Anna Barham

Linnet Trumpets Agora


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Not on display
Anna Barham born 1974
6 works on paper, ink
Support, each: 415 x 590 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Brian and Nancy Pattenden Bequest 2012


Linnet Trumpets Agora is a group of six biro drawings in which the artist has traced a series of grids and added letters to make up different words and sentences that are anagrams of the words in the title, such as ‘time patterns languor’, ‘plato turns germinate’ or ‘starting ornate plume’. These words gradually multiply into a tree-like, branching pattern, revealing the ability of language to create elaborate forms on paper as well as to trigger associations of ideas in the imagination. Inspired by concrete poetry and making use of some of its techniques, the formal arrangements of words on the page become as important as their meanings. The work’s title is in itself an anagram of the phrase ‘return to Leptis Magna’, a reference to the ancient Phoenician city of Leptis Magna in modern-day Libya, one of the three cities that were later collectively called Tripolis, from which Libya’s capital Tripoli derives its name.

Barham works with video, sculpture, drawing and performance, and she often focuses on the interplay between a system and the potential it offers. Much of her work centres on poetic texts created using a self-prescribed set of rules and, in particular, the rules of the anagram, a word play that is the result of rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase, using all the original letters exactly once. Barham has been working with anagrams since 2007, her interest stemming from the idea of revealing a word’s ‘unconscious’ meaning by exploiting its associative potential. She has explained that this word play has ‘a literal sense, but no explicit meaning. It sets up a situation where meaning has to be actively constructed by the viewer. It allows for something to happen and be generated’ (quoted in Desclaux 2011, p.101).

Barham combined her fascination with anagrams with her interest in the story of the archaeological discovery of Leptis Magna. Thus the titles of several of her works are themselves anagrams of the words ‘Leptis Magna’, in numerous different permutations with their own connotations. More recently, in works such as Linnet Trumpets Agora and the related Magenta, Emerald, Lapis 2009 (Tate T13886), she has created anagrams of the phrase ‘return to Leptis Magna’, which is also the title of a book she has published which consists entirely of anagrams of the same phrase. Barham was drawn, in particular, to the fragments of the ruins of Leptis Magna that were given to King George IV in 1816, and that were used to build an artificial ruin at Windsor Great Park. For Barham, the detritus of the ruin, a fragile and incomplete construction that had been taken out of context and therefore opened to new meanings, became a point of departure to explore the structure and form of language in a kind of ‘linguistic’ anastylosis, whereby the city’s name is endlessly restored and reconfigured by reassembling its parts and, when necessary, incorporating new ones.

Following the rules of the anagram, Barham’s works apply logic to stretch language to the very limits of its capabilities, to the point when it stops making sense. The rearrangements of letters in Linnet Trumpets Agora reflect the formal value of words when considered as individual letters that act as shapes, and play with the capability of language to create meaning and the reader’s insistence on finding it.

Further reading
Catherine Wood, ‘Anna Barham’, Creamier. Contemporary Art in Culture: 10 Curators, 100 Contemporary Artists, 10 Sources, London 2010, pp.38–9.
Vanessa Desclaux, ‘Anna Barham, Step into Tangram Rule’, Volume, no.2, 2011, pp.91–103.

Carmen Juliá
November 2011

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