The internationally acclaimed Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans has unveiled his latest work; a major new neon sculpture at National Museum Cardiff. ‘Radiant fold (…the Illuminating Gas)’ (2017/18), has been created by the artist specifically for the museum, and is the second donation made through the Contemporary Art Society’s ‘Great Works’ scheme which aims to tackle the absence of works by major British artists in UK museums, over the last two decades.
Here this Duchampian aesthetic reveals itself through the artist’s three floating discs of searing white neon
The work is in fact the first large-scale neon sculpture by the artist placed in a UK museum collection, and was inspired by forms found in Marcel Duchamp’s iconic work ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’ (1915-23).
Here this Duchampian aesthetic reveals itself through the artist’s three floating discs of searing white neon – equally a response to the architecture of the museum – and evoking ‘unfamiliar registers of perception’; a three-dimensionality forming a dialogue with contemporary notions of perception.
In fact the piece is also a conversation with the room – unique to the Museum’s ‘ziggurat space’; creating a kind of ritualistic environment, in its severe symmetry – the artist points out that even something as sensitive as the exit lights in the room would in fact be detrimental to the piece.
The work comes from research into deconstructing a particular Duchampian motif; approximately a hundred years after the aforementioned work by Duchamp, Cerith Wyn Evans brings a contemporary perception to multidimensionality informed by technology – as with Duchamp, the artist leaves ‘retinal art’ behind, or at least shifts its perspective.
Thus Duchampian space is changed in our perception by the passage of time – as modernism changed our perception regarding the philosophical aesthetics of contemporary art – now the artist suggests the contemporary models of science as a particular lens.
As aside from the seemingly formal aesthetic of the artist’s oeuvre, the work can remind us that light is vibration, a charge; where neon takes on an almost Beuysian significance -the neon of the periodic table – a conceptual substance alluding to universality. When the glass smashes the gas will go back into the universe, merely borrowed by the artist as a temporary electrical conduit.
Cerith Wyn Evans reminds the viewer of the temporality of the work, the impermanence of the form – at the same time as the work’s perpetual changing formal qualities as perceived by the viewer – reading one form in the neon assemblage through another; at once a nod to perceptual change, and existential impermanence.
Images are now produced and consumed in a very different way than they were before, technology is even changing the way many of us perceive the art object; often through that technological lens, with smartphones in hand. But ‘being in the room’ still is of great importance to this artist, for without that presence the viewer would miss the shifting perspectives of formality, the advantages of occupying space physically, and the allusion to the artist’s alchemical and transformative relationship with this gaseous and quietly Beuysian substance.
For Cerith Wyn Evans it seems that as well as the artist’s preoccupation with multidimensional perception; neon is the artist’s fat or felt.
Lead image: Cerith Wyn Evans with ‘Radiant fold (….the Illuminating Gas)’, 2017/18, National Museum Cardiff. Photo: P A Black © 2018
Words: Paul Black @Artjourno, photos: P A Black © 2018
Cerith Wyn Evans – Radiant fold (….the Illuminating Gas) – National Museum Cardiff – Gallery 24 until 2 September 2018