Most of the art works featured in Bergen Kunsthall’s beautifully curated Cerith Wyn Evans exhibition were not, strictly speaking, new. And yet, responding as it did to the challenges posed by the institution’s eccentric layout, this particular display of the artist’s recent output had a coherence and stylishness all its own. Accessed through a central foyer, the main galleries of the Kunsthall consist of four contiguous exhibition halls of diminishing size, the final space being only a fraction of the size of the first. As Wyn Evans has said, ‘proportions are the fabric of my work’, and here this notion was developed in temporal as well as spatial terms.
The vocabulary of classical architecture, with its emphasis on the harmonious relation of parts, informs S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (‘Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive’s overspill…’) (2010), the exhibition’s central work, which stretched throughout the majority of the show. Each of the pillar-shaped incandescent sculptures in this installation is made from light-bulb filaments bound together to suggest drums of Doric columns stripped down to their bare essentials. Whereas at White Cube in Mason’s Yard in London, the space for which they were originally built, all seven pillars had been gathered in a single rectangular space, at Bergen Kunsthall they were apportioned to three of the four gallery spaces in a ratio of 4:2:1, commensurate with the dimensions of each room.
More than a sum of its different spatial parts, the exhibition played itself out in time to the haunting (and eventually grating) sound of pan flutes emanating from a mobile made of Perspex and crystal suspended from the ceiling in the largest room (Untitled [Flute Piece Incarnation Bergen Kunsthall], 2011). In tandem with the this work, each pillar grew brighter until it reached a pitch and slowly faded into the background, even as another pillar visually came to the fore in a carefully orchestrated yet random 14-minute circuit. The optical effect was enhanced by a combination of reflective floors and the Kunsthall’s gridded glass ceiling, which not only extended the columns vertically but also blurred the spatial boundaries of the rooms.
As the light fluctuated in intensity, the surrounding walls took on a range of warm hues, from dusky to creamy white, in stark contrast to the cool bluish light radiating out of the third room. Here, a series of framed works on paper, ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard’ (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance, 2009), was for me the clincher, in the way it interrupted the flow of the overarching installation. Its pared-down, Zen-like aesthetic was a welcome respite from the pulsating light and almost palpable heat emitted by the columns in the remaining rooms. These 22 book pages mounted in black frames reference a 1969 Marcel Broodthaers piece in which the Belgian artist had recast the typographical layout of the 1914 posthumous edition of symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés (A throw of the dice, 1897). Where Broodthaers overlaid the words of the poem with black stripes, Wyn Evans takes the process one step further by actually cutting them out, thus drawing attention to the void left by the removal of the paper and bringing the wall behind into the picture. The emphasis falls on the ‘space between’ that these pieces inhabit and in which their meaning resides.
According to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose writing has been an ongoing source of inspiration for Wyn Evans, the perceived object is inextricably bound to its background. Caught up in web of meaningful relations, each object holds a mirror up to all the other objects in its environment. Wyn Evans hints at this in the title of his suspended neon sculpture, Elective Affinity (2010), whose enigmatic wording – ‘Look at that picture, how does it seem to you now… Does it seem to be persisting?’ – calls on the viewer to retrace his steps and reflect on how the installation can be experienced differently, depending on the viewer’s chosen itinerary. Immediate in their sensory appeal, though fraught with literary and philosophical resonances that occasionally strike one as affected, Wyn Evans’ evanescent creations leave a lasting impression.