Saturday, April 16, 2016

A British Designer Creates an Art Show Around the Bathroom

Clockwise from left: Claire Barrow’s “Do Ghosts Get Flu,” 2016; “Untitled (toilet roll),” 2015; “Untitled (neon 2),” 2015. Credit Courtesy of M.Goldstein gallery
In February, the 25-year-old British fashion designer Claire Barrow staged a London Fashion Week presentation called ”The Retro-Spective,” which placed her knitwear and sculptural garments inside a mock museum — complete, even, with captioned plaques and a fake gift shop. It demonstrated that Barrow — who has garnered positive attention since she debuted her line two years ago — has a strong interest in art.
Now, she has ventured into the actual art world as she prepares to open her first solo exhibition, “The Bed, The Bath & The Beyond,” at M. Goldstein Gallery in east London’s Hackney neighborhood on April 17. “It started with thinking about the fact that being spiritual is one of the worst things you can be today,” she says, sitting in a cafe near her studio, referring to what she perceives as a general cynicism in the digital age. “It’s hard to have faith these days. Me and my friends take life for granted and think we’re invincible. We think that nothing bad will happen to us and that we’ll be fine and cozy, no matter how much we drink, eat crap food and fail to look after ourselves.”
The result is a mixed-media show that explores the parallels between religious anxieties and modern-day social ones. The bathroom is a central focus: Barrow will transform the cubicle-like gallery space into an art-filled interpretation of one. “There’s an everyday mortality to it,” she says. “One of the most spiritual things we do is washing ourselves, going to the toilet and brushing our teeth. We fear germs and uncleanliness the same way that we once feared the devil, and we like the ritual and feeling of being baptized.”
Claire Barrow Credit Sarah Piantadosi
On view are an illustrated shower curtain and a roll of toilet paper, which she completely unraveled and drew onto with markers before carefully rolling back. There are also metallic surfaces and figurative neons, a medium she chose for its clinical, ghostly light. (“You can’t hide from yourself in the bathroom,” she says.) When it came to technique, Barrow drew on her experience of working with garment fabric. “I use it as a blank canvas, and that’s how I approached these pieces,” she explains, before adding that she also applied her usual process of photographing her work once it’s finished. “I made a series of photographs of me wearing the shower curtain — like a look book for the art. I used myself as the subject because it feels so indulgent. This whole process is about making work for yourself about your own feelings.” She adds: “Before, I was asking myself, as a fashion designer, can I be an artist? I’m now asking myself, can I be an artist — and also a fashion designer?”

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