Cerith Wyn Evans

White Cube | Hoxton Square

A white neon sign on the facade of White Cube read “slow fade to black.” The gallery name, one imagines, marks an ironic acknowledgment of Brian O’Doherty’s paradigmatic art space. But Cerith Wyn Evans’s cinematic instruction flips the expectations raised by the building squarely on their head: If it wasn’t dealing in dreams and fantasy so much as constructed realities before, it certainly is now. “Look at that picture . . . / How does it appear to you now? / Does it seem to be / Persisting?” is a series of five crystal chandeliers hanging together in the main gallery space. Inspired as it is in look and attitude by Broodthaers’s “Décor” work, the installation is beautifully simple and at the same time densely complex in its intellectual and affective ramifications. One chandelier design originated in an exhibition in Victor Horta’s Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, another has been used in a Riyadh casino, a third, by Achille Castiglione, lit a lounge at the Milan airport, and so on. Their stylistic differences produce a babel of references to the contemporary city, both in its cosmopolitan reality and in the degree to which its forms embody modernity’s faded, thwarted, and displaced dreams and ideals.

There was another kind of babel going on here as well: Each chandelier represented a different voice, being connected to a wall-mounted plasma screen on which a text slowly appeared as it was converted into Morse code by a hidden computer. This process of translation controlled the turning on and off of the lights so that there was a constant flickering, a display of short and long light pulses filling the gallery. Thus one flashing chandelier channeled Brion Gysin interviewing English writer Terry Wilson on the subject of one Eileen Garrett, a spiritualist medium who also worked for the CIA, while through another, Theodor Adorno discussed astrology, pointing out that it provides an analogy for “the split between irrationality of the dream and rationality of the waking state.” Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s critique of J.L. Austin’s theory of performative speech acts rendered both past and future events, as well as the meanings we find in them, open to reconfiguration, while John Cage, writing in his inimitable multivocal style, assured us that “two people making the same kind of music is one music too many.” In this company, Madame de Lafayette’s Princesse de Clèves (1678), collaboratively produced as it probably was by members of her salon, appeared as something like a corps exquis, where form appears as something that has arisen outside of the individual imagination and in relation to the indeterminable thoughts and actions of others.

The overall effect was one of gentle intensity—a conversation among five presences which, while its contours are in fact traceable, could be experienced as random and without pattern. If there is significance in this ungraspable totality, described by Evans as “polyphonic,” it seems to lie as much in impulse, intuition, and emotion as in reason and logic. The promise was held out of a meaning that lies outside language and that is influenced, but by no means fixed, by the established facts of history.

Michael Archer