Image of Glowing Promise by Claire Barclay
Claire Barclay, Glowing Promise. Photo © Dr Jim Roseblade

Claire Barclay

Work exhibited: Glowing Promise.

Claire Barclay is an artist whose work seems often to hover between the categories of sculpture and installation. Even in the case of a relatively small scale assemblage such as Glowing Promise, a significant aspect of the viewer’s experience is that of the distribution of attention, an experimentation with different lines of sight, an improvisation of alignments.

The individual objects combined in a single work often connote specific traditions of craftsmanship and manufacture, and often seem suspended between the conventional alternatives of utility and ornamentation. They recall objects created for practical purposes, but seem to have evolved into more abstract form, as if to angle the viewer’s attention towards the material itself and the manner in which it has been worked.

Even when placed within galleries, Barclay’s arrangements are site specific; in the present instance, that specificity is fundamental although partly disguised. The choice of location is decisive, part of the process of setting the scene for a certain kind of engagement with the work, a certain kind of encounter appropriate to its subtle tone and the way it provides, insinuatingly, a kind of imaginative mapping of the architectural environment of a Cambridge College.

Sited in a relatively obscure part of the College, partly screened by foliage, Glowing Promise presents itself as an enigma, a precise but mysterious arrangement of related elements that feels simultaneously like the relic of a forgotten cartography and the geometrical realisation of a scene projected by a camera obscura. The surrounding panorama of Cambridge, punctuated by spires and towers, seems to have been reduced to its essentials; a skyline that conjures up the iconic impression of a cultural legacy, in all its historical depth and range, is distilled into a set of objects that could be held individually in the palm of the hand.

There is a similar paradox inherent in the placing of the assemblage on a vertical plane, at a height that requires the viewer to look up at a representation of looking down, at the encapsulation of a bird’s eye view. The upward gaze reproduces the experience of taking in the elevation of monumental buildings, in a process that can feel overwhelming, culturally as much as physically, while the apparently microcosmic scale of the configured elements seems to place the built environment imaginatively at the viewer’s disposal.

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