An artist’s list of materials can make for curious reading. Like this one from a sculpture by Kate Barber: “Recycled bedcover, acrylic paint, linen thread, wool felt.”
Now, many artists recycle objects of no personal significance. They call ‘em “found” for a reason. But a bedcover? That’s a familiar cloth. The thing thrown off in a hot night’s frustration. Or huddled under during winter. A bedcover knows things that no one else knows. Small things, maybe. Nothing too scandalous. But secrets nonetheless.
So I reached out to Barber about her linen situation, and she replied soon after: “The bedcover that I used for my artwork was one that we slept under for 10 years before it got so threadbare that I had to replace it. I knew I couldn’t just let go of it so I gave it new life.”
An unknown object might be treated reverently—or not. But a bedspread saturated with ten years’ worth of slumber? Talk about attachments. Objects can absorb so much of our daily lives and get unceremoniously trashed. It makes sense to give the faithful ones a proper sendoff.
So that’s exactly what Barber did with several pieces in her show Manifold, now up at AS220’s Project Space Gallery. The retired bedspread was morphed into the steely blue of Fan, or the hot gradient of Rise 3. On their surfaces, fabric becomes paper becomes stone. Acrylic paint supplies the color, diluted by Barber to a dye-like consistency the fabric was happy to imbibe.
Most of these sculptures are attached to the wall, hovering. Strong lines drive the Folded Forms series, even along the upper edges, where your eye can trace a flight trajectory. There’s a mathematical coolness in their poses. This calculated feeling continues onto the opposite wall, where you’ll find framed collages of literal patchwork. Each could be the circuitry for a bizarre machine. Names like Insomnia and Emerge give some idea of their possible functions.
Husk 3 is installed in the slightly cramped passageway that connects the gallery’s three rooms. Its pupa shape is a reliable form: nearly spooky, but comforting. Organic, but just as often ornamental. Barber gifts this pod a nice darkness, a navy blue from the depths with some red sedimented at the bottom. It’s not standoffish, but it’s not asking for our company either.
There’s a certain armor to Barber’s work here—not in the sense of being inaccessible or uninviting, but more as if these sculptures rebuff our advances. Solid and heavy but airborne, they float on by. The hard completeness of a thing-unto-itself can compel us. That these sculptures achieve such firmness in their softness is what makes them impressive.
Also on view: Anna Shapiro’s Love Letters (2019-2022) in the Reading Room. Pressed flowers, tube-color paint, cardboard, and bits of typewriter speak to some kind of wound. A label of “feminist Eros” I applied to Shapiro’s work in a 2016 review. Here that putto’s looking a lot more stressed. Also, there’s a stack of cootie catchers, and yes, you can play with them.
FYI: Barber’s Manifold and Shapiro’s Love Letters are on view through June 25, at AS220’s Project Space Gallery, 93 Mathewson Street, Providence.