Critics’ Picks

Bedwyr Williams, The Gulch (detail), 2016, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Bedwyr Williams

Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre Silk Street
September 29–January 8

Bedwyr Williams’s installation The Gulch, 2016, transforms this institution’s Curve gallery with a path that unfolds in stages, recalling the experience of traversing a theme park. Each environment is a chapter in a narrative that disorients the viewer, annulling the previous segment and simultaneously presaging the next one. Every passage is a reversal of perspective, a transfiguration of the glance. The mise-en-scène of a full moon over the sea—with the noise of breaking waves, the nearly imperceptible sounds of gently rippling water, reassuring background music, the crackling of a bonfire, and an abandoned running shoe—pulls us into Williams’s grand illusion.

As we proceed into the shadows, we come upon an assortment of sculptural tableaux: a self-portrait statuette of Williams standing on a rock with a heap of wooden pallets at his feet; a broken wooden spoon; and the upper half of a mannequin wearing a jacket emblazoned with the title of this immersive work. In another area, we encounter a nonfunctional beverage-vending machine. Cushions and bongo drums nearby encourage audience participation. Suddenly, there’s a conference room with a video on a screen and an invitation to talk through a microphone connected to a speaker on a taxidermied goat. A glittering curtain opens onto the journey’s end, where we locate the second discarded sneaker, lying along the edge of a running track. Japanese maneki-neko—beckoning cat figures—on floating Ikea bookcases greet us as we are ushered out beneath an enormous group portrait.

Williams has constructed an engaging and audacious story—a “process-based” artwork that is also deeply theatrical. It infects the Curve with a high-minded cheekiness and rich poetry.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.