Simeon Barclay and Rene Matić explore masculinity: In the Name of the Father and Upon this Rock at South London Gallery
South London Gallery is showing two complementary exhibitions that explore notions of masculinity. In the main gallery space is Simeon Barclay’s In the Name of the Father and in the fire station gallery is Rene Matić’s Upon this Rock.
Upon this Rock explores faith, family and subculture. The work includes photographs, mementoes from the artist’s life, a film, a hand-stitched flag and bronze and wood crucifixes. In the first room, the photos document the artist’s family and friends in Peterborough and London, with the idea of faith throughout; shrines and memorials are shown along with graffiti that says “Jesus is”. The photos have a lyrical stillness. Some suggest chaos elsewhere, like a garden chair covered in empty spirit bottles, but the artist has chosen to focus on a more meditative aspect. As with all good photo-documentary, one wants to know more about the subjects. In the second room is 60 and 25, Alive (2022) a wall of crosses and crucifixes. The crucifixion is a symbol of the skinhead culture that Matić has grown up in. The bronze figure is based on the artist’s father, Paul, whom the film Many Rivers is about. There are 60 crosses to represent the years of his life, and 25 figures to represent the years of Matić’s. Some are taken off crosses, which makes the image very different. An off-cut of original 1970s carpet grounds the work, while dim light and a hushed space created by the thickness of the carpet make it reverent. Matić talks of “the search for something greater than yourself, something that won’t fail you when you are being failed”.
The main gallery is filled with the strange installations of Simeon Barclay. The entrance is awkwardly crowded by a giant fibreglass rock. Pittu Pithu Pitoo (2022) dominates the space with its enigmatic and inexplicable bulk, atop which perches a toy cockerel like a sentinel. The unpredictability of the mediums and materials used means it is fun to engage with. There are stickers, oil paintings, neon lights, puppets, soft toys and the repurposed mechanism of a stair lift. It is as if the more surreal parts of hyper-masculinity have been highlighted. The puppet (Walls in the Head, 2022) hangs suspended from a pulley system, tiny, bruised and furious, apparently a representation of a character from the brutal depiction of Borstal on film, 1979’s Scum. One puppet hand is clenched into a fist, the other appears to carry pool balls in a sock. There is something futile about the anger of this already injured character. Though it will likely do him more harm, one senses he can’t help but pursue his rage.
There is a frame of doors in the space, each with strange combinations of words in very official-looking signage, but only one of which opens into the other part of the installation. An experiential aspect is always a nice touch in an exhibition, and, on going through, a puff of dry ice is released, almost sheepishly. In here is 2022 work Inheritance Tracks (Odds and Evens), the stair lift mechanism that has a cardboard cutout of Darth Vader on top and a bunny soft toy filled with cement as a counterbalance on the other side. Viewers can make of that what they will.
It could be said that the art here is an oblique physical manifestation of the more destructive side of masculinity. The stickers that cover the wall of the entrance (Sheba, 2022) have a gleeful-looking guard dog and a slogan that says, “You might get in but you won’t get out”. The same could be said of the persona of very tough men: once one opts in to that world (or maybe there isn’t a choice) it can be very hard to change one’s mind and leave; a man who has built a life on a certain way of being cannot necessarily start displaying emotion or shying away from a fight, as it would be taken as a betrayal. The intended message is not specifically identified, but the giant rock in the doorway suggests an exploration of a way of thinking that crowds other ways out and domineers.
Both In the Name of the Father and Upon this Rock are interesting and, being free, well worth a visit.
Featured image: Jesus Is, Peckham (2021) by Rene Matić
Gallery image: Motorway (2020) by Simeon Barclay
Simeon Barclay: In the Name of the Father and Rene Matić: Upon this Rock are on at South London Gallery from 23rd September until 27th November 2022. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.