Ce­rith Wyn Evans A Kind of Fris­son

Art Press - - INTERVIEW -

In the ear­ly days of June Ce­rith Wyn Evans was put­ting to­ge­ther his ex­hi­bi­tion at the Ma­rian Good­man gal­le­ry in Pa­ris, as if, seeing in the man­ner of lis­te­ning… hea­ring as if loo­king, a set of new pieces whose han­ging he was mo­ni­to­ring at­ten­ti­ve­ly.

Du­ring the in­ter­view, he spoke to us in the lan­guage of his works, of­ten ex­pres­sing him­self in me­ta­phors and cryp­ti­cal for­mu­las that sug­gest cor­res­pon­dences bet­ween words, images and sounds. We al­so tal­ked about his recent works, in­clu­ding the ones in the ex­hi­bi­tion: two chan­de­liers in the main space, mys­te­rious ma­chines emit­ting mu­sic com­po­sed by the ar­tist that are syn­chro­ni­zed for three hours a day, plates of glass han­ging in the ba­se­ment emit­ting other sounds and re­flec­ting a sen­tence adap­ted from Mi­chel Fou­cault, and ano­ther sculp­ture made of glass flutes sen­ding out the air from the room. A sin­gu­lar fi­gure on the Lon­don art scene since the 1980s, Ce­rith Wyn Evans was De­rek Jar­man’s as­sis­tant and the friend of Mi­chael Clark and Leigh Bo­we­ry. He was as­so­cia­ted with the Young Bri­tish Ar­tists pro­mo­ted by Charles Saat­chi but ne­ver ac­tual­ly part of the mo­ve­ment. Ever since his show at the White Cube gal­le­ry in 1996 he has been a re­gu­lar pre­sence in the world’s big­gest mu­seums. His Pa­so­li­ni Os­tia Re­mix (1998-2003), an ini­tia­to­ry jour­ney in the Ita­lian di­rec­tor’s foots­teps, is cur­rent­ly sho­wing at the Ve­nice Bien­nale, and in the Skulp­tur Pro­jekte in Müns­ter he has a poe­tic, al­most im­per­cep­tible in­ter­ven­tion in one of the ci­ty’s churches.

We are in the gal­le­ry’s main room, and the floor is strewn with boxes filled with plates of glass pain­ted sil­ver, rea­dy to de­co­rate the two chan­de­liers here. How’s the han­ging going? Throu­ghout the last few days, they put this ve­lum on the cei­ling and I thought, well it’s not going to get bet­ter than this, let’s stop now and this is the show. It’s al­ways been a pro­cess. Those things in a “sense” are not real­ly ob­jects, they are just things that play a role: you can draw a line around them and put a price on them but that doesn’t real­ly in­ter­est me. I’m not here to put more things in the world, I’m not here to “heal” the world. I like this room. The view out on the gar­den is ve­ry im­por­tant; it’s a me­lan­cho­lic lit­tle gar­den, which be­comes part of the conver­sa­tion. These men come from Mu­ra­no, wor­kers from a fac­to­ry over four hun­dred years old. We found some dra­wings in their ar­chive… You so­me­how sour the world, when you flirt with de­co­ra­tion… Here, it’s an ap­pro­pria­tion of Is­la­mic ver­na­cu­lar forms hy­brid with some kind of sci-fi fan­ta­sy too, twis­ted so­me­how. Parts of it look like Du­champ or Pi­ca­bia re­fer­ring to ma­chines. I think of them as ta­lis­ma­nic sen­ti­nels, “tools” in a sense, al­though I ha­ven’t tou­ched a work of mine for years. These are made by the breath of the people in Mu­ra­no. It’s a kind of cho­reo­gra­phy of breath. If you look clo­se­ly, it’s to­tal­ly im­per­fect be­cause there is no mold. It re­co­gnizes a “Bo­dy wi­thout Or­gans”.

PA­RIS

You are back here af­ter your show at the Mu­sée d’Art Mo­derne de la Ville de Pa­ris in 2006. Pa­ris has played a big part in my phan­ta­sy life ever since I was a child…

So, a chan­de­lier is chan­de­lier is a chan­de­lier… Well, what’s im­por­tant is to help eva­cuate them, those chan­de­liers, from their ter­rible curse. They both “play” pieces of mu­sic. I tried to “work” so­me­thing out on the pia­no, a kind of im­pro­vi­sed si­tua­tion, pe­rhaps lis­te­ning to Schön­berg and loo­king to John Cage’s re­frain… I en­ded up wri­ting a form of script for them. In Last Year at Ma­rien­bad, there’s a fli­cke­ring of the chan­de­lier be­hind Del­phine Sey­rig, which must have caught me when I was young. And in a way it’s al­so a re­ply to the Bride who is now a hun­dred years old.

Are they kinds of ba­che­lors? I didn’t think of them that way, but if they are ba­che­lors they don’t speak the same lan­guage un­til… There’s a strange dia­lec­ti­cal re­la­tion­ship bet­ween them. One ma­chine tells the other ma­chine where in the pro­gram it’s playing. One is the “mas­ter” and the other is the “slave”. As soon as the slave re­co­gnizes the mas­ter, it has to be­come the mas­ter. And then they swap places. In or­der to cor­rect the pers­pec­tive when you come in from the door, the se­cond one is ten per cent smal­ler. There’s a kind of fris­son, of in­fra­mince, which is Du­cham­pian. You’re not real­ly cer­tain of what it is; you have to check again. It’s a pia­no so­lo which is made in­to a duet… The piece is nine hours long and, three times du­ring the day, I want them to ad­dress each other as if they un­ders­tood… We take it down in­to one track… then it be­comes like an echo cham­ber… this has to do with what I am re­hear­sing with pro­por­tions and in­ter­vals.

Downs­tairs there’s ano­ther sound piece: sheets of glass han­ging from the cei­ling with spea­kers on them, for­ming an oc­ta-

gon, a hep­ta­gon and a hexa­gon, quo­ting the shapes of the chan­de­liers above. On the walls around the room, there’s a sen­tence in neon adap­ted from a quote by Mi­chel Fou­cault.(1) It’s like the next chap­ter. The glass vi­brates in a po­ly­pho­ny of 15 chan­nels. It’s a “col­lage” of sounds… live strea­ming ra­dio te­les­copes from a chain of lis­te­ning posts trans­ver­sing the globe. The text is a sen­tence… a loose ap­pro­pria­tion of a text by Mi­chel Fou­cault on Ray­mond Rous­sel, and how he wrote his books with plays on words re­sul­ting in ways of in­ter­ro­ga­ting mea­ning. There’s so­me­thing gro­tesque in co­ming to Pa­ris and quo­ting Fou­cault in En­glish. Ho­we­ver there’s no glit­te­ring syn­tax in it. It pro­vides this kind of frieze, which is part­ly de­co­ra­tive and in a sense can be “igno­red.” When the sound is played, the re­flec­tions on the re­flec­tive planes frac­ture the le­gi­bi­li­ty of the text… neons are cal­led “forms” by people who make them. There’s so­me­thing so­lip­sis­tic in the re­la­tion bet­ween them. As you leave the room you are apt to feel dis­per­sed so­me­how… It’s a big world and there’s no­thing in it.

In the next room, there’s ano­ther sculp­ture, a se­ries of glass flutes han­ging in the air. A si­mi­lar ver­sion of it was com­mis­sio­ned for the Fon­da­tion Louis Vuit­ton last win­ter. Did you play with the look of this an­cient cel­lar as you did with the Frank Geh­ry buil­ding? It’s a strange room with a lot of re­so­nance… the ghost of Mo­lière and “Tar­tuffe” not far, but the piece doesn’t play on it real­ly. It’s going to sound good in here… the breath ex­pires… When the air comes down the pipe and plays a note, it’s a bit like an or­gan. You can hear a strange whee­zing, like vo­cal exer­cises. It owes so­me­thing to Klos­sows­ki’s Ba­pho­met.

You spoke about breath in your Mu­ra­no piece. Does this al­so re­late to Ja­pa­nese cal­li­gra­phy? Yes… and to the time it takes to do so­me­thing. And al­so it re­lates to a kind of un­heim­lich re­la­tion­ship to the au­to­ma­ton. This is a lit­tle present at the end of the show, a kind of ”Buc­cel­la­ti mo­ment”(2).

Or maybe it is the Bride? It’s al­so a kind of splash.

There’s al­so the space of the book­shop where you’ve in­vi­ted old friends. Yes, the gal­le­ry has al­lo­wed me to make my wor­ship more per­mis­sive: Pierre Klos­sows­ki, An­to­nin Ar­taud, Isa Genz­ken, La­wrence Wei­ner.

LON­DON

Centre Point, that 1970s ar­chi­tec­tu­ral land­mark that you tur­ned in­to a ligh­thouse in 2004, by ma­king the let­ters on the top of it fli­cker in morse, makes me think of JeanLuc Go­dard’s film, Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle. They are like co­or­di­nates on a map that is well-tra­vel­led. Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle for me was an epi­pha­ny. The mo­ment when Ma­ri­na Vla­dy says “Now I’m an ac­tress, Ju­liette Jean­son” could not be more ex­press­ly what the piece with the chan­de­liers is about. Fun­ni­ly en­ough you’re men­tio­ning Centre Point, be­cause I’m ma­king a new piece there.* The buil­ding is lo­ved and loa­thed my ma­ny people. It sounds a kind of ho­meo­pa­thic cri­sis, and main­tains an epo­ny­mous cha­ri­ty for ho­me­less people in Lon­don… Centre Point is an event. Now they have tur­ned it in­to apart­ments. It’s a lis­ted mo­nu­ment. There is a stair­case that’s not meant to be used, so it was at­trac­tive. I’ve made so­me­thing like a kind of schi­zo­re­frac­ted cy­clops/ce­pha­lo­pod des­cen­ding a stair­case!

I’ve al­ways seen this buil­ding as a kind of Dream Ma­chine that could be used to look at an ima­gi­na­ry vi­sion of Lon­don. You have gi­ven me a good idea. If so­meone asks me my un­rea­li­zed pro­ject, I’ll say we should make Centre Point spin, simple as that! My work is done. See you in the next world!

WORDS AND LIGHT

When you put words in your works, whe­ther on screens, in neon or in Morse, they sort of work as sub­titles for the film of rea­li­ty. Rea­ding sub­titles is so­me­thing ve­ry in­tui­tive. It’s a kind of tex­ture al­so. Un coup de dés is the rea­son why Pa­ris is “fea­sible” for me. The neons “ex­pli­cit­ly” come from French ci­ne­ma… When I was a child in Wales, any­thing that had sub­titles was a thou­sand times more in­ter­es­ting than any­thing that didn’t have sub­titles. I was drawn like a moth to this hy­per-at­ten­tion of what slip­page was, bet­ween what I could guess was being said, and what was being told to me. It all comes from this lo­ca­tion. Image and text on a crea­king hinge. Then I star­ted thin­king why don’t you put it in the room. The first one I did was “Meanw­hile Across Time” on this huge white wall in Vien­na, po­si­tio­ned low like a sub­title on an emp­ty film screen. It pre­sup­poses a cer­tain amount of know­ledge. Now, I would be a lit­tle more em­bar­ras­sed about as­su­ming that this know­ledge is avai­lable, * or at least how it might be ear­ned and in what form of cur­ren­cy it might be ex­chan­ged.

When you use words you al­so re­late them to light in ma­ny ways, whe­ther neon or Morse. It’s a way of elu­ci­da­ting them. I’d like to think that I have a part to play in de­fi­ling the re­la­tion­ship bet­ween si­gni­fied and si­gni-

fier. I want to bring it loose a lit­tle bit, and bring a ma­gnet to the sys­tem… and throw the ma­gnet in the Seine with all the Gia­co­met­tis that they adhere to. I want to des­ta­bi­lize this ty­ran­ny or, let’s say, dis­perse it across the sce­no­gra­phy of Phan­ta­sy…

Morse is al­so re­la­ted to the ocean—so­me­thing connec­ted with your child­hood in Wales maybe? No, not real­ly. The sea and the ocean feel like two dif­ferent things. The sea say, has to do with mu­sic. The ocean has to do with the lim­bos. Our he­ro the Comte de Lau­tréa­mont says, “I hail the thee ocean”. Morse was in­ven­ted on the sea, it’s of­ten used to cir­cumvent the sea’s vast­ness.

You al­so used fi­re­works, for ins­tance in the piece shown in Ve­nice, Pa­so­li­ni-Os­tia Re­mix (1998-2003). The word “fi­re­works” al­ways make me think of Ken­neth An­ger. I’m proud to say that we met and he was ve­ry ge­ne­rous to me. He sent me a book of his wri­tings for my bir­th­day a few years ago and it said “To my fel­low Ma­gick Ma­ker, on the ides of March. Love, Ken­neth An­ger.” His Ma­gic Lan­tern Cycle lit the way for ma­ny.

Pa­so­li­ni-Os­tia Re­mix seems to be a way of co­ming back to film af­ter some years. The image of fi­re­works in the film is al­so an image of the film bur­ning. Pli se­lon pli. Things change, I have a new heart, my ap­pe­tite for the world has re­fi­ned a lit­tle bit, but you come back to more or less the same place. When Pa­so­li­ni takes on the Nietz­schean myth of Oe­di­pux Rex, he knows that at the end of this film, we’ll be at the be­gin­ning, and you just have to be­gin again. The shrine is the “splice” in the loop. What I made was a per­for­mance. The film is a do­cu­men­ta­ry in a fun­ny way. Di­no Pe­dria­li who wor­ked on it was a hust­ler who be­came a friend of Pa­so­li­ni. He was one of the last people to pho­to­graph him. I was in Rome and it came to me that the re­sult of all this came from loo­king at the sub­titles “On the banks of the Li­ven­za…”. I wan­ted to com­me­mo­rate… The film was ta­ken to Ci­ne­cit­tà, in the same room where Pa­so­li­ni sat wat­ching “rushes”; there was a kind of pil­gri­mage as­pect to it.

ENCRYPTION

You did a pro­ject at the CERN, in the par­ticle

ac­ce­le­ra­tor. The pro­ject is hard to speak of; it flirts with the no­tion of re­pre­sen­ta­tion. It deals with ti­ny and vast scales. It’s like some strange dream. In Or­phée, Coc­teau says: “You try too hard to un­ders­tand.” I sat with scien­tists for lunch. We were tal­king about what we do, I as­ked if they real­ly wor­ked on black­boards and could I take a pic­ture of the black­board. They said yes, but they wan­ted to change so­me­thing be­fore I did; as so­me­thing was true yes­ter­day but not any­more to­day.

In ma­ny of your works you’ve en­cryp­ted words and ideas. In the Tate Bri­tain Com­mis­sion 2017, Forms in Space… by Light (in

Time), you’ve en­cryp­ted mo­ve­ment. If you create a kind of fric­tion bet­ween code and mo­ve­ment, it eva­cuates phe­no­me­no­lo­gy from the sen­sual world. We are in contact with all kinds of ve­lo­ci­ties, which are out­side of the bo­dy’s clock. Things change, there is a price to pay. Al­so I’m a lit­tle sus­pi­cious of the grand ges­ture. The piece in the Tate is a grand ges­ture, if not cy­ni­cal—but I don’t think there’s any­thing cy­ni­cal in it. I thought, “And why don’t you beat them at their own game and real­ly fill the space?” It would have been ea­sy to put a cat food can on the floor and say this is it. I had a lot to work against, es­pe­cial­ly with this po­pu­list Da­vid Ho­ck­ney ex­hi­bi­tion. I des­pair at the world­view of Da­vid Ho­ck­ney. So I thought next to his show, I’d have to speak up a lit­tle… It’s on­ly casting spells in the hope…

Can you tell me about your pro­ject in

Müns­ter? I’m told the de­se­cra­tion of Müns­ter’s ar­chi­tec­ture by the Al­lied forces at the end of World War II was a kind of pu­nish­ment for the Luft­waffe bom­bing Co­ven­try. In the 1950s, the people of Müns­ter, de­vas­ta­ted by the war, made the ex­tra­or­di­na­ry, reac­tio­na­ry de­ci­sion to re­cons­truct the ci­ty with er­satz me­die­val buil­dings. Kas­per Kö­nig and the Skulp­tur Pro­jekte was born at first, in an at­tempt to ad­dress the an­ti-mo­dern spi­rit of the place. But even­tual­ly people rea­lize that’s it’s a great op­por­tu­ni­ty for mar­ke­ting the ci­ty. When they ar­rive, tou­rists re­ceive a map and a bi­cycle. It’s ba­sic…. Yet you have the weight of all these contri­bu­tions. Mi­chael Asher casts a long sha­dow… traces and stains re­so­nate. I won­de­red whe­ther Kas­per would let me close down a school, or lock a li­bra­ry up for the du­ra­tion of the show, Then I thought maybe this is too ba­nal and too nar­cis­sis­tic. Okay, I could just shift so­me­thing from here to here, and no one need know. Whe­ne­ver you are in Müns­ter, eve­ry few mi­nutes you can hear bells. So I’m chan­ging the pitch of the bells of St. Ste­pha­nus, a beau­ti­ful church out­side the ci­ty cen­ter.

Is it your first Im­pres­sio­nist pain­ting? There’s a won­der­ful book by phi­lo­so­pher Eric Alliez, The Brain Eye, about ni­ne­teen­th­cen­tu­ry French pain­ting. We were tal­king about trans­la­tion and De­leuze’s book on Mar­cel Proust, Proust and Si­gns. He told me I should read Proust in French, and I said I will un­ders­tand so lit­tle, and he said I should just pick it up and read!

(1) “The illu­mi­na­ting Gas (…) sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly im­poses a form­less an­xie­ty, di­ver­ging yet cen­tri­fu­gal, di­rec­ted not to­wards the most wi­th­held se­crets but to­wards the imi­ta­tion and the trans­mu­ta­tion of the most vi­sible forms: each word at the same time ener­gi­zed and drai­ned, filled and emp­tied by the pos­si­bi­li­ty of there being yet ano­ther mea­ning, this one or that one, or nei­ther one nor the other, but a third or none.” (2) Buc­cel­la­ti is a je­wel­ler, foun­ded in 1919.

« Com­po­si­tion for Flutes 2 ». 2017. 11 flûtes en cris­tal, uni­té de « res­pi­ra­tion », sys­tème de vanne, tubes en plas­tique. Flûtes: 62 cm (long) x 2 à 2,5 cm (diam); uni­té de « res­pi­ra­tion » : 49 x 41 cm; tubes en plas­tique (Ph. R. Fa­nuele). Crys­tal flutes, “brea­thing” unit, valve sys­tem, plas­tic tubes

« Pa­so­li­ni Os­tia Re­mix » 1998-2003. Film 16mm, 15 min, muet (© Ce­rith Wyn Evans) À gauche / left: « A Mo­di­fied Thre­shold... (for Muns­ter), Exis­ting church bells made to ring at a (slight­ly) hi­gher pitch ». (Skulp­tur Pro­jekte 2017 ; Ph. H. Rogge)

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