Chris Evans, ‘CLODS, Diplomatic Letters’, 2012, installation view

The recent monograph on Chris Evans’s collected works is titled Goofy Audit (2011), so it’s tempting to read the first part of his recent show’s title, ‘CLODS, Diplomatic Letters’, as a synonym for dolts, rather than the large lumps of earth suggested by the four cement and marble sculptures that filled the space. These rough-bottomed forms each had a smooth, flat top bearing a borehole, suggesting chunks levered out of a pavement by metal poles which have since been removed. The works vaguely invoked the famous May 1968 slogan, ‘Sous le pavés, la plage’ (Beneath the paving stones, the beach). Evans configured each clod, or set of clods, on and around a series of low white platforms reminiscent of flat gravestones, their blankness suggesting effacement. Laid out either along or at an angle to each of these platforms was a strip of rubberized flooring, invoking the corridors of bureaucracy rather than of power. Each mat had an edge in contact with a surface other than the platform, such as the floor, or the wall; Evans’s corridors, then, took unexpected turns.

The first work the visitor encountered in this show was not by Evans. Rather, it was a text he commissioned, written by Marina Vishmidt, made available at the entrance where one might have expected to find the press release. Its title, ‘Mime and Rock’, brought to mind an earlier series by Evans, ‘The Rock and The Judge’. His 2005 show of that name featured three drawings of judges that he commissioned from three policemen. Each ‘judge’ looked down on a sculpture of a rock Evans had created in response to the drawing, the animistic forms of the rocks suggesting prisoners in the dock. In her text, Vishmidt goes on to reference the series explicitly. It was clear that we should consider ‘CLODS, Diplomatic Letters’ in light of ‘The Rock and The Judge’, since CLODS… is also a sculptural series made in response to a set of commissioned drawings.

The three drawings shown alongside the sculptures here – in this case solicited by Evans from members of the international diplomatic community – are of plants. Tellingly, they are invasive plant species from other countries that rapidly colonize their new habitats, such as the Lantana Camera (commonly known as ‘Spanish Flag’). Each drawing is made in its own idiosyncratic style: one is sketched lightly; another is composed of frenetic, spiky marks; while the third is drawn in thick soft lines with careful shading of the berries. One carries a full signature and details of where the drawing was made, another simply the Latin name of the plant and the artist’s initials, while the third carries no information from the artist, but to the left of the image is visible the shadow of a column of text (a list? A poem?) on the reverse side. Evans’s triangulated dialogue between individualism, authority and uniformity is played out here in the relationships between drawing, mat and clod: these illustrations were produced by diplomats, functionaries in nameless departments symbolized by the off-kilter office flooring; the invasive plant species depicted could be weeds growing symbiotically with the concrete of the clods.

Evans’s insistence on surface – the highly buffed concrete/marble of the lumpen clods, the textured PVC flooring and smooth white platforms – is most obvious in these images, which he has inverted and printed to produce glossy negatives (resonating with the absences suggested elsewhere in the show). The warped surfaces of the highly reflective prints rendered the delicate images harder to read. Which brings us back to ‘CLODS’: the all-caps suggests an acronym, invoking the types of organizations (complex of name, obscure of function) that identify themselves, or are popularly identified, in similar terms – their official names often unknown or unfamiliar.

Natasha Soobramanien is a British writer based in Brussels. She is currently collaborating with Luke Williams on a novel-in-instalments, Diego Garcia. The novel will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2020. She tweets at @soobramanien.

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