Fruitmarket Gallery

Barriball’s is principally a drawing practice. In saying that, her modest processes teeter on the brink of sculpture and regularly tip over into wholly three-dimensional avenues. She is perhaps best known for her hand-drawn impressions of windows and doors in monochromatic hues ranging from impenetrable graphite to the radiance of silver ink. It feels as though they might be better described as low-relief casts of such surfaces, as the drawings’ many pocks and depressions are earnest accumulations rather than a trompe-l’oeil ruse. Barriball concentrates her exertions on the architectural touchstones which are the most vulnerable, where the skin that separates in from out is at its most skeletal. Protracted and labour-intensive though it is, her drawing is a vacant and depersonalised gesture. It is as though through the giving over of time to the grain of an object she proposes to anchor it firmly within her memory, to commit them to their own space in her past to which she grants us admission.

Upon entering the gallery the viewer is encircled by the sound of a barren, mechanically-composed breathing. The sound is emanating from the video projection Draw (fireplace) (2005), at the heart of the space and set back within the recesses of a small, darkened room. The video displays a fireplace, its hearth shrouded with a sheet of tracing paper which persistently billows and shrinks to the contours of the grate in corporal-seeming breaths. This suction is actually activated by the furtive manoeuvres of the artist: repeatedly opening and closing a door. The inhalations function to pull the fireside out from the detached scaffolding of filmic space and, experientially at least, into a more embodied terrain. Both sensual and hypnotising, the effect is one of a monstrous organ ventilating an image of its own past. Another work that dominates the lower gallery is Untitled (2011), a sculpted grid of plastic windbreaks, the plaited fibres of which have been flooded with the ink of a marker pen. Though the emblematic tri-colour of the plastic has been partially effaced, the familiarity of their striped pattern affords varying shades of identification through the soot-black ink. Windbreaks are designed to shield our bodies, we employ them to forge a temporary material refuge of tranquil space; a reassuring vacuum. Here, the ruts and dimples are written as a testament to the gusts that would once animate and sculpt its dormant skin. Even the aeration of the fireplace can’t tease it beyond its semblance as a comatose monument to the vigour of British weather.

Upstairs on the back wall of the gallery a newly commissioned wall drawing constitutes a first for the London-based artist. Taking its pattern from acoustic tiling the wall appears to have been punctured with thousands of miniature holes with which to absorb sound. This is an act which gently destabilises the wall, undermining its solidity. What at first seems like a void, however, reaffirms itself as an embellishment. It is additive through the laborious application of, an insistently sharpened, 2B pencil. In this manner the wall is re-imagined as a sea of sequin-like reflective circles, which ring with dazzling lights in a synaesthetic exchange wherein light is also sound and time becomes material. Elsewhere, a series of silver ink drawings entitled Mirror-Window-Wall I-IV (2008), is hinged upon a phenomenological upheaval. Framed and hung in couplings of four, each component poses as a glazed pane, whilst the gap between each frame ensures that the works resemble a childlike depiction of a window. Seeming to offer a route beyond the gallery walls and gesturing towards a variety of functional planes these drawings eventually reveal themselves as nothing more than embellished pelts; painted barricades of festering paper. Barriball’s mimetic windows are created by bleeding reflective ink into sheets of paper pressed up against an expanse of brick wall until their surface comes to look like a desiccated mirror. They are the philosophical equivalents of painting fictitious vistas onto the walls of a prison cell. Manifested here as claustrophobic scenery they mend over the rhetorical apertures they take as their subjects.

‘Fertile’ is not a word I would use to describe this work, it is a hostile and stifling landscape which discloses an almost agoraphobic seizure of interior space. Barriball’s visual metaphor is extended fluently in this vein throughout the exhibition from synthetic autumnal foliage cut from curtain textiles to rolls of ink-slicked paper that bear a resemblance to fossilised trees. The superficial effects of brilliant light and circulations of air are all in fact a consequence of the artist’s dexterous material mirages. In this way the exhibition feels something like navigating a dolls house wherein all domestic features are only as deep as their painted facades. Operating within such a thread-like palette of visual and conceptual tropes, I can’t help but wonder how Barriball will be able to negotiate beyond her fated walls and windows. For whatever the eye of her camera or the tip of her pencil is to settle on next however, I will wait with bated breath.