A trip to Eddie Peake’s show is a disarming experience, mainly, if not entirely, because it features naked people. Over the course of a 30-minute routine, two performers – on my visit, one male, one female, both wearing nothing but trainers – gyrate to music, writhe on the floor in fits of laughter, and sprawl across a chaise-longue, their eyes following those of visitors. I watched a middle-aged man turn and flee, while a pair of kids aged nine or ten looked on in silent wonder.
This performance is woven into an installation of plasterboard corridors, scaffolded gantries, TV monitors, Perspex bears, whalebone sculptures and other glitzy, prop-like objects. All the while a third participant, dressed in translucent white, roller-skates through the gallery, like a guardian angel on patrol.
So far, so wilfully eccentric. But it’s in its juxtapositions, rather than its whimsy, that Peake’s work moves beyond the sum of its parts. While the performers strut their stuff, for example, the TVs play home-movie footage of the toddler-aged artist and his siblings in the nakedness of bath-time. The sudden cut to an underground radio DJ MCing over drum ’n’ bass is simultaneously funny, unsettling and inexplicably compelling.
These are characteristics typical of an artist whose two main fields of interest – the vagaries of sexual identity and the conflicts of communication – co-exist seamlessly. In the difficult space of the Curve, where the work of artists can either falter or thrive, this art-world darling brings his bold and confrontational work to the Barbican’s wider audiences with aplomb.