The place is quite familiar, rendered strange over the decades. We’re in a shopping centre in Peckham in 1994. Everyone’s dressed in baggy 90s style. If anyone’s carrying a shopping bag, it’s plastic. This being several decades before that multi-story car park down the road got its pink coat of paint and craft beer outlets, the crowd is solidly ungentrified. And nobody has a mobile phone, so nobody’s filming the very unusual scene - except one camera.
In the middle of its frame is a very young-looking Gillian Wearing, dancing a clumpy two step right in the middle of the passage way. As I watched, my attention wandered from her and into the shops that surrounded her - that Curry’s with its old, pre-PC World merger font. The gross glass awning, PoMo style so surely less than a decade old, but already grimy.
Most of all, it’s the amused, tolerant passers-by, who give Wearing the odd double take but otherwise leave her be, that kept me watching, and made me smile. Somtimes my attention drifted back to her - those brown courdroy trousers! That slight air of self consciousness that couldn’t signal ‘British person dancing’ more clearly! - and then back out to the crowd. The best bit? It all happens in total, baffled silence. The show notes its “Beckett-like, existential absurdism”. To me, it plays out like a cringey-but-funny Mike Leigh scene, played out south of the river for once.
Wearing’s work, Dancing in Peckham, is part of a real grab bag of an exhibition at Sprüth Magers, which brings together a bunch of 90s Brit Art (of course), with Karen Knorr’s inscrutable 70s photos of ultra-wealthy Londoners, and a few photos from Astrid Klein… whose association with Joy Division singer Ian Curtis probably gives the show its name somehow?
Anyway, whatever the surroundings, I loved this video. You can see some of it on YouTube here.
New Order: Art, Product, Image 1976 - 1995 is at Sprüth Magers (London). July 24 - September 14 2019