London

Richard Wilson

Barbican Art Gallery

Entering the Barbican’s unusually shaped project space, aptly called The Curve—essentially a narrow, curved hallway—one encountered a large screen showing a projected video: In a dark, extremely cramped environment with a dangling utility light, a supine Richard Wilson disassembles his surroundings, cutting and drilling through greasy metal with electric saws and pneumatic drills. Sparks fly, accompanied by a sound track of clanks and bangs. The shakiness of the camera and the staccato editing add to the sense of disorientation.

Behind the screen, initially hidden from view, a classic London taxi—the actual set for Wilson’s video—rested on metal scaffolding, its rear end propped up at a roughly forty-five-degree angle. Bending down in front of it, one could peer through the cylindrical vector traveled by the artist, from the front left of the cab’s hood through the exposed engine into the driver’s seat and spacious rear compartment and out the trunk. The taxi’s roof light blinks, as if the vehicle had been traumatized by Wilson’s rude intervention. The procedure of sculpture-by-removal recalls Gordon Matta-Clark’s works made by boring through old buildings—think of Conical Intersect, 1975—but Meter’s Running (all works 2006) juxtaposes video and sculpture, so that the recording of the process comments on its material residue. It’s as if the automobile had passed through the screen, materializing out of its own image.

Hot Dog Roll, encountered further into the gallery, is another vehicle reinvented sculpturally. What was once a common catering truck now suggests a giant piece of crumpled-up paper, as if Schwitters had reclaimed it for his Merzbau. But unlike discarded trash, the piece’s wooden intersections of geometrically shaped planes are meticulously and cleanly fabricated. One approached a third work, Trailer Trash, from the rear, moving from materiality to image, rather than from image to object as with Meter’s Running: In this piece, an old ’80s RV spins lengthwise on a metal armature as if on a giant rotisserie. The caravan’s tumbling contents generate noises of slamming doors and tossed cushions, visible only from the vehicle’s far end, which has been removed. On a screen positioned on a large wooden lattice in front of the trailer, a video shot in real time shows its discombobulated interior. Because the camera spins with the vehicle, the interior’s video image appears bizarrely stabilized and right-side up, while anything that’s not bolted down—curtains, cabinet doors, light cords, refrigerator door—moves about, as if the place were haunted by a poltergeist.

Wilson poses sculptural constructivism next to video’s illusionism, physical fact against visual fiction. Juxtaposing mediums facilitates a greater sensitivity to the particularities of each, as video’s visually flat, time-based image contrasts with sculpture’s physicality and spatial positioning. Adroitly, Wilson reverses these associations as well: While the video in Meter’s Running opens onto sculptural process (by documenting the artist’s labor and emphasizing the grunting materiality of his work), thus revealing what happened to the displayed taxi, the RV in Trailer Trash, spinning like a giant projector wheel, explains the video’s illusions. Wilson modifies his material surroundings with astounding creativity and visual delight. His approach to sculpture depends on an intense engagement with the relation between matter and perception, and revels in the hand’s enchanting ability to individualize the objects of mass production.

T. J. Demos