Let it rip – a tribute to Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Audio reactive video and sound installation – projector, computer, MaxMsp, microphone, loudspeakers, October 2021

In October 2021 the Newlyn Society of Artists celebrated the 125th anniversary with a landmark exhibition at Tremenheere Gallery, near Gulval, Penzance. The brief for the show was short and sweet: find inspiration from our prestigious history and create some work.

Let it rip – The title of the work was inspired by the words of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, an expression she frequently used in her later years – let it rip, let it go. Her urgency to work and create in the last decade of her life was remarkable. The shapes for the visuals are loosely based on ‘Orange and Lemon Playing Games’, a sequence of screen prints from the late 90’s.

In 2012 the film maker Tim Fitzpatrick worked closely with the Barns-Graham Chartable Trust’s collections and archive. In his film Looking In Looking Out he recorded the conversation between the friend and biographer Lynne Green and the curator Dr Helen Scott.

Lynne Green spoke of the way in which forms, colours and their relationship, the seemingly order and disorder in the work of Barns-Graham often relied on an invisible underlying mathematical framework. The random manner was a metaphor for what happens in any given event in human life. These were translated into forms moving and by different colours and relationships of colours that ‘make the colour sing in space’ (Barns-Graham).

She even created accidental events deliberately by using little squares of cardboard. She cut them out, applied colour, placed them on the ground in a certain order and then kicked them with her foot. The result was made into a collage.

Let it rip is a game of accidental events. Set to emulate the above, it applies a similar principle of randomness to influence the outcome. An ‘accidental’ event such as a handclap or any loud, sudden sound by the viewer will alter the projected image instantaneously without ever repeating itself. The possibilities are infinite and seemingly effortless, and it plays a little melody in transition – the closest I could get to make the colour sing.

Wilhelmina Barns-Graham felt excited when people responded to her work, especially when young people liked and enjoyed it. I would like to think that the interactive installation made her smile.