Gallery gunslingers on a shoot to thrill

Video art: Photographer tapes Wild West enthusiasts for South Bank showing
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The Independent Online

The Hayward Gallery may currently be closed until mid-October, but its rooms and corridors were alive with the sound of gunfire yesterday.

To avert widespread public panic, South Bank officials pasted up notices explaining that the noise was "part of a performance being filmed for our next exhibition, Western Security, by Gillian Wearing". What they did not reveal was that the performers consisted of 25 cowboy enthusiasts from south London, all dressed up in authentic Wild West gear, bristling with bullet belts and replica Colt 45s, and enjoying the shoot-out of their lives.

Inside, unfazed by her proximity to the likes of Buffalo Bill and Pat Garrett, the 32-year-old artist checked the 10 video cameras she had installedaround the gallery. She was following a tight schedule: the assembled pseudo-security camera footage has to be edited into a half- hour piece by Friday. It will then be shown for a month in a dawn-to- dusk loop in the Hayward foyer.

The first shoot lasted half-an-hour. Men and women rushed around, miming spectacular deaths to deafening rounds of fire ("Cowboys don't wear earplugs," a man called Waco explained). More than a hundred rounds of blanks and thousands of whoops and hollers later, the floors were strewn with corpses and covered in bubble-wrap by four men dressed as South Bank security guards. The gallery clearly hopes that this, the first in a new venture entitled "Turnaround", in which contemporary artists are invited to use the building between exhibitions as "a blank canvas", will remind passers- by of its existence. But what about Wearing, who met the cowboys while she was working on her award-winning series of photographs in which ordinary people held up hand-written messages on pieces of paper?

"I wanted to do something anarchic in this amazing labyrinth where we are normally so well-behaved," she explained. "It's like school's out, really. It's looking a bit at machismo, the growing interest in country and western, and the increasing use of surveillance cameras - lots of things. The South Bank is the perfect setting - it's like a wilderness."

She dismissed suggestions that dressing up as cowboys was infantile. "The cowboys are quite aware that they're acting like kids - there's a lot of self-parody involved."

Dennis Warne, a truck driver by day, was concerned that the public would not be able to smell the shoot-out. "This isn't Hollywood," he explained. "I don't wash because they wouldn't have washed - if you're going to be a cowboy you've got to smell like one." Buffalo Bill, who wears his outfit to work, said: "It went fine, but I think there should be a cowboy on display here permanently."