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Two Surrealist Exhibitions at The Barbican

Published 18 June 2010

After last month’s meeting with London artist Rudy de Belgeonne, I found myself looking for more art to sink my teeth into. And so, my journey for artistic discovery continued at the Barbican, where two Surrealism exhibitions are running in tandem: The Surreal House and Curve-Vehicle incl. π-Man-(.) Both exhibitions fall under the Barbican’s ‘101 Things to Do in Summer‘ collection of events.

Firstly, I headed to Curve-Vehicle incl. π-Man-(.) – an installation by German artist John Bock, set in the Barbican’s Curve room. Walking along the whitewashed Curve, I am greeted by a colourful and packed metal pod. It’s one of three that Bock describes as ‘parasites’, the parasitic structures attached to the ceiling and walls. The first is filled to the brim with oriental edibles – noodles, chopsticks and the like. Nearing the end of the Curve are two more bright metal pods filled with clothes and clocks and also, the piece de resistance: the curve vehicle. The vehicle – ‘a four and a half metre-high sculpture, made of four ovoid forms, and stacked on a London black cab chassis’ – dominates the room. Strangely, actors inhabit the pods and the vehicle (which reminded me very much of children’s playground equipment). The actor in the huge towering vehicle manoeuvres himself and the structure between the pods, docking with the pods occasionally and climbing the whole height of the vehicle to speak to the other actors. The vehicle too is filled with a plethora of seemingly random objects – including a trainer, blender, pots and pans, and balloons. The conversations had by the actors are just as random as the objects filling the installation structures, and can be quite bewildering, as one moment, the dialogue is overly simplistic – with the actors talking about a white shirt for example- and then the next moment, talking about ‘quasi self-capsule formations’. The jump in the intellectual level of the dialogue was at times, annoying, and the nonsensical nature of the talks also proved to be frustrating. However, the curve vehicle is magnificent in its uniqueness, and this makes up for the less than enthralling performances by the actors.

Then I made my way to The Surreal House, an exhibition that examines the relationship between surrealism and architecture. The exhibits are displayed in a series of rooms, each assigned an identity from a typical house, as well as a theme. However, apart from the odd toilet or table, the items that fill the rooms are far from normal and removed from the everyday Modernist house. Paintings by Dali and Duchamp hang on the walls, odd sculptures take up corners and old school surrealist films are projected in dark, eerie rooms. Personal favourites include sculptures Concert for Anarchy by Rebecca Horn, Metal F*****g Rats by Noble & Webster and the film Jabberwocky by Jan Švankmajer. Although some of the artwork is very clever, some pieces are equally crude or confusing.

Verdict: For those interested in more traditional classical art, including fine art, these exhibitions might be too big a leap outside of the box. However, those willing to keep a very open mind about art, and those willing to put more thought into their own interpretation of some of the work might find The Surreal House their cup of tea.

Selected image gallery from the two exhibitions:

The Surreal House (Level G) / Curve-Vehicle incl. π-Man-(.) (Level 3)
From 10th June  till 12th September 2010
Barbican Art Gallery
Admission Free

A range of events running alongside the exhibitions will be taking place at the Barbican, including gallery talks. For more information, head to: http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery