Anna Barratt, Untitled, 2008.
Every day we feast on images. Each morning the world around us presents itself again; familiar, yet different. One ad break is saturated with fast-cut images, each turn of a newspaper page gives another set of photographs. We quickly assimilate them, categorise them and understand them. We don’t need to scan left to right as we do with text; one glance takes in the whole thing. Our brain, used to such overload, is adept at filtering what to store and what to discard, what to recall at will and what to bury. Weary, we lay our heads to rest but our synapses continue to fire up, recalling images that freely entwine and overlap: images from the day we have just lived, from the day before that and from our distant past. The rules of linear time, appropriateness and ‘sense’ fall away in our dreams. Our fears and hopes become startlingly real, however absurd the situations seem when we next awake.
Anna Barratt’s work quietly takes us into this realm, but not with the whimsy or absurdity often cited as ‘dreamlike’. In this work the faces of figures are often disembodied, mostly passive and expressionless while around them a miasma extends into the otherwise blank surrounds. Figures dance or float and eyes stare from pools of colour. Repeated motifs crop up of cages, tails, serpents and hoods. Her drawings are meticulously and delicately executed in vibrant colours and fine pen lines, and have an emotional rawness and naivety while maintaining an ambiguity that leaves interpretation or understanding open-ended. Within the images there is occasionally the glimmer of a half-remembered image – a hindu shrine or a horrific news story photograph – but the exact origins are hard to pin down.
Occasionally Barratt hints at narrative: some of the works are hung in a linear sequence or a block, tempting the viewer to seek cause-and-effect connections between works. A slide projector on the first floor tantalisingly powers up to give us a glimpse at one, maybe two images of a set.
Anna has also employed the tools of narrative to produce simple animations or moving drawings for this exhibition: Cut in half on the first floor is made from pages of her notebook. Details within the drawn imagery emanate, develop and change, and the animation is looped, completing a process of transformation to restoration. The short loop and evolving growth of these moving drawings cause them to become mesmeric and hypnotic, giving them the capacity to hold the viewer in a trance-like state. Set amongst other drawings on telephone pads or scraps of paper – heads with many eyes, or faces hanging like fruit on a tree – we get a greater understanding of these organic, ‘low-fi’, unpremeditated works.
On the top floor of the gallery there are just two pieces. A figure looks back at us with one eye. Foetus-like it is hollow at its centre. On the opposite wall a crudely animated figure is drawn with the shimmering lines of early cartoon techniques; although apparently human, it has wagging tail. As these comical, exotic red hips sway from side to side a blue lascivious tail curls – a sign of contentment, or agitation? Like the sway of a pendulum, the image holds us for longer than it should.
Drawing extensively on personal or autobiographic details Anna’s imagery unites the everyday with carnivalesque. People are woven into a world that owes as much to celtic or medieval mythology as it does to contemporary life in all its messy and differentiated forms. It seems that the search for meaning or connection may be the essence of Anna’s work, not the discovery. Although she draws on personal references, Anna talks of looking at the drawings objectively in order to work in this way rather than retreating to this private world: “Drawings are coming from tensions and isolation from being in a domestic setting, dealing with the here and now and the strange play world of my son. Then I switch to submersing myself in my work.”
Anna and g39 wish to thank Dave Marchant for his help in the production of this work.