Anna Barham, Skw, at Arcade, London

25 September 2015 By

“Have you ever tried to clean a squid?” – reads the first line of the text work that is part of Anna Barham’s new show at Arcade gallery in Shoreditch.  Well yes, actually, I have.  So it is possible to conjure up memories of the oozing of gelatinous innards, the flopping of goo on to newspaper, ink onto ink, and the slimy feel of tensile flesh.  The two metre high text work, Score 2015, angles around one corner of the gallery like multiple newsfeeds becoming more and more garbled.  The work has taken Barham years to complete, processing language through public reading groups and voice recognition software, until the original is completely degraded.  The machine translation of speech to written text leads to the original sentences breaking down into an amorphous textual matter in which ‘sense’ is quickly lost.  As well as reading the lines of text horizontally, one can’t help but read vertically too, watching as “reach” becomes “region”, which in turn becomes “read” and then “beat”.  It is an alliterative game of Chinese whispers that leads you up and down and round the room.

The squid is here as a metaphor for the mutability firstly of language, and by extension of the self.  Not only the viscous physicality of the cephalopod, but its flair for mimicry and camouflage.   52nthjt3k8 consists of video found on YouTube of a finger stroking the skin of a squid.  (Truly, all life, human and animal is there).  It is mesmerising, as the pressure of the stroking provokes pulsating changes in the camouflage skin of the squid: patterns of dark and lighter spots of colour dilating in response to contact.  One looks from this to the wall based prints on holographic paper, and particularly to the one titled Breath that features a black comma (or ‘breath mark’) and the show immediately loops the viewer back, through the black spots on the squid to the large text work.  The physicality of language is one of the ideas at stake here; the whole-body process of breathing and expressing words that filter out into the world and bear meaning in relation to the context they enter in to.  Camouflaged against the circumstances they find themselves in our communications and their meanings swim out in to the world and become elusive – “all part of the flow image machine.”

Barham is an artist who is increasingly getting exposure in some influential venues – Hayward Project Space last year and Fig-2 this year – so she is most definitely one to watch for the future.


Caroline Douglas

Arcade, 87 Lever Street, London EC1V 3RA. Open Thursday – Saturday 12.00 – 18.00 and by appointment. Exhibition continues until 17 October 2015.