Eddie Peake & Prem Sahib: Feel Up at Southard Reid, London

Located up several flights of carpeted steps in a Dean Street townhouse is Southard Reid’s gallery space. A single room facing out towards the plush bars and restaurants that now populate the heart of Soho. The current exhibition, Feel Up (2012), was born of an ongoing collaboration between the artists Eddie Peake and Prem Sahib.

In the gallery space, a gold partition tapers in from the entranceway toward the room’s corner, intersecting the far wall such that, of its expanse, only a window is left showing. The partition is made of three planes of gold Perspex, each embedded with a single speaker. They play an even, thrumming bass. Just visible behind the partition are the green, leafy tops of potted-bamboo plants. Reflected in the shiny gold is a flat Samsung screen. Its black-and-white images look sepia-tinted in the plastic-y reflection. On the screen a woman in a loose dress straddles a man, lying on the floor, his black underwear disappearing beneath her skirt. She leans forwards and spits on his collarbone. The image is definitely pornographic. She rubs the spittle into his neck and chest with her fingers. He remains passive and expressionless.

The diagonal bi-section of the room has turned it into a set, a space that needs to be navigated. It becomes clear that this is the room in which the action took place, but now it is we who act in the space. When we watch the video’s reflection in the gaudy mirror we cannot help but see ourselves reflected with it, slightly distorted in its ostentatious surface.

Other tableaus occur in the short video. Youthful characters perform simple actions in unison: turning the head, smoking, covering the mouth. Nonetheless, it always feels as if we are preparing to return to the man and woman on the floor. This is the dominant action. The sequence of edits and stylised shots is evocative of the format of a music video. The timeline-like conformity to a singular soundtrack contributes to the effect. When we do rejoin the sequence however, the soundtrack has changed. The pulsating music has been replaced by laughter. The man, still unresponsive, seems to be being ridiculed. The sexual gesture has become violent.

The collaborative elements of the piece can be separated. The gold screen with sound installation is the work of Sahib and the video, a piece by Peake. Initially the two appear effortlessly amalgamated, essentially singular. However, when the video repeats, the sound does not. Their durations are different. They never truly align. In each repetition a shift appears between image and (apparent) sound of the film. Each scene impacted by a variety of noises, from rhythmic dance-music to laughter, breathing, and the unmistakable sound of spitting, though of course, this never seems to align with the woman’s salival ejections.

The indeterminate relationship between the elements allows for chance readings, and can be understood as an exploration of audio-visual synchronicity; the way in which a sound and a moving image form an immediate bond in their concurrent durational progressions. Further to this, however, they provide discourse on the nature of collaborative artwork. The work must be read as two divisible entities that in their experience have become completely inseparable. Merged, but with no need to be synchronised.

In the office space of the gallery hang further examples of the artists’ work, made informal by a large central table around which are seated various members of the gallery staff (and Prem Sahib himself). This time it is Peake who has made use of reflection. His paintings are formed of garishly colourful spray-paint markings, sprayed directly onto mirror-polished steel. Unpainted sections cut through the fluid backdrops forming letters, one reads, Lets all Get Ravey (2012). Across the room from this are two panels made by Sahib, Work That Body Yellow I & II (2012). His surfaces are again golden, but this time not reflective. The panels seem showered in small crystalline droplets, as if they are perspiring. Again this seems one body of work. The instantaneity of colours and phrases of the club culture just down the road, subtly completed by condensation on the walls.

Eddie Peake & Prem Sahib: Feel Up, 9 October – 10 November, Southard Reid, 67 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QH.

Travis Riley

1. Detail of Feel Up (2012), courtesy of Southard Reid.
2. Feel Up (2012), Eddie Peake and Prem Sahib, courtesy of Southard Reid.
3. Installation View Second Gallery (2012), courtesy of Southard Reid.