Big Win: A Modern Morality Tale, 2011

In 2011, Barnaby Barford was invited to make an intervention into The Laing Art Gallery’s 18th and 19th Century galleries. He created The Big Win: A Modern Morality Tale, a series of sculptures, which were shown as a year-long participatory exhibition at the Newcastle’s institution.

The extensive collection includes an array of aristocratic paintings as well as those of the working classes, often romanticised in their presentation. Barford explains “I took this as my inspiration, drawing a comparison with current affairs, the ingrained rich-poor divide and the demonisation of entire sections of society which is prevalent throughout history.

"Faced with The Big Win, a story that purposefully exaggerates and ridicules the anti-hero, I wanted to gauge public opinion. Let the audience be judge and jury for the protagonist and see what fate they chose for him."

Barnaby Barford

‘The Big Win: A Modern Morality Tale’, told the hyperbolic story of a so-called ‘layabout’ who longed for celebrity lifestyle and goes on to win the lottery. Charting his rise and then fall as the money runs out, the sculptures explored contemporary society’s insatiable appetite for celebrity culture and living beyond our means.

Loosely based on the narrative of ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by 18th-century artist William Hogarth, Barnaby Barford’s ‘The Big Win’ also depicts contemporary problems such as gambling and payday loans.

Creating six out of the seven sculptures, Barford invited visitors of the Laing gallery to contribute their ideas of how the story should end. By doing so, Barford hoped to provoke discussion, asking viewers to consider contemporary morals and values and the consequences of these. The ideas were displayed in the Gallery, and one was chosen by Barford to create the seventh sculpture and complete the story.

“The ideas proposed by the visitors are just as important as the sculptures themselves. It is vital for projects like this to engage the public in new ways. I want to encourage dialogue between the visitors, between generations and also between the contemporary and the historical.”

Barnaby Barford