement in the context of the present. It’s like remaking classic films, as if there were nothing left to say. It does indicate different attitudes toward making: making as demonstration and making as revealing, the latter being unhinged from telling but having more to do with showing.
Aren’t actors frequently requested to show and not tell? Actors and performers use body language to reveal the content of the text. There is an understanding that the text is only one part of the narrative. The performer’s bodily behavior and gestures are a nonverbal language as powerful and as subtle as the text. Can a tiny action be as loud as what is being spoken? Or vice versa—can a huge bodily gesture make its point known without the need for verbal language? Similarly, the formal qualities of sculpture show: Is it horizontal, vertical, suspended, leaning, small, large, high up, low down, plinthed, loose, contained, open, hidden, outside, or inside? And what do its other attributes say? Its materials? Is it designed, studio-built, factory-built, handmade, manufactured, figurative, appropriated, nonrepresentational, familiar, unfamiliar, readymade, new, or old? On the other hand, telling is, for me, embedded in such things as the title, and relates to the necessity to explore the work through a deconstructive trail that leads to an answer. Perhaps here I am referring to works that are subject-led, whose ideologies—political, autobiographical, social commentary—tell you what they’re about rather than allowing that to be discovered. Of course, both showing and telling can exist together!