Nick Hackworth

Electric Dreams, Barbican

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Despite the title, the dreams dreamt by the 10 artists brought together in this exhibition are not exclusive to the age of electricity. They are dreams that have been inspired in many ages by the fall of night upon a great city, when grubby excitement is to be found upon its less salubrious streets. But in step with our time, the dreams made manifest here are neon-lit and centred on the world of the nightclub.

Appropriately, the curators have conjured the atmosphere of a nightclub, albeit a tawdry, seedy and empty one, in the unlikely surroundings of the long, thin, curving exhibition space on the ground floor of the Barbican Centre.

The “sculptors” and the one painter, Kirsten Glass, appropriate symbols associated with urban night life and use them to refer to the feeling of that night life, while the photographers and video-artists actually fill in some of the details, whether real or imagined. Jack Pierson makes the most obvious and underwhelming use of appropriated symbols in his “found neons”, which are just that — simply typical neon signs declaring things like “Adult Movie”. Slightly more sophisticated is Jim Lambie’s cute but expendable piece Soft Cell, a wall-mounted working and turning turntable covered in blue metallic glitter.

Meanwhile, the vampy models who, collaged together, successfully inhabit Glass’s retro, pop-arty painting fluoresce gently in the ultraviolet light that bathes the work. Also effective is Martin Eder’s attention-grabbing piece: a wall-mounted and lit sign that says “I Love Drugs” and a huge mass of broken polystyrene sheets covered with thin strands of cotton that look like cobwebs and stream out from the “I” of the sign, so that the polystyrene appears to be its dream.

Filling the room with Electro beats are two art-cum-music videos. The Berlin-based fashionable art/music collective Fischerspooner exercise their futuristic-gothic-punk tastes in the piece Sweetness, while the collective Donatella play around with fragments of mainstream fashion and chart hits in their more random and less interesting video.

If anything, Electric Dreams captures only too well the flavour of nightlife that always promises much with its glitter and its shine but often delivers so little.

Until 26 August. Information: 0207 638 8891