Simeon Barclay @ The Tetley


Emoji summary: 😶💡🕺

i did it. i finally went to Leeds to see some art n i am here to say I enjoyed the markets more than the galleries ! and also that I had it in my head Leeds was a shithole but it is quite nice lol. i’d gone back in the day to hang out with a friend when we were both students and all I remember is stories of how dangerous the park is for girls, a big bad nightclub, dirty student kitchens, pesto pasta, n having an embarrassing sexual encounter bc I was very drunk and couldn’t? not? be loud? it was nice to see the city years later in the light of day and erase what it meant and looked like in my own cultural imaginary. still missing a good body of water, Leeds, r u sad 2 be so landlocked? Also still has shit vintage shops. You’d think reworking old clothes would be cool but I don’t know why people think cropping a washed out fred perry shirt and putting some elastic in the hem makes it thirty quid. I had some nice pakora tho and also bought a pomelo to bring home with me. And i’m currently typing away because ngl I’m avoiding getting to the art. but we’re at 200 words so ill make the shallow-end plunge into art criticism for my first visit to The Tetley where they had a solo show on by Simeon Barclay. shallow-end because i’m here but most of my body is still dry, poking awkward out the water, unable to submerge n feel.

All I really knew of Barclay’s work was a second-hand experience via instagram of the exhibition he had at Tate. i remember the black cage holding green or teal neon lights layered with images. all a bit forensic, fashionable. a drawing of a woman’s head, monochrome image of footballers jumping to kick/head the ball with tape crossed and dotted over them (I’m googling to be able to describe this, just for transparency). there was a young Kate Moss and a calvin klein advert on a box telly on the floor, and bright yellow cartoonish things. i thought: i bet you everyone thinks this art is really cool because it uses neon lights and pictures of famous people. and by everyone i mean art bros. Like anything beta bros are into for the sake of their personality, I was not fussed to have missed it. But in my effort to review more goings-on outside of Liverpool this year, I went to Barclay’s solo in his home town of Leeds hoping for - and getting - something different. instead of a confirmed suspicion he might be feeding all the boys I hate some content, i actually got nothing at all, or less than that (which might be better tbh, wouldn’t want them to feel aesthetically fulfilled by bright lights and cartoons, the sexually insincere dickheads).

For the Tetley show, titled Bus2move, the artist had placed different and singular gestures in each of the 9 old wooden rooms on the building’s first floor (the gallery is the not-so-transformed ex headquarters of Tetley Brewery, there is a boardroom you can walk into with paintings of old white people etc.). For Barclay’s show, there were caged walls, glass or windowed doors between some of the 9 rooms so you could not enter them fully, the art kept out of arm’s reach. We’re talking: looped projections of (mostly black) people dancing in clubs or halls, feet lighting up in white on a floor in sequential pattern, the separate neons LOOK / NO / HANDS in green, blue and yellow across three adjoining rooms, classical musical, an 8ft or so blown up picture in half black / half blue print of british kids from ~the past~ visible between strobe lighting (the image: 1 small black boy holding a skateboard with 5 white boys all loitering against a wire fence). One room you couldn’t get into just had a green tint to glass barricading the doorway, and red curved limbs over its surface. In the big atrium with triple height ceilings, there were just three orange plastic boxes on the floor with a portrait of pop star Terence Trent D’Arby (known as Sananda Maitreya), their paper portrait resting limply in the corner of each container. + above them, glass in the shape of the word Slight, as though it was neon but turned off / asleep. It’s funny bc I guess what I’m writing sounds fairly interesting - like the exhibition could be an active negotiation of dance, blackness and cultural histories. But it was one of those sad occasions when it sounds good on paper but the real thing isn’t lit. the press release was more interesting than the exhibition and i HATE THAT. largely I blame the architecture of the Tetley because I felt like i was having this stop and start experience of the artist’s work, when it would have been more effective thrown together in a good space - like a Chisenhale-sized room would have served the body of work better.

But ye, then saying that, it was also the art. the art was dry. the looped video pieces were so surface level, unworked and museological more than anything. Fucking hate neon words, the biggest gimmick in art since the urinal. ofc I wondered if me and this exhibition just weren’t a good match because of interest / identity / personality; I didnt know if I was being really fucking white and missing the point entirely. I was moaning to our instagram followers that I found the show boring and i got a bank of replies back saying ‘TOLD YOU SO’ ‘so boring’ ‘OMG i thought that too’ and the messages just kept coming. I’m glad we went to see the show together on instagram dear reader, there's a whole affinity in shared boredom tbh. And up until that point, disinterest had been lonely, like my experience of this exhibition is what getting called to do jury duty sounds like - sitting very still waiting all day for something to happen, then going home after hours on a bad chair because nothing decided to land. i didnt find any love in this show, any flair. strictly come dancing has got more oomph (I cant believe I’m using that word but it’s true), so has select video work by Soda Jerk on dance, or this piece by Rene Matich. imo it was a boring show, the shape of the Tetley stressed me out, and the art could have done with being in the oven longer. u win some u lose some, at least i had a go.

(this exhibition closed beginning of feb)

a black and white photo printed huge and leaning against a wood panelled gallery room - the image shows a bunch of kids leaning against a railing, one black kid amongst white kid, all boys, and on top of the image there is a real light, a red light fixed on top of them
a blue tinted video of someone’s legs as they dance and in green neon opposite is the word LOOK
there are strips of blue light visible through a window
a doorway is blocked by green plastic or glass, and it has a red frame and the thin red outline of arms and legs very minimally
three translucent red cubes on the floor of a white cube gallery space with objects inside that arent quite readable