Review of Beat Streuli: New Street, Birmingham

Triumphantly harbouring the works of Beat Streuli’s latest exhibition New Street, Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery has been transformed into an ensemble of diverted perception and indirect human observation. Streuli uses both floors in the gallery and the tower room to allow the viewer to become both provocateur and voyeur of the variety of works on display. Streuli’s output spans photography, projected images and video. These detached mediums can sometimes sit rather unnvervingly, due to the lack of direct contact with the characters in the work, alluding to an ethical issue of privacy and display without consent. But at the same time the pieces mesmerize and perplex through their minimal and clinical white interior.

The first floor of the gallery is illuminated by natural light, and the walls present huge towering paste-up photographs of street scenes from various cosmopolitan hubs around the world, including Birmingham. None of the subjects, if indeed they are intended subjects, or simply found subjects, make eye contact with the camera. It is hard to decipher Streuli’s objective in these works, but the fact that they are on display within an art gallery removes the images to a status above that of documentation to a more sublime level of intellectual property. In doing so, as one examines the walls for minute details, it is hard not to feel like a voyeur, silently trespassing into the lives of the people within the photographs, treating them as a subject for discussion and perhaps judging them without perhaps addressing their humanity.

The second floor is dramatically different- the cold white of first floor has been replaced by a soft blue flare of electrical projections and television screens. This electrical storm instantly challenges the traditionalist approach to an exhibition space. On entering through the twisting black passage, the viewer is forced to turn around and focus on two perpendicular walls screening a series of projected images. In order to see them both at the same time one must stand in the corridor leading to the second section of the gallery space on the second floor. It is here where Streuli manipulates the viewer to use their peripheral vision in viewing the images. The projections both sit harmoniously with each other and contradict one another. The photographs range from indirect portraiture to close-up abstract layers, shapes and colours of the city. While all this is going on, the viewer’s sense of sound is drawn behind to the second part of the gallery where a series of three more walls exist projecting different images. This clash of sounds an imagery replaces the unnerving feeling developed on the first floor with an almost surreal sense of paranoia. This paranoia is built upon by the encasing of visuals and sounds with the unnatural interior of the space.

The inflicted paranoia contradicts the gallery’s architecture. The high, contained arches supporting the roof and the flickers and cracks of light that buzz in the viewer’s peripheral from the art gives a strange sentiment of spirituality. It could even be argued that Streuli is almost playing the role of God, as his work orchestrates the viewer’s movement through the gallery. This unconscious movement echoes the passive involvement of the people in Streuli’s photographs, projections and videos that unknowingly become works of art, as they are evaluated and talked about by thousands without them ever being aware.

Beat Streuli: New Street, until 3 February 2013, Ikon Gallery, Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS

William Davie

1. Birmingham 2012 series, Digital projection, variable dimensions, Courtesy the artist.
2. Photograph from series St. Petersburg 2010, Courtesy the artist.
3. Photograph from series Queens, NY 2010, Courtesy the artist.
4. Photograph from series Queens, NY 2010, Courtesy the artist.