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Bedwyr Williams’ The Gulch at The Barbican is brilliantly weird

Steve Dinneen
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Bedwyr Williams’ The Gulch
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You’re greeted at the entrance of the Barbican’s Curve gallery with a polite warning: “If you want to perform – sing, dance, that kind of thing – please be respectful of other visitors”. I wasn’t tempted to burst into song, but it’s a suitably surreal way to enter this brilliantly weird exhibition.

This site-specific installation builds on the physical curve of the gallery: a sandy beach segues into a rocky, goat-topped cliff face and ends up as a running track. There are no captions to explain what you’re looking at – or walking through – just a series of absurdist vignettes: a cabinet with rocks placed on top of what look like human heads; a broken spoon accompanied by audio describing a Welsh restaurant; suspended shelving units empty but for a single waving cat toy.

Williams says he wants the installation to place the viewer in the role of performer, and there are instruments and microphones dotted around should inspiration take hold. His sense of fun and disdain for austere gallery environments brings to mind David Shrigley, or Ragnar Kjartansson, whose show recently closed at the Barbican.

A highlight is a video piece housed in a Kubrickian room in which visitors sit around a boardroom table surrounded by black drapes. It tells the story of a depressed hypnotist who records meditation CDs for his patients, inviting them to imagine they are pieces of dough being baked in a lovely warm oven. It’s a microcosm of the installation: bizarre, endearing, laugh-out-loud funny, far better experienced in person than decoded on a page.

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