Cerith Wyn Evans A Kind of Frisson
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”.
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.
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.
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)