Eddie Peake’s takeover of the Barbican’s Curve gallery is composed of 29 works across a range of media, however the exhibition comes together into a single ‘Gesamkunstkwerk’, with all disparate elements falling into a single, measured programme. The resulting experience is definitive of Peake’s aesthetic and thus the exhibition has the feel of an expanded self-portrait.
The spine of the exhibition, which provides the titular looping drive of this total artwork, is ‘Revolution’ - a 30-minute video displayed on five monitors throughout the gallery and accompanied by a live choreographed performance. This mash up of dancers in a studio performing strong, synchronised choreography, Kool FM DJs jamming to Drum & Bass and Peake family home videos dictates the throbbing, erratic rhythm that permeates the space.
The live component of the work is equally varied and disjointed. Three performers are at all times active within the space: one gliding around on roller skates provides a more fleeting and demure presence, while two others wearing nothing but sharp white Reeboks respond and react more directly to the video work. At times these two performers roam silently and languidly alongside the public through the built environment of scaffolding and bright wall paintings. In other moments, they leap into form with the dancers on screen, pelvic thrusting to the rhythm of an abrasive string ensemble and hollering with the beat: ‘WHO DEM BITCHES TRYNA’ SUCK MY DICK?’
The gestures remain the same with each loop, however each role is filled by a rotation of male and female performers. The same actions will therefore have varying inflections for different audiences; yet in treating male and female bodies interchangeably, Peake shrugs off much of the established debate in art about gender and the body. As opposed to queer and feminist practices that often call upon more abject or carnivalesque tactics, these are pristine, groomed and obedient nudes. Far more uncomfortable than any of their provocative gestures or crude simulations is the vacant nature of their on-cue outbursts and eroticism.
This is perhaps the difficulty of Peake’s aesthetic; raw materials become glossy and imbued with a playful, yet cool nonchalance. The influences of graffiti and club culture are all there, but the Curve is brightly lit and smells of fresh paint rather than sweat. In ‘Onanistic Claw Crip’, some vague, dirty phrases and a cartoon penis are looped in white cursive across a chequered dance floor in an elegant cum shot. Yet even with this chill, Peake’s work is inarguably concerned with pleasure. Many of the sculptural components in the exhibition are from a series of ‘Handschmeichlers’, which refers to objects that are excessively enticing to touch. These are curious compositions of bronze orbs, cushiony leather panels and smooth, obscure bone-like objects, as well as semen covered tissues - the result of another gratifying touch.
Perhaps the pleasure, then, is all Peake’s. The environment he creates is hardly hospitable, but one can sense the artist’s satisfaction that everything is exactly in place and every action is unfolding by design. It is as if Peake brings together these disparate objects, actions and influences not to ignite conversation or court controversy, but simply because he likes them and because he can.