Barry Flanagan

& Model, Leeds, UK

I have long wanted to watch the 16mm film version of A Hole in the Sea, which Barry Flanagan made in 1969 for Gerry Schum’s famous TV exhibition ‘Land Art’.  A preliminary variant, made as two drawings in 1967, proposes the illusion of a hole in the canal water or sea water of Amsterdam. My first encounter was with a still from the TV footage, reproduced in a catalogue as a conceptual photowork. It must have been in the Leeds College of Art library around the turn of the millennium. It was the moment I realized that this Welshman cast more than the bronze hares that became his signature from the early 1980s. From 1968 through the 1970s, he also cast light and played with its capture on bodies, walls, fabric and film. Flanagan, light, the shoreline and Leeds have overlapped in my imagination since then, yet I have never quite been able to square the formal weightiness of his monumental statues with the lightness (in every sense) of his earlier practice.

16.sand_girl_and_sand_pour.jpg

Barry Flanagan, Sand Girl and Sand Pour, both 1970. Courtesy: & Model, Leeds

Through illustrations, cards and posters, the mythos of hares and nature are dotted throughout ‘Light Pieces and Other Works’ at & Model. Likewise, blue rope, blue canvas, a blue fake bollard, blue skies and blue valleys colour-coordinate the seven re-staged sculptures, videos and archival documentation that make up the rest of the exhibition. Regardless of the symbolic connotations of these tropes, the show is led by the shifting interactions of light, sand and site of display across the three floors of run-down office building occupied by this artist-run gallery.

The simple brilliance of A Hole in the Sea is that one perfect dot manages to interrupt the infinite swell of water, appearing both as a sunspot and a black hole: the marker of a greater phenomenon above or the drainpipe to somewhere mysterious below. In doing so, it scuttles the surficial cliché of a shimmering ocean – the dappled charm of a sublime unknown onto which fantasies can be projected. As with his 1970 Super 8 film Sand Girl, in the best of Flanagan’s work matter appears both massive and malleable. In their granularity, sand and water are materials that we can move through, can pass objects through, can impress upon, but can never perfectly control. As the woman in Sand Girl demonstrates, their surfaces and textures can be danced with to create a performative equivalent to Flanagan’s better-known sculptures from the late 1960s. The prescient provisionality of these works was built up from the poles, flax and cloth that Flanagan stood, pinned and heaped in galleries to establish his first signature style, before the bronze hares shifted things towards the traditionally heavy.

15.one_ton_corner_piece.jpg

Barry Flanagan, One Ton Corner Piece, 1967. Courtesy: & Model, Leeds

By coupling Sand Girl and a small pile of real sand, Sand Pour (1968), in the ground floor back room, guest curator Jo Melvin introduces this connection as her organizational schema from the outset. Compositional echoes ring between the various pile-ups presented, which also include One Ton Corner Piece (1967), Heap 3 ’67 (1967) and – in a more complex sense, because it depends upon layering lights, material, the building and shadows – Daylight Light Piece 4 (1969). A pair of pen-drawn diagrams from 1970 shows outlines of flat colour planes leaning against a wall – a direct reminder of the poise that was central to his work during this prolific period. The best of both his ‘light pieces’ and other pre-hare sculptures overlay their material on the space of display or performance like filters – at once projections onto its surface and interventions in its texture – and they seem to invite the space to push back.

Main image: Barry Flanagan, Sculpture diagram July 1 70 & 2 70, 1970. Courtesy:  & Model, Leeds

Nick Thurston teaches at the University of Leeds, UK. His new book, Somebody’s Got to Do It: Selected Writings by Pavel Büchler Since 1987, was published by Ridinghouse, London, in March.

Issue 189

First published in Issue 189

September 2017

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018