Junk or Art?

Dock by Phyllida Barlow – Tate Britain


Walking into a gallery space at the Tate Britain I came across an enormous structure that almost looked like it was far too large for the space it was crammed into. Giant crates, slabs of wood, cardboard and rope had been placed together to fill an entire gallery hall from floor to ceiling! I was immediately overwhelmed by what I saw because I really was unable to take it all in at once.

Phyllida Barlow, had been commissioned by the Tate in order to create a site specific installation to be revealed in March of 2014.

Inspired by the location of the Tate Gallery itself, Barlow collected materials found on river docks recycling them into the colossal piece displayed.

Viewing the piece was a challenge to the senses due to the fact that it was physically impossible to see the entire object all at once. There were pieces of the sculpture that were roped, hammered or welded together and others that seemed entirely separate due to being placed in a separate space within the Duveen Gallery Hall. One could easily question whether or not two or more “separate” pieces belonged to one display or if they were actually separate pieces of sculpture pertaining to the same series of work in a given space.

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Another interesting conversation sparked by the piece is the angel by which a viewer is allowed to see the invasive “Dock”. Not only can a viewer never see the work in its entirety but the angles which you are permitted to see the work from are not the most conventional angles. The space is designed for the viewer to walk into the gallery and straight under the sculpture! There is no way of seeing the piece from the top or the sides (in some cases), rather, one may explore the piece to their heart’s content from underneath.

The chosen materials themselves also create quite a stark contrast to the room and the building in which the piece resides. The sculpture’s intrusive nature only highlights the contrast between the materials selected to create “Dock” and the materials used to create the gallery space that “Dock” sits in.

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I have to admit, at first, I wasn’t sure how to approach this piece or what to think of it. I was not necessarily a piece that I found easy to understand from a viewer’s perspective. However, after having spent some time with the assembled structure, the very nature of its size and the context in which it was being displayed began to scratch the surface of the conversation of contrast.


2 thoughts on “Junk or Art?

    • I think its grandiose scope is so overwhelming it begins to create the statement of the amount of which we, as humans, create so much waste at such a grand scale that just a bit of it arranged in a room is overwhelming.


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