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”.


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!


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)

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