Eddie Peake

London

at White Cube Bermondsey

Eddie Peake: Roma, 2017, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 78¾ by 122 inches; at White Cube Bermondsey

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Eddie Peake grew up near Finsbury Park in North London and as a teenager hung out at a concrete recreation ground there. Ostensibly this is salient because his exhibition, “Concrete Pitch,” harks back to that gritty, multicultural, urban setting. Yet actually it’s of very little consequence. A specially constructed room within the gallery houses DJs from Kool FM, a former pirate radio station, now internet-based, that during the ’90s helped shape the music scene around the emerging genres of jungle and drum ’n’ bass. There are a number of luridly colored paintings whose spray-painted designs are meant to recall Peake’s involvement with graffiti, as well as the overlapping patterns formed by fly-posters on walls. The central installation, consisting of a long, snaking row of steel tables bearing various objects, is titled Stroud Green Road, after the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. None of this, however, tells us anything particularly interesting, or reveals anything meaningful about Peake’s experience, which is why the facts of his background seem so inconsequential. The show is intended as a kind of love letter to his old stomping ground, but it comes off more like an artier, edgier version of some tourist-board commercial, dealing essentially in cultural familiarity and cliché. And though Peake states, in the accompanying materials, that his work expresses a “quest for identity,” surely identity means more than merely indexing one’s own past in a sort of résumé.

The radio broadcast transmitting live from the Kool FM booth, at least, is enjoyably incongruous. The DJs give frequent shoutouts to White Cube, while frenetic breakbeats fill the exhibition space, mixing with a droning hum from speakers contained in Stroud Green Road (the sounds are apparently distorted samples and local field recordings). Still, it’s slightly disappointing to discover that Peake did a similar piece involving the station for his MFA show in 2013. There’s a sense of familiarity to the paintings, too. Enough has been written elsewhere about the march of zombie formalism. Suffice it to say that Peake’s large abstractions represent the poppier, jazzier end of the spectrum: exactly the sort of thing you might expect, in fact, when a young art star, known primarily for his performance work, gets taken on by a global mega-gallery prior to his graduate exhibition and has to churn out stuff to actually sell.

Peake’s performances in the show depart from previous pieces for which he choreographed the actions of (typically naked) others. His own acts here seem deliberately unstructured, even mundane—whether he’s sitting and checking emails in the office space beside the radio station or dressing in a clownlike onesie, wandering about the gallery, writing snippets of graffiti on a wall. At one point when I was here, he fetched a ladder and climbed into a tiny high-walled cubicle, bringing a book with him, which wasn’t a great sign. He stayed there, unseen, for more than half an hour.

Yet in a way, Peake’s inactivity, his lack of presence, points to the most interesting aspect of the show, involving his perennial theme of bodies and gender. Testeen (2018), a video projection inside a diaphanous, curtained-off area, depicts naked dancers. The tables in Stroud Green Road display various corporeal stand-ins or representations: plaster sculptures and neon-light outlines of organs and limbs, and spillages of blue or pink hair gel. The entire gallery is suffused in pinkish, fleshy light. It’s in this context that Peake’s “quest for identity” starts to make more sense—not in the fact of arriving anywhere in particular, but rather in the very yearning for some sort of physical coherence, for a sense of substance and stability that exists beyond the realm of mere signifiers and symbols.