In the heart of Covent Garden, beyond the architectural facade of a Georgian mansion, multidisciplinary artist Claire Barrow plays with the viewer’s power of perception, in her latest work, Dancing with Dreams. A blend of intriguing oddity and alternative definitions of beauty, the exhibition offers glimpses into a dystopia of Barrow´s making, a deconstructive approach that questions cohesion and completeness as feasible forms of life and creativity.
Hosted by Galeria Melissa, Barrow’s immersive multisensory exhibition is spread over the mansion’s four rooms. The entrance, an installation of customised shoes suspended from the ceiling with hand-painted satin ribbon, is adorned with Barrow’s artistic signature. The following two rooms present brand Melissa’s latest sustainable footwear collections. However, it’s in the exhibition space downstairs, in a small room, that the artist makes her most poignant point.
Six ambiguous sculptures created by Barrow and dressed in her unmistakable designs, fill the dimly-lit room. Her creations put a strain on the relationship between the aesthetic and the functional, challenging both concepts, while presenting a new visual language and experience of harmony and balance. A series of films showing performers interact with the mannequins accompanies the display, enacting a dance in which the partners simultaneously affirm and negate each other: the motionless and the mobile, the artificial and the organic, the form of art and the form of life.
This is a dance of dreams and reveries, with the protagonists, both moving and still, clad in Barrow´s daring designs, a sort of protective layer against the dangers of a non-dream: monotony, routine, predictability. Their interaction is the essence of this part of the exhibition, turning the viewers into witnesses to stories that escape immediate understanding and interpretation: the projected performers know the characters they play, but the viewers are purposely left out of the loop.
The rhythmic elongations of dancer Harry Alexander go without explanation— is his character related to the sculpture positioned next to him? Barrow neither confirms nor denies the relationship, intentionally concocting an ambiguous interplay between the physical and intangible. Barrow has bestowed the power onto her viewers to decide the characters being played and the stories being told by both performer and sculpture.
Dancing with Dreams is an artistic commentary on how we, as everyday viewers and consumers, dream up our own realities in the absence of context: how do we make sense of ourselves (and what surrounds us) in the midst of chaos and the growing unintelligibility of the world around us? Barrow does not attempt to answer this, but rather finds a way to keep the question open, suggesting that it is in the space between confusion and illumination that we are most creative, aware of others, and true to ourselves. The viewers are both judge and jury, and the story is whatever the viewer perceives it to be. The only certainty here is that Dancing with Dreams is a thought-provoking way to kick off London Fashion Week, masterminded by Claire Barrow and Galeria Melissa.
Dancing with Dreams by Claire Barrow, Galeria Melissa, 43 King Street Covent Garden, from Friday 17th February – Monday 15th May. Free admission.
Words: Jamal George-Sharpe
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu
Photography: Asia Werbel