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Absolute Installation

Per Barclay

Unusual juxtapositions of materials that create contradictions and paradoxes are touchstones in Barclay’s works.

© Per Barclay, Untitled, 1993, installation

In the installation Untitled (1993) the oil appears in stark contrast to the house and the drums. Oil is a refined product of nature, while the house and the drums are manmade. The sound of three drums is the viewer’s first point of contact with this installation. The drums are visibly suspended in midair, in a structure that resembles a house. The ceiling and walls are of glass, and the frame is aluminum. A thick layer of used motor oil covers the floor. The house is a completely closed structure, lacking any means of entrance. The thinness of the wires holding up the drums suggests threateningly that they can snap at any moment and the drums will tumble into the oil. The safe realm of the home is no longer safe, and the closed form has a claustrophobic air about it.

The way in which Barclay’s installation takes possession of space and makes it a part of the work is a common thread in his work. Reflections in the oil of the area around the house create large, spatial effects that enable the little house to seem even larger than it actually is. There is a play between the space of the room – the space within the house – and the illusory space of the mirroring surface of the oil.

Despite the formality and technical precision of the work, it contains an expressive attitude. “My work represents daily tension,” Barclay once said.¹ This statement can be related to Edvard Munch’s emotionally laden paintings. Following in Munch’s footsteps, the artist traveled to Italy in 1979, where the influence of the transavant-garde artists and Arte Povera asserted itself and made Barclay an artist of international stature.

Per Barclay was born in 1955 in Oslo. He lives and works in Paris.


Ahnikee Østreng

¹ Karin Hellandsjø, Per Barclay, Utstillingskatalog, Museet for samtidskunst, 1999, s. 7