Geoffrey Farmer: The Surgeon and the Photographer is currently showing at the Barbican, a strange and unnerving modern work of art. It is displayed in the Curve, a long winding gallery that reflects its name, and consists of 365 puppets made up of faces, masks, limbs and accessories applied like a collage onto fabric bodies. Popular culture, the ancient world, history and fiction are all referenced. The title of the exhibition comes from an essay by Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in which he compared the work of a magician to that of a painter and the role of a surgeon to that of a photographer. Both, Benjamin says, deal with fragments.
Creepy yet fascinating, these varied figures are rich in detail and personality. I was reminded of the song by the Doors, ‘People Are Strange’, as I wandered among them. Accompanying the exhibition was a montage of sounds, while at the end a series of pictures was presented as a film. I sat and watched these compelling images for a good few minutes.
I have ambivalent feelings towards modern art, but this is something that is worthwhile and rich in meaning. It closes on Sunday – visit beforehand if you can.