Robert Barry

Yvon Lambert Bookshop

Robert Barry’s exhibition consisted of works on paper, in series and as several isolated pieces. Pieces of paper at first seem painted uniformly in red, yellow, or blue, but on approaching the work one can distinguish words, and the recurrent image of a tree. The words, finely printed, are distributed over the entire surface of the paper, following untraced vertical and horizontal lines. The arrangement of the words varies from piece to piece; it seems that they have been made to function together in many spatial formulations, by an indeterminate program. In the unified space of the paper, they form a multiplicity of small, separate domains. These words cannot be “read” or “thought” without looking at what happens between them, the unwritten network by which they, in some sense, look at each other. It is not a matter of fortuitous rapprochements, but of a common space where “nothing,” as Theodor Adorno says of the musical structure of a Schönberg piece, “can be anything but what it is.” In the voids—but can we speak of a void, when the words themselves are empty signifiers?—the image of the tree is composed with the mobil grid of the words. It filigrees color, which is sometimes isolated, and sometimes multiplied. Lacking the constant reference point of the image of the tree, one would have been tempted to restore the conscious organization of a “text.” The grid would then have had the role of showing the context in which the words, in effect take place. In this sense Barry’s current work does not seem to be far from his first paintings which drew our attention to the complete coexistence of regularly repeated geometric reference with the canvas itself, and which called upon us to perceive the wall as well as the painting. Here, the image of the tree holds the space of the words and real space together, as if, moving from one to the other, from language to the visible, the relationship was not one of opposition, but of reciprocal implication. This explains the singularity of a filigree image and the delay with which we become aware of its existence, just as with the words themselves. These references do not only mark our perception of space, but also our relation to time. This temporal implication, evident in Barry’s projections, sound pieces, and books, is no less present here. Everything happens as if the time belonging to the words was disjointed. Augmented through the multiplication of gaps and the inversions of meanings, the time spent in perusing the words becomes tangible.

Proust required a “telescopic” attention to the far-reaching relations established between temporally distant (though close in the space of the book) episodes of reading, which necessitated a sort of simultaneous perception of the total unity of the work. Jumps from one word to another, from an image to a word, force us to cross disproportionate distances in search of connections which continue to elude us. In Barry’s new series nothing develops but events intervene, with different temporal characteristics each time, and with variation as the theme. Time and space are perceived through this odyssey—such is his objective.

Xavier Girard