Culture: Visual Arts

Geoffrey Farmer: The Surgeon And The Photographer

Geoffrey Farmer The Surgeon And The Photographer

Think of Terry Gilliam’s strange and surreal animations. Add an hallucinogenic drug and you are approaching the nightmare world of Geoffrey Farmer.

The Canadian artist has spent the last three years of his life obsessively making these puppets out of second-hand books, fragments and pieces of cloth to create a very strange world indeed.

Farmer’s work is also influenced by the death of the book. Since digital media has increased and continues to expand into the 21st century as the way in which we receive and read the news and fiction, printed matter such as books and magazines are fighting for their existence.

As a result of this phenomenon, Farmer has created his work out of relatively cheap and accessible material.

He has bought hundreds of books from a second-hand bookshop in Vancouver after hearing reports that it was going to close.

This forms the basis of his work and Farmer makes good use of the hundreds of images, with jarring juxtaposition, so a pair of buttocks is affixed to black cloth, or an image of a baked bean tin is placed on top of a sculptural mask.

The artist set himself the task of making a puppet for each day of the year, taking images as diverse as deities, shamans, masks, birds and sausages. They are put together to create unnerving characters. The 365 images are like the Village of the Damned that populate the Barbican’s 90-metre long Curve gallery.

The lighting also adds dramatic tension. It’s dark, almost gloomy, with the floor and walls patterned with strange shadows from these demonic puppets.

It represents a dystopia, a world in which deformed creatures are an outward expression of our fears of not being beautiful enough, or conforming to the norm.

There’s a soundtrack of everyday occurrences – a woman humming, the tick of a clock or the tinkling bell of a bicycle. But they change the mood to a sinister one, of fear and foreboding. Everything seems so normal – and yet not.

The photographic slideshow at the end of the exhibition is a heady montage of disjointed images where we fleetingly see Princess Diana, a boxing match, machinery, a marathon.

A  normal world turned into a nightmare. Which is strangely prophetic, given the recent Boston Marathon bombing, where an ordinary, communal activity was turned into a scene of  carnage and horror.

Geoffrey Farmer: The Surgeon and the Photographer is on until 28 July 2013.

Words: Fiona Keating

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