Let me in

All the descriptions of Anna Barriball's brilliant solo exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery describe a transgression of the 'crossroad between interior and exterior' and this is more or less true - delicate fabric leaves are tumbled across the main gallery floor as if the door has been left open on an autumn day.  

Yellow Leaves (2011), Curtain fabric.

But if there is one thing we know for sure, it is that there are no open doors or windows within the exhibition. The walls are lined with ghosts of entrance-ways and exits, from mottled glass, to framed doors, to chimney flumes - all of the potential ways in or out have been delicately blocked by the artist's hand; papered over and blacked out.

These inter-spaces have been made tangible by the methodical shading of hard graphite on paper to create darkened, monolithic and strangely textured portals that are unrecognisable as the bright windows they once were. But in the process of creating liminal spaces that we can reach out and touch, there is the converse visual motif of erasure. 

Photobucket Door (2004), Graphite on paper.

In works such as Silver Map (2003) and Money Drawing (2000) Barriball switches to a ritzier palate with gold and silver ink obliterating pound notes and world maps. There seems a similar dual intention here - or at least an intention with dual outcomes. I like the notion of gilding something that is already valuable, lionising the already grand and brightening the already bright, as in Light Drawing (below) where the full beam of an anglepoise is directed at a circle of sunny yellow ink. 

Photobucket Light Drawing, (2000) Marker pen on lamp and paper.

But again, with this intense highlighting comes a congruent obliteration. Money becomes useless and the map can no longer tell us how to get where we're going. 

It seems nothing is exempt from this possible erasure, whether precious or mundane, and there is the creeping feeling of our own contingency in this. A series of framed works show images of buildings in which all but the windows have been painted out. Without their architectural context these windows hang oddly in space - wonky and precarious, which serves to draw attention to the uncanny placement of the other works within the space; the blacked out doorways; the deftly placed projection of Draw (fireplace) (2005) with its mantle at the perfect height; the domestically spaced window tracings and the spangle of the tinsel curtain that leads only to the solid wall behind. 

Barriball has created, from a sensitive palate of materials, the unnerving feeling of being within the world, within space and behind closed doors. There is a sensation akin to moving through a play space, a dolls house of paper and cloth outside of which larger forces are at work - an exacting and excited hand, hell bent on the ornamental but ultimately destructive gesture of silvering over the world. 

Silver Map (2003), Silver pen on world map.

Emphasis can lead to obliteration - like colouring too hard with dark graphite and puncturing the paper - blacking out a clean sheet to the point that its pencil surface becomes silvery and reflective once again. Pushing on but never quite getting through to the other side.

Anna Barriball continues at Milton Keynes Gallery until 27th November 2011.


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