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Craft/Work

Loop > See Loop: Eddie Peake And Kool London At The White Cube
Robert Barry , February 11th, 2018 13:49

Artist Eddie Peake invites legendary London pirate station Kool London into his dwelling space at the White Cube, Bermondsey

Eddie Peake'Concrete Pitch'White Cube Bermondsey, London, 7 February - 8 April 2018 © Eddie Peake. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

Eddie Peake appears to be stuck. Dressed in a white, hooded onesie with primary coloured pompoms in a line down the front, he is attempting to manoeuvre an ornate, vintage chaise longue through the narrow confines of the “dwelling space” he has built for himself inside the White Cube’s South Gallery. Unfortunately the white-walled corridors appear to be tighter, their angles more acute, than he had anticipated. Has he thought this through? Were it not for the ripple of splintered Amen breaks and rolling synbrass fanfares echoing about the space, the ill pink light infusing the room, the scene might be frankly comic, like something out of Laurel & Hardy. But Peake, clown suit or no, plays it deadpan. No clowning around from this straight-faced clown. This is play performed in workmanlike fashion. And after some struggle, he manages the bench around that tight bend, through the door, and into the wider gallery space.

As Peake himself says, addressing the assembled press corps at the private view, “Movement around the space of the show,” – his, yours, and mine too – “is sort of loopy – in both senses of the word.” Peake’s fourth exhibition for the White Cube is a deliberately disorienting affair. A show without beginning or end suffused with loops within loops and spirals within spirals.

A snake of low metal shelving units bisects the room, loaded with trays of slime and speaker cones; from these cones, a loop of Peake’s voice sings in choral shepherd tones, simulating a sense of constant ascension in pitch within a tightly coiled curl; to its side an eddy of floor-length white curtains conceals two screens showing looped videos of nude dancers performing an eerie clockwork choreography; and in a booth attached to Peake’s “dwelling space”, DJs from ex-pirate station Kool London mix vinyl discs of 90s jungle, a musical itself all manipulated loops and time-stretched splices. Whorls within worlds within whorls. The sampler as time machine. Breakbeat science.

But within and around these cycles of cycles sits another kind of time, more linear. The life of a city – London – and of a man – Peake himself. Born in 1981, a year of riots in Brixton, Dalston, Clapham, and Stoke Newington, Peake grew up in North London’s Finsbury Park, an area which likewise saw its share of action, when on 20 April of that year, 54 people were arrested after a riot swept up several hundred more, hurling paving stones and rampaging through fairgrounds in scenes recalling May ’68. The ‘Concrete Pitch’ of this show’s title – along with the musical reference that Peake points out (as in musique concrète and the seemingly ever-rising pitch of those shepherd tones) – refers also to the playground outside his childhood home, a “social leveller”, Peake claims, where the districts many distinct tribes would meet and intermingle.

As Peake entered adolescence, the soundtrack to that zone of cement and aggregate was provided by Kool FM (latterly rebranded “Kool London”), a pioneering pirate station with an equally egalitarian credo: “No matter your class, colour or creed, you’re welcome in the house of jungle” (as quoted in Simon Reynolds’ Energy Flash). As Peake points out, Kool FM is almost exactly the same age as the White Cube gallery itself. In the 90s, Kool FM ruled London’s illicit airwaves at the very moment that it’s almost twin, was rising to the peak of London’s then-burgeoning art scene, buoyed by the success of YBAs like Sam Taylor-Wood and Tracey Emin.

Eddie Peake'Concrete Pitch'White Cube Bermondsey, London, 7 February - 8 April 2018 © Eddie Peake. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

In 2000, White Cube moved into a new space in a rapidly gentrifying Hoxton Square and Kool FM started broadcasting on the net, at a time when online music still felt a bit like the wild west, a new virtual frontier. Though they initially maintained their pirate frequency on the FM band, Kool London has now gone legit. Once castigated by the tabloids and the BBC, the station is a consistent award-winner, celebrated in numerous published books. They will be broadcasting from the White Cube throughout the length of Peake’s show there – much as they did five years ago from the Royal Academy for the RA Schools Show in June 2013. The White Cube, meanwhile, abandoned its old Hoxton haunt in favour of another, newer frontline of gentrification, South London’s Bermondsey, where the present show is located.

These conjoined histories history are embedded in the coiled DNA of Peake’s show – and not without a certain nostalgia. Kool London’s DJs were spinning exclusively from vinyl when I saw them. Many of the paintings on the walls of the gallery, with their day-glo airbrush swirls, resemble images from old club flyers and rave tapes. But if it’s nostalgia, then it’s nostalgia of a strange kind. Nostalgia, perhaps, for the future. This is a show that looks back warmly at an era where a certain kind of intensity, like the shepherd tones issuing from those speaker cones, seemed forever to be rising, rising, rising, straining to meet some impossible febrile apex.

Having finally succeeded in shoving his old chaise longue, out the door of his “dwelling space”, across the gallery floor, and into the spiral of curtains, Peake now lies forlornly on the floor, fingers and toes outstretched, making a sort of C of his body, his head angled slightly so he can keep his eyes on the dancers onscreen. Huddled awkwardly around him, we watch him as he watches the dancers onscreen, waiting… for something. “There is a power relationship in looking,” Peake had reminded us earlier, “– and in being looked at.”

Outside the Kool London DJs are playing DMS & Boneman X’s 1994 track ‘Sweet Vibrations’. The heavy pink light is half-soothing, half-oppressive. And the pitch of Peake’s massed voices constantly rises from the s-bend of steel units. On a screen beside the DJ booth, Kool London’s Twitter feed is blowing up, listeners “locked on”. DJ E, on the decks, cues up another early 90s classic. “Shout out,” he says, “from the White Cube.”

Eddie Peake, Concrete Pitch, is at the White Cube, Bermondsey, until 8 April

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