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Art review: Kelly Barrie at LAXART

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Inspired by the adventure playgrounds of his London youth, Kelly Barrie’s haunting photographs at LAXART document a different kind of free-form play. Created by manipulating phosphorescent powder on his studio floor and photographing the results, the four white on black images each depict a different piece of equipment: a climbing net, a ladder, a tunnel and a pyramid. But unlike the generic, lawsuit-avoidance devices known as playgrounds today, these pieces are strictly DIY: the ladder is an asymmetrical network of rough, irregularly shaped pieces of wood; the tunnel a concrete drainpipe full of graffiti. As executed by Barrie — roughly scraped or traced with fingers or feet — the images are direct evidence of play, like finger painting. On another level, they appear to emanate from a memory that is as visceral as it is visual.

Nearly life-size, the images also pack a physical punch, seeming to invite interaction. The image of the climbing net is printed on paper that curls down onto the floor; the framed images of the ladder and tunnel are propped against the walls as if they could be picked up and moved elsewhere. But the stark palette of white on black — like a photographic negative — gives them a ghostly feel. They are in our space, but not of it. In this way, Barrie speaks to the powerful physical memories created by early experiences and offers an elegy to a wilder notion of childhood, in which freedom was more important than safety. Graffiti inscribed on the tunnel wistfully captures the paradox of such an education: “Repeat after me: I am free.”

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-– Sharon Mizota

LAXART, 2640 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 559-0166, through Dec. 18. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.laxart.org

Images: Reclaimed Sewer Pipe (top) and Double Toe Rope Netting. Courtesy of the artist and LAXART.


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