What do the birds say?


Please note due to COVID-19 restrictions the exhibition what do the birds say? at Sullivan + Strumpf, is currently closed. The exhibition can be viewed online by registering here, you can also watch a video interview with the artist below.

Towards the end of 2019, curator-turned-artist Glenn Barkley began conceiving a new series of his colourful, wholesomely wonky and obsessively detailed clay sculptures. While these works were initially propelled by the experience of growing up in coastal Australia, Barkley’s solo show has now become equally motivated by environmental concerns.

With his childhood memories tied to the south coast of New South Wales, Barkley recently began crafting his signature patterned ceramics in response to a site of his youth: Badgee Lagoon. Yet the bushfires that began in late 2019 redirected his thoughts. “It’s really affected the whole environment where I grew up,” says Barkley. “Originally the work I was doing—and it still will be about this—was about the lagoon where I grew up, and where my parents still live. But now it’s also speaking to these environmental things too.”

Barkley’s sculptures could be defined as precisely imprecise, and often draw upon his self-declared obsessive nature and his fear of empty spaces, alongside the influence of gardening, text, lyrics and poetry. Now, Badgee Lagoon is the central node—and it’s both environmental and metaphorical. “It’s the way that lagoons are fecund landscapes where life may form, how there’s mosquitoes and how they’re hatching grounds for birds,” says Barkley. “And then it’s the idea of the lagoon as this other fecund space, which could be a space like the imagination: like a swampy place where ideas come from.”

While Barkley notes that many artists will be responding to the bushfires throughout 2020, for him it’s important to explore the devastation obliquely. “The landscapes where the fires were happening were the landscapes of my childhood,” he says. “And I’m linking this to the idea of the lagoon, and how the lagoon can be a metaphor for memory as well.”

What do the birds say?
Glenn Barkley
Sullivan + Strumpf
April 2020

This article was originally published in the March/April 2020 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus