View of “Eddie Peake,” 2015.

View of “Eddie Peake,” 2015.

Eddie Peake

View of “Eddie Peake,” 2015.

At the heart of Eddie Peake’s exhibition “A Historical Masturbators” is the city of Rome—where the British artist lived from the summer of 2014 until early 2015 (and now lives part-time), integrating himself into the local social and cultural life, becoming a bit romano in the process. Twenty-one works conceived and produced during this stint are on display at Lorcan O’Neill through April 4. While they vary in medium and technique, these efforts share traces of the ironic nonchalance with which the artist constructs his associative system of ideas and images. Peake’s methodology draws from Surrealism to incorporate a vast repertory of imagery derived from the artist’s personal experiences, lending the exhibition an almost autobiographical flavor.

The show’s leitmotif is difference and repetition, which the artist explores via various permutations of subjects, images, and sculptural forms. The repetitive nature of the installation emphasizes the wealth of meanings these works possess and the multiplicity of viewpoints from which they might be considered. Take, for example, Handschmeichler 14 (Helicopter Engine Test), 2015, and Handschmeichler 15 (A Nightmare Featuring Snakes Symbolizing One’s Lover’s Other Lover), 2014 (the German noun Handschmeichler refers to an object that has no specific function but fits comfortably in the hand—and translates literally as “hand flatterer”). In each, a black cushioned shelf hosts serial arrangements of similarly shaped abstract plaster sculptures and bronze pipettes. In the seven paintings on view from the “Mask Paintings” series, 2013–, facial features are rendered as cursory cartoonish doodles or geometric abstractions in a theatrical play of references. The epically titled 2015 works Two Teenage Boys Are Surprised to Find their New Female Friend Completely Sexually Available and Four Boys About to Become Teenagers Masturbate Together. Three Feel Guilty About It (for the First Time) but One Is Still Happy nearly mirror each other. The fractured compositions each consist of a painted bird and sports jersey (Peake has a passion for soccer) flanked by the neon outline of a hand.

The same doubling can be seen in two seven-foot plastic silhouettes of scarf-wearing bears from 2015: One is French blue and appears to be walking, innocuously (Mostly Just Watches People), and the other, depicted mid-roar, is crimson (Hangs Around Outside the Shop). Though the beasts are poised at opposite ends of the gallery, it appears as though they are representations of a single living creature, captured at slightly different moments. Three humanoid figures (Argument Jpeg, 2015; Tangenziale Prostitute Jpeg, 2014; Who the Fuck Is This Charmless Man Relentlessly Speaking at Me, and Why the Fuck Am I Still Listening to Him? Jpeg, 2014) have a similar effect. Each consists of an undulating rolled-steel body topped with a Plexiglas-cube head filled with objects—one contains an espresso maker, used condoms, floppy disks, and a diary, among other sundries—reminiscent of a Kurt Schwitters Merzbild. These iterations, like sequential frames in a film strip, seem to present disparate moments simultaneously. The exhibition culminates in the gallery’s basement space with I Wanna Be Free in the Wild, 2015, in which a plaster baby is accompanied by a vibrating sound piece. The infant cradles an iPad, on which pastoral scenes alternate with those of a masturbating woman.

This motley collection of themes and references was contextualized by Peake’s eight-minute monologue The Labia, 2015, during which the performer, a nude woman, toggled between Italian and English in her portrayal of two different characters: an aggressive Roman youth and an eccentric English aristocrat. Swinging between male and female, prudish and flirtatious, the performer moved through a choreographed dance sequence before simulating masturbation with a bonsai tree. With works both explicit and confounding, “A Historical Masturbators” riffs as much on the libidinal aspects of difference and repetition as it does on the differences and repetitions of one’s libido.

Pier Paolo Pancotto

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.