Cerith Wyn Evans At The Serpentine Sackler Gallery

The Serpentine Sackler Gallery presents an exhibition of Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans’ illuminated works. Apparently this is a major solo show that brings together a number of pieces by the artist; and described as a varied body of work brought together ‘in concert’, which Wyn Evans has stated as “responding to the spaces which examine the transformative ‘Site/Sight/Cite’ effects that light, sound and duration can have on both spaces and their occupants. The site of the gallery, the perception of sight, the citation of references are multiple and swarming.”

The artist began his career as a film and video maker, producing short experimental films in the late 70s. Since the 90s Wyn Evans has focused on what has been described as a precise, conceptual process, that has often developed out of the context or the history of the environment in which the artist is exhibiting. The artist’s work has often been characterised by its focus on language and its articulation through space.

Wyn Evans has been known to create striking and emotive effects; the artist’s firework pieces, for example, were wooden structures that spelt out open-ended texts that burned over a designated period of time; and had a rawness and kinetic finality. The artist is said to be a disciple of the ephemeral – as well as the Warholesque trashily seductive ‘post pop’ of the Velvet Underground. According to the artist’s aesthetic; this lightness can suddenly hit the viewer with a feeling of unexpected pathos.

Wyn Evans hopes that the installation should work as a catalyst to the viewer: ‘a reservoir of possible meanings’  – as stated by The Serpentine’s press team –  ‘that can unravel many discursive journeys’. The white neon pseudo poetry of the Welsh artist stretches around the gallery’s cube but the ‘discursive’ narrative of reason over intuition seems rather illusive here.

The artist’s use of sound, as well as light, is somewhat transformative of the space; with an intangibility that is a little more welcome than that of his neon texts. Mechanical flutes, suspended in the central spaces of the gallery sound throughout the building, echoing mournfully throughout the architecture. The artist’s varied Light pieces and chandeliers appear to inhale and exhale, in a faint mimicry.

There is also three straight lines of neon that are propped against the wall, that  Wyn Evans calls ‘Leaning Horizons’ –  as if the borders of heaven and earth are taking a well earned break – the work is quite amusing, but seems at odds with the hippy purple amethyst geodes and potted plants – that also seem slightly at odds with the rest of the exhibition.

The works are slightly reminiscent of the sadly forgotten 90’s artist Hamad Butt, a Goldsmiths graduate who was struck down by the AIDS virus; and whose short journey was reflected in his use of various glass objects – but with Butt there was the delicious frisson of Chlorine gas as signifier of his own internal bodily poisons – where, instead with Wyn Evans’ only light presides.

It is in the punctuation of the viewers journey around the artist’s wall-based neon text, that there is a needed reprieve; with individual works such as Wyn Evans’ ‘Column (Assemblages IX)’ 2010, and the artist’s ‘Taraxacum’ 2014, which are enjoyable and detailed works, if a little empty and still a tad ‘Butt-esque’.

The artist’s reflections and echos can be engaging on a meditative level as the viewer wanders around the exhibition, but there is  a sense of the emptiness of a failed science museum display about the exhibition’s curation; it could be stated that something is missing.

The missing ‘element’ is a tangible lack of emotiveness; the gallery takes on the feeling of a science fiction theatre set void of its actors. Wyn Evans’ works on display can be intriguing, even mesmeric on occasion; but the overall feeling left with the viewer is that technology seems to have overridden art.

Cerith Wyn Evans – Serpentine Sackler Gallery – until 9 November

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2014 – Photos Courtesy of Serpentine Sackler Gallery all rights reserved

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