It’s always interesting when visiting an exhibition at the Tetley to see the different ways in which artists use its unconventional spaces.
The grand art deco former brewery building in Leeds has a huge, open high-ceilinged atrium space as the main gallery area and several smaller oak-panelled rooms which were the offices and boardrooms of its former life. It is a fascinating creative challenge to fill these unusual areas but one to which the latest exhibition rises most impressively.
Simeon Barclay’s show Bus2move, which runs at the gallery until next February, presents a new body of work inspired by the artist’s research into dance and informed by a recent residency at the internationally renowned Phoenix Dance Theatre. It is also imbued with Huddersfield-born, Leeds-based Barclay’s own experiences as a child and young man and the resulting show is rich, thoughtful, personal and relatable.
The works explore the relationship between performance, sculptural installation, film, stage design and sound while incorporating Barclay’s ongoing interest in the complexity of subjectivity and how it is refracted through race, class and received notions of identity. “Growing up I was always around dance,” he says. “Whether that was at family parties or through the film musicals I used to watch on TV and then later in my formative years as a teenager and in my twenties going clubbing. Dance was a sort of expression. It was also about masculinity – seeing the different ways that men could perform, finding a new way of being a man.” The clubs had their own codes, signs and signals – if you could dance you were allowed to become part of something bigger, outside of yourself. “As people we are always trying to redefine ourselves,” says Barclay. “And I liked the idea that clubbing meant I could be the leading man in that environment and make my own narrative.” Some of the rooms in the exhibition recreate, in an immersive way, the sense of being in a club with music playing, lights flashing and faceless hooded mannequins placed in different positions. Sometimes, however, the viewer is deliberately kept outside of the action and can only look on through a grille. “In a nightclub there are hierarchical spaces,” says Bryony Bond, the Tetley’s artistic director who has been watching Barclay’s career with interest over the past few years. “Simeon has been really interested in playing with that idea here – we have lots of rooms and doors, so it works perfectly. I think Simeon is one of the most exciting artists to be making work in the city at the moment.” References to Phoenix Dance recur throughout the exhibition, with the main atrium space featuring a film of the company’s performance of one of their recent pieces Calyx and in a small anteroom visitors can watch a 1984 South Bank Show documentary about Phoenix and its formation.
It is one of the joys of the exhibition that in almost every room music is present – and it really does make you want to dance. There are screens featuring film footage of dancing feet, neon footsteps inspired by dance notation documents – used by choreographers to detail each step of a dance – and throughout there is a sense of seamless movement around the Tetley’s spaces. “What I have tried to do is play with and against the existing architecture here,” says Barclay. “That’s been a really exciting and stimulating experience.”
At the Tetley until February 3, 2019. Free entry.