Art review: Eddie Peake The Forever Loop at Barbican, London
If you like naked boys and art, then you’re in for a treat. Eddie Peake’s latest exhibition – at the Barbican’s Curve – comes with a warning about nudity, explicit imagery and strong language, and it doesn’t fail to deliver. But it is also a thoughtful investigation into the nature of sexuality and desire, and the beauty of the human form.
Peake combines painting, sculpture, video, installation and performance to create an environment in which the viewer becomes part of action, where art becomes something you not only look at, but also feel, using the 90-foot Curve as a stage or a catwalk on which a drama unfolds. He has constructed a plasterboard maze which houses, among other things, a video of a DJ in a studio and a seated figure with the biggest cock anybody has ever seen. There are super cute Perspex bears – whole families of them – wearing Peake’s trademark scarves, and whale bones strewn all over the place. He has also built a rugged scaffold walkway from which you can look down on the action below.
It all seems very much like business as usual in a contemporary art sort of way, until a roller skater wearing a translucent onesie zips past and suddenly you become aware of the presence of naked flesh approaching you or gyrating in the distance. Boys and/or girls – it depends on the day – traverse the space in an immaculately choreographed looped sequence of movement, reciting a text with no apparent narrative. They brush up against you, lean on you and then dart past you, all as if you are not there; you get this sickly feeling that while you can see them, in all their tantalising nudity, they are indifferent to you. It is all about your gaze fixed upon them, treating them as objects, as exhibits, which jolts you into an uncomfortable awareness of your penetrating stare.
The combination of the objects, the bodies and the soundtrack results in sensory overload, where sound and vision, movement and stillness compete for attention. You become completely immersed in the theatre of it all, as if you yourself are a part of the installation. No matter how hard you try to fix your eyes upon a sculpture, as if you’re just doing the normal business of art, pulsating flesh grabs your attention. A boy’s perfect arms flex or a girl’s long legs dance within inches of your face and you feel kind of guilty, but kind of excited. That, one imagines, is precisely the point.
Peake makes no judgement or comment upon the objectification of the body, but rather celebrates its many charged meanings and invites as much drooling as critical thought. But the real innovation is his indifference to the norms of gender and sexuality, he just gives everyone a bit of what they want: there is simply the body, naked apart from Reebok Classics, eliciting desire and eroticism through the simple act of seeing and being seen.
Exhibition runs until 10th January 2016.