Review Freddy Synborn
In the introduction to Francesco Barocco’s exhibition, a quote is drawn from The Invention of Clouds by Richard Hambyn. ‘The sky throughout history,’ Hamblyn writes, ‘has been variously filled by the promptings of the imagination, whether with gods and prophecies and the rhythms of the zodiac, or with the first stirrings of scientific thought.’ Pieternel Vermoortel, author of the introduction, is right to draw a link between such a sentiment and Barocco’s interesting exhibition. Though quite slight, the show evokes those permanent forms around which disparate cultural identities condense and dissolve.
In the main room of the gallery, seven near-identical sculptures are arranged in a line. They each consist of a well-made rectangular wooden frame, painted white on its outer surfaces, on top of which sits a thick, rough square of grey clay. Pinned to each of these hunks are photographs of statues: Buddhist, Hindu, Roman. There may be other origins - you feel there are - but all but a few details are obscured by bright spray paint. What remains constant are stylised eyes and lips, ancient human details offset by those contemporary clouds of graffiti.
Barocco deconstructs the statue as an embodiment of a culture’s powerful difference. The statue is reduced to its constituents: formalised planes, repeated gestures, the human proportions of local sacrality and, with the clay, material treated as a metaphor for ourselves. Barocco’s seven wonders of the world all look the same. Solid as you approach them from the side, every wooden plinth becomes hollow face-to-face, seemingly lighter than what they support. If these mass-produced foundations become one continuous system of repeated similarities, Barocco’s painted photographs also become another continuation, due to their system of similarly repeated differences. These shifting identities set against a constant backdrop are intriguing and pleasant and weightless.
In the other room of the gallery, squares of paper - two originally blank, some two Roman numerals or a Greek in profile already imprinted - are sprayed with different paints. Barocco has folded the paper, the paint collecting in the grooves, sticking to the planes created at random. Though this thought may be too much at random, one piece looks like the background of a Futurist picture, reminding me of the connection Vermoortel makes between Barocco and Medaro Rosso’s seeing sculpture living within the material. These pieces suggesting identity, colour, shape are the products of a random energy which can assume an authoritative or divisive form, but which cannot be solely limited to recreating the effects of authority or division.
The exhibition has almost too light a touch. Its simplicity invites us to project onto it in the way the artist implies the world does. My ideas are obscure, transient, precipitous: Barocco’s work reminds me of this as I float through it. Very simply, as I see it, Barocco says of civilisations what John Peel said of Fall records: always different, always the same.
Laura Bartlett Gallery, 10 Northington Street, Lonodn, WC1N 2JG
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Review Freddy Synborn