Cerith Wyn Evans
ARC/Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Cerith Wyn Evans’ large circular concave mirror Inverse, Perverse, Reverse (1996), which hangs at one entrance to the gallery, flips you upside down, triggering a twisted re-enactment of Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage. According to Lacan, the moment that a child recognizes itself in a mirror as a whole being is the moment that boundaries between self and other – between the ‘I’ and the image of itself – are drawn. This moment precedes our entrance into language, and so into the social relations produced by language. Here in the rarefied air of the gallery the instant of mis-recognition in front of Wyn Evans’ mirror seems like an initiation into un-learning your position as subject and your expectations of language. Followed by a considerable stretch of white wall deliberately left blank, the mirror prepares you for the intense play of references, the elaborate brocade of texts, lights, images and sounds that are about to unfold.
Seventeen different crystal chandeliers created by leading designers hang throughout the space at different heights, like oversized falling snowflakes. Sparkling candelabras, reflective balls and ornate tendrils contain intermittently blinking bulbs that beat out words and sentences in the now officially ‘dead’ language of Morse code. Each chandelier is titled after a specific text written by one of an eclectic range of authors, from J.G. Ballard to Judith Butler. When you turn your back on the pulsing lamps, the codes are revealed as phrases that slowly appear on plasma screens opposite each chandelier. The works play with linguistic slippage, leading away from the cryptic towards approximations of meaning.
Wyn Evans readily admits that intertexuality structures his endeavour: the author, or by extension the artist, does not originate a text but orchestrates what has already been written. A similar orchestration is evident in the slide piece The Sky is Thin as Paper Here (2004) (its title borrowed from William S. Burroughs), which creates a palimpsest of astronomical images and mysterious found photographs of naked Japanese men performing rituals. The accumulation of seemingly unrelated images produces an entirely different ‘text’. Hidden on a terrace outside, a white neon sign … in which something happens all over again for the very first time (2006) serves as a title for the Eiffel Tower peeking over the rooftops. Back inside, a wall full of black and white celebrity portraits, taken from a 1959 book entitled Portraits of Greatness, is punctured in strategic spots. Each of the Portraits of Greatness Penetrated (2004) has an accompanying biographical text. However, Wyn Evans has asked the curators to alter the arrangement of the montage throughout the duration of his show in order to scramble the references, thus interfering with our access to the biographies of the figures.
While the disfiguring of the portraits could be an attempt to question our fascination with celebrity and our construction of cultural icons, the entire room devoted to the multi-talented Brion Gysin is clearly a homage to this artist and writer. A portrait of Gysin with his eyes closed is captioned with a neon sign that reads: Brion Gysin, Mistra, near Sparta in Greece, 1938 (photo: Brion Gysin). In addition to a series of drawings taken from the museum’s own surprising collection of Gysin’s works on paper, Wyn Evans presents three of his reconstructions of Gysin’s Dreamachines (c. 1960 and 2006) – cylindrical light-shades spinning on wooden platforms at 75 rpm. When looked at with closed eyes, the rotating, flickering light is meant to provoke an altered state of consciousness. While the humming, screeching and squealing from Florian Hecker’s adjacent sound piece, Asynchronous Jitter, Selective Hearing (2006), might feed the reverie for some, I found it an unwelcome disruption.
The path through the exhibition is an imperfect circle. At its close Wyn Evans lets Guy Debord have the last words: In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni. He spells out this palindrome, the title of Debord’s last film, in a circular neon sculpture hanging from the ceiling (In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni, 2006). Looking across the hall, you can just catch a glimpse of the sign, and yourself, in the concave mirror. Perhaps it was the effect of the dream-machines, but the palindrome shining back at me no longer translated as ‘We enter the circle at night and we are consumed by fire’. Instead, this phrase kept coming to mind: ‘We enter the game of language and we are consumed with desire.’