This conversation took place May 28th at The Vigeland Museum (Oslo), between artist Per Barclay and Vigeland Museum director Jarle Strømodden.
The shape of a house first appeared in Per Barclay’s work in 1991. On the occasion of exhibitions in both Turin and Nice, he presented a modified greenhouse with water trickling down the interior of its glass walls. The first house was followed by number of similar shapes, all based on the simple greenhouse intended for the garden. As well as water, Barclay is known for using oil, blood, milk, wine, asphalt, light and drums in his work. These all have their respective - and sometimes coincidental - meanings, thus providing an ultimately necessary dimension to the work.
JS: What attracted you to the greenhouse; a house of glass and steel?
PB: In one way, it is an extension of the oil-room photographs that I did in 1989. As an audience, you are always on the outside with no option to step into it. To some extent, the greenhouse is a three-dimensional version of the oil room where the continuous relationship between the inside and outside, the active and the passive, always is present. The basic elements that I use; the house as a shape is supposed to protect; the water as an element that brings life - both additionally contain a destructive force.
Speaking of destructive, I recall a greenhouse presented at the now discontinued Galleri Wang. It contained a brightly lit industrial lamp and a floor made of concrete. To me it was a fascinating piece of work that provided both a sense of life as well as a destruction. In your current exhibition at OSL contemporary one finds a glass house placed in a wooden tub filled with water. The water cycles through the construction. Can you speak about your thoughts on this new work?
At first glance, I want the work to be welcoming, however the extended reality is that I want the work to create a tension, or uncertainty, with the viewer. I want the work to be ambiguous.
Throughout the years you have used different types of liquids, but mainly oil. What are your thoughts with regards to this?
In certain instances it has been situational. When I made the installation in the slaughterhouse it was natural to use blood. Different fluids have different meanings and connotations, and sometimes my choice is coincidental. To me, water represents both life and death. The oil has a multitude of meanings; it represents money, production, destruction, however also the infinite history of the fossil. Milk is nutrition, however can of course also illustrate milk-white skin. Blood is, like water, a symbol of both life and death. I do admit that I prefer working with oil, mainly as it gives such a strong effect both through the reflections and the sense of depth that it creates.
How did the oil rooms originate? Where was the first room you produced?
The first room I produced (in 1989) was an experiment, and the result sort of a coincidence. The title, however, “Dutch Interior” - was very deliberate. I wanted the small, empty room to resonate the Dutch church interiors from post-reformation times. The Northern European church interiors from the time of Protestantism and Calvinism, especially in the Netherlands, are true contradictions to what we know from the sumptuous 16th century Italy and Spain.
And following this work - was the world at your feet?
No, not really, however in 1990 I received a commission by the editor of Artforum. He requested an artwork that could be reproduced in the magazine. To make a long story short, this work ended on the cover that same autumn. In many ways this was a turning point for my career, and it opened up the opportunity to expand and continue producing similar projects.
How was it to see so many of your works gathered at the retrospective at The Museum of Bergen, KODE?
It was really useful! Some of the works I had not seen in over 20 years. I have ongoing projects and seeing such a variation of older works, all in their beautiful frames, was really indicative. This is something I want to expand on, a project I want to continue. Throughout the exhibition period, the dialogue with KODE was very strong. Regardless of my partaking in this dialogue, the exhibition was thoughtful and well curated. The reunion with older works will prove helpful to my work in Palermo for Manifesta, and upcoming exhibition in Bologna, 2019.
How do you select your rooms?
- It is situational.The Artforum work, as previously mentioned, was a commission. For an exhibition in Bologna I was also asked to make an oilroom -and I asked myself; what interests me about Bologna? What type of room would be site specifically interesting? I once received an inquiry from a gallery in Geneva to make an oil installation, and I asked them to find me a bank. That was easy. These days I am in the fortunate situation of vast opportunity, however at the same time it is important to be selective. At the end of the day it is key to find a room that suits me- as well as the situation. In some cases it might also be that I like the architecture or history. This was the case with the Sta. Catharina d’Allessandria.
How do you relate to the relationship between contradictions and creation of tensions?
Both have been, and still are, important to my practice, however these days the contradictions are more prominent than the tensions. Then again one cannot stray from the fact that things, experiences, references and preferences change. They do not disappear, but they do get another kind of attention, one that last for a shorter -or longer period.
Would you agree to call your art bodily?
In many ways, I do not use my body - at least not the same manner as Miroslaw Balka, who let his own body dimensions define the core of his work. The body is generally a tool as well as measure. Most of my sculptures and installations relate to the body and to the bodily functions. The drum may represent the heart and heartbeat; the various fluids can symbolize those of the body, the house is the shield that protects. The bivouac I made was more symbolic than practical. I was more concerned with the material and the shape than the practical function. However, to me, the most important aspect of my work all is how the viewer experiences and encounters these objects.