A huge rock blocks your way into English artist Simeon Barclay’s exhibition. Rottweilers guard the door, a wall of locked doors splits the room in half.
Barclay has created an exhibition that keeps you out, excludes you, makes damn sure you’re aware that you are an outsider. Growing up as a black kid in the north, Barclay knows what it’s like to feel like he doesn’t belong, to have doors that he can't open, clubs he can’t get into, spaces that aren’t for him; this exhibition takes that feeling and makes it physical, concrete, real.
The show is full of symbols. There are lost footballs stuck up in the eaves of the gallery, totally out of reach. The locked doors have incomprehensible signs on them, like they’re the offices of faceless government departments. One of the doors is open, you push through and find a huge neon sign for Johnny’s, a nightclub in Huddersfield that was hard to get into. This is direct, physical, imposing art that forces you to feel the alienation and rejection of being an outgroup.
But other works are a little harder to grasp. There’s a puppet of a character from the 1979 movie 'Scum' and another of Barclay himself dressed as Donald Duck, there’s a bathtub with oars hanging from the ceiling, a couple of Joseph Beuys felt suits. By the time you get to the cutout of Darth Vader stuck to an actual Stannah Stairlift, it all starts to feel a little impenetrable.
Barclay’s incredibly dense, highly referential visual language feels kind of at odds with the idea of kicking against exclusion and gatekeeping. His work isn't easily definable, or simple to boil down to any kind of singular meaning, but in the end you just feel kept away from connecting with the art.
I love the aesthetic, I love the main thrust of the ideas, I just want to be let in.