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“Brilliantly puckish, and something of an agent provocateur. By seduction and guile, his work exposes our inner frailties, prejudices and desires, holding up a mirror to us both metaphorically as well - on occasion - physically. Few are so incisive and insightful.” Alun Graves, Senior Curator of the Ceramics and Glass Collection at the V&A. 

 

From the witty cultural critique that characterised the early porcelain figurines to the more recent social commentary of installations and drawings, Barnaby Barford uses familiar iconography to subvert the telling of ancient cautionary tales within a contemporary context. His research explores the fundamental questions driving human nature in terms of morality, conflict between good or evil, lack of happiness, and society's incessant need for growth.


Journalist Caroline Roux notes: “Barford’s work always has an instant likeability which serves, at first, to hide its darkness or political position. But there’s always something sinister going on beneath the surface.”


Although Barford produces work in a wide variety of materials, he consistently returns to ceramics, utilising mass and industrial production processes. “Ceramic is a fascinating material, it is steeped in such a rich history and we have a unique relationship with it as a tactile material. We eat and drink from it every day, we decorate our houses with it, but we do not expect to be challenged by it, which is precisely what makes it fun to play with.” From the monumental sculptures composed of thousands of individual ceramic pieces to the large-scale energetic word drawings that repeat incessantly the same word, his pieces are a labour intensive accumulation of fragments that gain meaning in their totality.


Barford is best known for The Tower of Babel (2015), a monumental 6.5m tall tower, created for the V&A in London. The installation comprised of 3000 bone china buildings, each depicting an actual unique London shop that was offered for sale. Prices of the shops rose in relation to their position on the tower, prompting people to confront where they fitted into London’s hierarchy of consumption. Barford explains: “I’m in love with London and [the Tower of Babel] is a celebration of the trade and commerce that built this city. Equally it is an invitation to consider our place in this. Have we ceased to be citizens of a community and simply become the consumers that fuel it? If so, how and why have we become complicit in that?” As well as providing a dialogue capturing London’s retail history and the consumerism that underpins the capital, the piece raised thousands of pounds for the V&A museum.

 

November 2016 saw the launch of Barford’s latest body of work. ME WANT NOW offers a metaphorical narrative on the dominance of the ‘me first’ ideology and debates our values in an increasingly polarised political landscape. ‘More’, ‘Power’, ‘Change’, ‘Choice’, ‘Hope’, ‘Glory’, ‘Greatness’ - Large scale energetic Word Drawings, embody the chaotic immediacy and almost forceful nature of the ‘me first’ culture. Acting as claustrophobic ‘nets’, these drawings trap both the audience and the centrepiece, a queue of life-size ceramic animals, by offering us what ‘we’ want now. From the towering 8ft Polar bear to a tiny timid rabbit, each intricately encrusted predator and pray sits beside each other waiting for the unknown. Barford explains “It feels like words have never been so important - those written in the press, posted across social media and in speeches from our politicians, in volatile times words can be dangerous.” He goes on “In the face of our insatiable need for more and the resulting constant discontent, is this really what we want?” 

 

NOTES

 

Barnaby Barford (b. 1977) graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002. work has been exhibited internationally with solo shows across Europe and the US, including a retrospective exhibition at MoCA Virginia (2013). Represented by David Gill Gallery in London, his work is part of public and private collections worldwide such as The V&A Museum in London and MoFA in Houston, Texas. He has received many prestigious commissions including Louis Vuitton and a permanent public artwork in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. In 2016 Barford was awarded the Hospital Club’s h.Club 100 Award for Art, Design and Craft which celebrates the most influential and innovative people in the creative industries.