In a world where so many young painters walk around with a big stick — or, in some cases, a Neanderthal club — Susan Barron seems to have for her sole baggage a very sharp eye for what will tell in a space of not more than two or three square inches. In her photographs the image seems rather to have been breathed onto the paper than printed, but that does not prevent her from encapsulating the grim facts of watchtower and multiple strand of barbed wire. In her collages, once again, she never forces for effect. The varied ingredients seem, in fact, to have drifted together of their own accord, and what they have to say comes to us in a whisper. But it is a whisper worth bending down to listen to.
Collaged textural bits represent the invisible thought of the book's reader projected onto the page and into the books many layers… [In TWISTING SILENCE] it is the reader's head that turns, not the page, as that reader follows any number of possible paths from word to word and surface to surface. What is perhaps most visually striking is its resemblance to a topographical map...physical remnants standing in for the palimpsest of memory.
There exists in the work of Susan Barron an intimacy of subject, a delicacy of scale, a seductive aesthetic and a perfection of execution unsurpassed by any of our artists at work today. The profound collages, the delicate drawings, sensitive photographs, her collection of beautifully calligraphed leaves in her elegant books are an important contribution in reinstating the contemplative aspects of art.
This book is as hauntingly unforgettable as anything I have ever read or seen. LABYRINTH OF TIME is also indescribable, falling somewhere between an illuminated manuscript and a multimedia barrage. It is, above all, a set of books with all the tranquil rigor that the traditional book form involves. It is to be read in a certain sequence, even if the texts, photographs, collages and engravings inside defy linear comprehension. Its progress is convoluted, its effect slow and cumulative, like the best novels or most elaborate word games. As soon as any volume is opened, the reader confronts a riot of images and original texts in many media and at least six languages. Ink blots resolve into dancers who leap across pages. Miniature faces peer from chaste white surrounds or from behind complex texts. There is no end to the striking images one could list, but [it] would miss the point of the journey involved through this labyrinth of overlapping lifetimes. Perhaps better just quote a phrase-fragment from the book itself: the long days slipped imperceptibly past, a formidable number of books took long walks. So must we, if we are to read this book well.
Like [Joseph] Cornell's work, Susan Barron's photographs, drawings, and collages point to something beyond themselves and have a contemplative quality that takes the viewer to a wordless place beyond the physical, opening out to the invisible. Barron seems to use the physical world to reach a place beyond conventional meaning.
Every year the art world casts up names of dozens of artists who are supposed to have revitalized the area in which they work, and almost never is that the case. Barron makes no such claim, yet LABYRINTH OF TIME gets readers to think in fresh and exciting ways. We cannot justifiably ask for more.
LABYRINTH OF TIME is the name of an astonishing artifact hovering between work of art and book. It is a spectacle, something to wander through, astounded by an illusion here, captivated by a message there, halfway between vision and reality. Even among the Museum's (Victoria & Albert's) adventurous and wide-ranging collection of livre d'artiste, this is something exceptional. Do not miss it; once seen it is quite unforgettable.
PAPER, BONE, VELLUM, STONE is a fascinating fusion of poetry, music, drawing, collage & photography. A rhythmic, non-linear sensibility is woven throughout Barron's book art. Musical notation, lines of text & poetry are swept into the texture of her drawings. Much of [the] imagery has a surrealistic quality. A coherent sense of time unravels into an uncensored slew of memories. Systems of written language…are scrambled in an air of chaos. In Barron's work, words do not speak of what one can physically see, but rather of what one cannot see — the back side of a cloud. Words take on a metaphysical quality, creating actual physical forms, as well as abstract, verbal meanings.
LABYRINTH OF TIME is the name of a wholly unique contribution to the concept of the livre de peintre by Susan Barron, whose work we have previously tried, vainly, to describe. Now is the time to go and see it. In repose, it consists of eleven volumes in different formats. But alive and with wings outspread, it fills a whole room at the V&A, each ingeniously lit with fibre-optic beams. There is no other lighting apart from a suggestive play of geometric light and shadow from the entrance. The result is both dramatic and compelling; you long to see more deeply into the labyrinth, while conscious, that clue, Time itself, cannot be captured. The titles [of the volumes], evocative as they are, can only give a flavour of the full visual experience, to convey the sense of Time's winged chariot speeding faster, with only one final halt. The delicate use of many media to convey the infinitely large or the microscopically small, the images now realistic, now suggestive, merging into delicate colours, or perhaps dust and ashes — all this leads the eye on in an irresistible progression, a dance to the music of Time from which there is no escaping. But it has to be seen: words will not convey it, so go, while there is still time.
In LABYRINTH OF TIME ...the irony of the interdependency of grief, love, absence and the (in)secure presence of return lies at the crux of Mourning Sex
Susan Barron's visual images do not lend themselves to verbal description, nor are they intended to. They are paradoxical: extreme detail within extreme miniaturization; full-blooded passion manifest in the most exact control of materials; fascinating surfaces which draw the viewer into complexes which at first seem familiar but then reveal themselves as disturbingly new. Here are history, external and human nature, typography, iconography, sacred texts: fragments combining, separating, and recombining in the most improbable ways which always and surprisingly turn out to have a rightness of their own.
Barron's bookworks are worthy of our undivided attention and study. Here are talismans that inhabit a quasimagical frontier between genres, where words, pictures and all sorts of materials are dissociated from their ordinary contexts and recombined. In the startling and sometimes unsettling works…Barron explores language and its relationship to music, to image and to the natural world. Taken as a whole, Susan Barron's oeuvre may be construed as an iconography of time, universal in scope and conception and entirely lacking in sentimentality. Moreover, the individual pieces, whether delicate and intimate or powerful and intense, serve to halt its passage, release its pressure, and rend its fabric, allowing tantalizing glimpses from various perspectives into what we might call time's primordial harmonic.
Printworks Gallery has a knack for exquisite shows, and the Susan Barron exhibition is no exception. Spare black-and-white photographs…surreal juxtapositions of engravings, multilingual texts, musical notation and whimsical drawings created Heironymous Bosch-like realms of arcane doings in alchemists' dusty libraries.
— KRISTEN BROOKE SCHLEIFER, Art on Paper, New York
Susan Barron's photographs, collages and prints speak to us in sotto voce reminiscent of medieval manuscript miniatures in their elaborate content and fine precision. LABYRINTH OF TIME, a secular book of hours, confirms Barron's interest in both this genre of medieval production and its demarcation of time as part of the aesthetic. Again and again we consider the concept of the temporal and the substantial, the ephemeral and the eternal, the measurable and the immeasurable, the imaged and the empirically known. In some ways, Barron's work harks back to Surrealism (Schwitters and Ernst readily come to mind) in its ambiguity and seemingly random collection of disparate elements. However, the work is too meticulous to be considered totally spontaneous in execution, or automatique in the Surrealist sense of the word. There is in the work a careful arrangement of personal and extra-personal effects interweaving the past and the present to create something which implies, rather than projects, a specific idea or significance.
What is accidental becomes impossible to distinguish from the intentional. This union occurs whenever photography achieves the fullness of art. The result is a burst of theatre that transcends the theatrical, that stands outside the pressures of time…in the best, most challenging sense — one that can apply this to the photocollages of Susan Barron, which she makes with image fragments. They are filled with ambiguities, yet they are not collages. They are photographs. Their surfaces are smooth and whole. They offer us not disintegration to be contemplated but totalities to be grasped all at once. In the face of modernist irony and its difficulties, Barron has created images of the ironic. Irony presents itself here as an option, not a psychic or historical necessity. The sheer assertiveness of the image seems to present a way out of modernism's inward-turning. Out of that directness comes a truth and beauty peculiar to our times.
— CARTER RATCLIFF, Aperture
Some of the work's impressiveness is its refusal to impress by force. However, the images offer a stubborn authority — an unrelenting sureness and a maturity. For pressed into this work is the echo of profound experience and of subtle originality. Every gesture is surprising in its breathtaking freshness. Each work is also stamped with the finality of some long-recognized truth…the pictures' seamless elegance and truly aristocratic beauty bow to their own irresistible spice.
To enter the exhibition from the noise of the street filled with blunt and aggressive visual messages and be confronted with quietness, subtlety and sophistication of Barron's books is an overwhelming experience. No new techniques or materials flaunted here. What is remarkable is the perfection of execution, underlined by the quality which manifests the utmost refinement and craftsmanship. Going through LABYRINTH OF TIME like a meditation is an intimate, engaging and uplifting experience. We are enticed into the realm of mystery and magic, into a world we do not want to leave. This is unique experience in contemporary art.
Engagement with TWISTING SILENCE does not involve absorbing an idea distinct from Barron's process, but instead retracing it, performing it. When one comes to an edge overhanging, as one fragment reads, there is always another surface below it or above it, shifting the reader's attention away from beginnings and endings and onto the abruptness of starting and stopping. Barron's TWISTING SILENCE is an especially compelling sculptural book because it is trapped open, at the edge between haptic wandering that takes place on the book’s surface and the readerly drop into the book's conceptual infinitude.
Evocation is also the intent of Susan Barron's collage projects. Composed of photographs, bits of musical notation, calligraphy, and reproductions of graphic art, these assemblages are meant to enrich one's sense of such ephemeral concerns as time and the meanings of myth.