Alter Pieces examines the altar and its relation to gender, identity, loss and desire.
Carol Barbour: Toronto, 2019. Digital printing. Unlimited. 60 pages. 6 x 9.
Developed in correspondence with research in art history, “Alter Pieces” includes photographic reproductions of Barbour’s paintings and sculptures, along with an essay and poem. Spanning the years 2004 to 2018, the book explores the altarpiece as a relational subject of enquiry. The term “Alter Pieces” refers to the altern, from the Latin alternus, meaning the other, or the interchangeable.
For example, Birth of a Child (2016) is based on Lorenzetti’s altarpiece titled The Birth of the Virgin, however Barbour’s recreation makes explicit the source of the miraculous birth by exposing her genitalia. The book includes paintings of saints, genealogical trees, madonnas and sculptures — all of which address the theme of desire and absence. In addition to the visual art, the book also features an essay and poem by the artist.
“[…] By filling the void with copious designs in a kind of horror vacui, the missing body is resurrected, literally enshrined in a container; encased in a shroud of dynamic folds, of interlacing vines and fruits. Thus “power” is embodied at the intersection of being and nonbeing, of semblance and disintegration. When faced with mortality, we may run in the opposite direction, incited by terror and a surge of adrenaline. Thus, to contemplate the possibility of an afterlife is to be engaged in a perpetual mystery, an investigation into the potentiality of life itself. […] ”
Whimsical Architecture: Paintings by Carol Barbour
Humber Art Gallery
University of Guelph
205 Humber College Blvd. Toronto, ON
Nov. 21 – Dec. 1, 2006.
Featuring selected paintings from 1993 – 2000 by artist Carol Barbour, the exhibition highlights a body of work that focuses upon the human character of structure. Items in Whimsical Architecture include: a limestone kiln, an amphitheatre, a hoodoo landscape, underground dwellings, towers, dovecotes and cityscapes.
Architecture is a subject that points to the relationship between humanity, matter and space. The paintings in this exhibition range from hand hewn examples to composite cityscapes. Some are loyal to the original sites, while others are clearly interpretations; more associative than descriptive. In this body of work, I was interested in the relationship between handmade structures and elemental shapes, particularly those forms that corresponded to human physiology. Architectural remains are testaments to human existence; the designs embody the struggle and the resilience, the tenacity as well as the ingenuity that is required to endure time and weather. Initially I began looking at limestone kilns, which can be found on the Bruce Trail. Research led to the study of the Roman theatre, a concentric shape that was built to amplify and resonate sound. Amphitheatres are reminiscent of the circular forms found in the body such as the ribcage, jaw and ear. From the theatres, I went on to explore towers and dovecotes, which again resembled the human form, in particular, the upright silhouette of the human figure complete with eye-like windows and a columnar trunk. Following the towers, I became interested in sanctuaries and troglodytic communities. Underground (troglodyte) dwellings protected the inhabitants from enemy invasion, religious persecution and extreme weather conditions. Similarly, the outer walls and chambers of these cellular forms functioned in much the same way as the outer layer of skin on the human body, as a protection.
These paintings are personal images that honour the dynamic, movement of life, its pulse and spirit. Clearly architecture is not a living organism; however, the people who created and inhabited the buildings have left a human imprint, a stain of their presence. The history of architecture is a chronicle of cultural change; whether a building is in ruin, restored, or newly erected, it is a record of a specific time and place. A building that survives both time and social change is testament to the creators’ skill and vision, providing as it does a continuation beyond the specific conditions in which it was built. The human self is not separate from nature, but composed of similar elements and subject to the same forces of erosion, gravity and magnetism that stretch, sculpt and transform matter in space. In time, identity is constructed and adapted with subtle permutations in response to these changes, yet, what ultimately remains is the core, an essential shape that is original, tenacious and irreducible.
Carol Barbour, 2006.
Paintings in exhibition.
Sizes are in cm. Medium is oil on canvas unless otherwise noted.1) Limestone Kiln. 129 x 127 cm, 1993.
2) Hoodoos, Alberta. 101 x 91 cm, 1996.
3) Amphitheatre, Fiesole, Italy. 61 x 76 cm, 1996.
4) Cliff Dwellings. 61 x 122 cm, 1997.
5) Spiral Minaret. 51 x 91 cm, 1997.
6) French Dovecote. 101 x 76 cm, 1996.
7) Tower of Babel. 91 x 122 cm, 1996.
8) Vincent’s Dovecote. 101 x 76 cm, 1996.
9) Matera, Basilicata. 91 x 122, 2000.
10) Quebec City: Opera Gates. 86 x 140 cm, 2000.
11) University College. 76 x 91 cm, 2000.
12) Princes’ Gates, CNE. 91 x 122, 2000.
13) St. Lawrence Hall. 101 x 76 cm, 1999.
14) Tower of Lost Angels. Oil on linen, 91 x 61, 1996.
15) Crenellated Tower. 91 x 61, 1994.
16) Tower Bridge. 91 x 101, 1995.
17) Russian Poet Towers. 152 x 91, 1995.
Carol Barbour’s new book of poetry is a heady concoction of sumptuous beauty and dangerous relations – by turns playful, refined, and ferocious. Nudging at the edge of being, the poems evoke the cadence and tremour of a beating heart. Trauma is carefully negotiated, wrestling in a precarious balance between memory and what remains inconceivable. Barbour invites the reader to reflect on human frailty, and the inherent desire to mend relations with others, and with oneself. The poems are intricate ciphers, heroic missals, created to forestall the propensity of life to come undone. Infrangible is an intimate portrait of the artist as a child, a woman, and a lover, in search of meaning, union, and recognition.
Divided in two parts, titled The Broken Vase and Gigantomachy respectively, the collection consists of forty-seven poems, on a range of subjects including motherhood, artistic inspiration, and struggles with power. Infrangible opens with the poem “At First,” which introduces the enigma of inner and outer engagement, and the paradox of freedom through attachment. In the second section titled, “Gigantomachy,” the poems explore the struggles of giants and mortals, and the disequilibrium of scale and power in relationships.
An excerpt from the poem “Gigantomachy”:
The ones who fell
while riding too fast on their chariots.
they ascend in the night sky.
The theme of water and resistance is evoked in the poem titled “The Collective”:
The stream endures and in that sense
One can know how to live by dreaming.
Readings in 2018:
The Art Bar Poetry Series, April 10, Free Times Café, 320 College St. Toronto. With Joanna Sworn and Ned Baeck.
Guernica Fall Launch, Sept. 9, Supermarket Restaurant and Bar, 268 Augusta Ave., Toronto,
Bowery Poetry Club, Nov. 11, 308 Bowery, New York, NY, USA. Open Mike.
Boneshaker Reading Series, Dec. 11, Bloor Gladstone Library, Toronto Public Library, 101 Bloor Street West Toronto. With Loren Edizel.
Signature Series, Knife Fork Book, 244 Augusta Ave, 2nd Fl. at The Dark Side Studio, Kensington Market, Toronto. With Sonia di Placido and Dominque Bernier-Cormier.