04.28.06 – 05.28.06
Brooke Barnett w/ The Girlie-Q Variety Hour
In this body of work Barnett is exploring the range and significance of the different roles she plays in her life. Those roles exude their own respective ambiguities and these are given the chance to play out; the viewer can sit with a piece, as one might a stranger, and settle into the awkward humor of sex, gender, orientation, and familial roles. In doing so, we ferret out the core of Barnett’s identity. The names and baggage associated with her many roles seem plastic and constricting until we step in close and note the poetic gesture of her hand. This show is, of course, a metaphor for life outside Barnett, and on a grander scale explores the simultaneous freedom and restriction that names afford.
The work is on Mylar, which is a near-transparent plastic, a little like vellum. The subjects sit on the surface in oil and boast an imposible depth-one that quickly dissolves when approached and examined from either side. The figures are unfettered, at times standing free from the wall as a clothesline of laundry that blows in the wind. This show exploits the tension between implied depth and the restrictions of a two dimensional plane. The transparency of the plane makes those restrictions immediately apparent. Depicted subjects confront their viewer with vulnerable awareness, but nevertheless remain remote, as spirits that dissipate on the point of apprehension. What is modeled with thicker paint is a little plastic-a poke at superficial elements we tend to adopt in order to identify ourselves.
There is a tension between vulnerability and intimate depth. That tension is heightened in certain works, as <i>Danny in Tub with Headache</i>, where one side admits only two figures and the reverse displays three. The missing third has her hands clasped in a grimace to her head, but on the reverse is filled in with the flat teal of water; on one side pains is expressed while on the other it is lost: vulnerability is drawn back and denied. Moments like those provoke insecurity; it is impossible to tell whether other figures are harboring similar secrets, and yet because any sense of space in the picture frame is an obvious illusion, the viewer’s effort to ascertain true character is exhausted. We may only see what we are given on the surface.
Above all else there is a kindness to the work, a sense of humor, a sense of the macabre, and a taste of pop; faces mimic Wayne Thiebaud cakes and lipsticks. His plastic application of paint is applied to the examination of a couple. The self is a motif repeated as often as the lover and the repetition of those forms makes the apprehension of each even more difficult. Conclusions drawn from the figures described are impossible and walking among the work is like walking in a hall of mirrors, where distortion is present but inconsistently executed.
Here it can be seen as a kind of psychological exercise in which Barnett is exploring a particular relationship between herself and another; parts of the picture frame remain empty or blank, as though deemed irrelevant and dismissed by reflection. Those raw and irresolute places nevertheless hold their own beside other areas of highly modeled faces. We are drawn into the course of Barnett’s considerations, similarly compelled to consider the areas of highly modeled faces. We are drawn into the course of Barnett’s considerations, similarly compelled to consider the areas of highest attention in an unfinished field.
The intercourse between these parts is essential. The tension makes the figures defy easy category. As a result there is a desire to secure more names, a desire to define more boundaries, to better understand distinctions while navigating in this field of self and other. In doing so, we run the risk of greater and greater uncertainty. Instead, respite comes in a calm and nameless pause.