Oliver Barratt’s still moving takes its cue from TS Eliot’s Four Quarters:
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving.
Motionless yet seemingly alive, inert yet bristling with energy, the sculptures explore the paradox at the heart of Eliot’s poem. The opposition between stillness and movement is just one of a series which dominates the show.
As physical objects, the smooth matte surfaces are lovely to the touch. But they also embody metaphysical concerns. While largely abstract and plastic in shape, we find hints of figures and recognisable forms. Their display may suggest sacredness, but the spirit is one wit and mischief. Finally, though Eliot’s Four Quartets address music and time, the concern of the sculptures is clearly colour and space. It is from these contradictory impulses that still moving is born.
The works seem to resolve into three loose figurative motifs: globules, twin halves and lines. Though clearly distinguishable, the sculptures also establish a set of relations between each other in the gallery’s space.
The globules include chalk-white knots and coagulations, a blood-red ‘Reverie‘ and cupreous-green piece called ‘Holding Apart‘. The key to the success of the series seems to a delicate balancing act: the establishment of a meeting place between both ends of the dimensional scale. The milky forms of ‘Prayer of the Bone‘ and the glutinous strands of ‘Open Minded‘ suggest both subatomic particles and galactic vastness, micro-organisms and starry nebulae. Simultaneously enlarged and diminished it is as if the vanishingly small and the unthinkably large suddenly come together. We are returned to origins just as we are the witness to infinity. It is unsettling to see such opposites join, and we feel the push and pull of unseen forces at work in creating them. This encounter between the microscopic and the macroscopic is perhaps the exhibition’s most brilliant achievement. Given these intense wrestlings of scale, it is little wonder that the series yields something heroic in the figure of ‘Achilles‘.
A number of twin halves feature in the show. They create geometrical tension between objects that long to be whole, yet which are teasingly, perhaps even tragically, set apart. ‘Right to Reply‘ gestures playfully at the telephone. The longing for response is developed in ‘Question and Answer 1‘, which is itself echoed by the tilted halves of ‘Question and Answer 2‘ . There is something primordial about the form of ‘Remembering‘. The two shapes square up to each other like a couple of heavyweights. Meanwhile the aqua-tinted pair ‘Between Ourselves‘ sets up another confrontation. This tine the polished steel interior gives the fissure between the a mirrory vividness.
But what separates them still seems like a wound. The wound appears to have healed in ‘40 Ways In‘, only to leak, oozing out blackness in a series if small pipes. Again, the microscopic and the macrocosmic are each suggested here. The amoeba-like form could just as easily be the universe stretched like a net with its black holes. It also evokes the two chambers of the heart, with their valves and ventricles. The anatomical reference is not stated but implied.
The third major motif in the show is the recurrent use of lines. There is an extruded quality to the lines, which emerge kinked, even spaghettified. But there is also something virtuoso about their appearance, a tricksiness akin to someone peeling an apple in one continuous cut. The lines create an ancient signature in ‘Not Touching‘. They turn back on themselves theatrically like Moebius strip in ‘The Way Up is the Way Down‘. The impression is of elasticity, like the afterimage of a gymnast delivering a routine on the floor. But the lines are not always superfine. They complicate and thicken in the interlocking motions of ‘Thoughts’ and darken into submarine garden for ‘Night Sea‘.
Of many cross-references between the pieces, one of the most intriguing is the way they seem to speak to each other. Moving from the series of lines seems not a tremendous shift, more subtle modulation – a kind of morphing; the way mercury spills, splits and reforms. The lines become sclerotic in the globular forms. They seem to harden into the arteries of ‘40 Ways In‘ or clot in the blood-red ‘Reverie‘.
The internal echoes within still moving generate delightful accidents of colour, material and form. Lines and circles collide; colours confront each other. Cements meets resin, meets steel, meets lead, meets iron powder and paint, meets clay. The objects demand contemplation and, in ‘Right to Reply‘ for example with its bits of scattered alphabet, we are challenged to decrypt their codes.
The pieces invite us in but insist we keep a cool distance, for in the end the sculptures remain stubbornly themselves. Vital, highly charged and tantalisingly fragile, these traces of grace with their beautiful surfaces and celestial echoes leave us moved while they lie still, transforming our notions of scale and, in their clash of heavy metaphysics and light materials, giving us ‘a white light still and moving’, a kind of music frozen in space.
Dr Chris Greenhalgh