Cerith Wyn Evans

Cerith Wyn Evans
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
London, U.K.
September 17 − November 9, 2014

This exhibition by Welsh artist Wyn Evans was like a mini retrospective, bringing together video, neon and installation works from the past few years. Previous exhibitions have been loaded with references to everyone from art-world-friendly philosophers like Gilles Deleuze and George Bataille to film-makers such as Kenneth Anger and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. (Indeed, Evans worked with film-maker Derek Jarman before his art career took off.) Such citations suggest that Evans’s tastes lean towards the baroque.

Upon entering the gallery, one first notices that the space is filled with sound, as if the building is tunefully wheezing. The source of the sound isn’t readily apparent. A neon text-based piece placed high on the wall lines the entire gallery. It starts with a phrase about hanging Chinese paper lanterns in preparation for an outdoor party, but then turns into an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative, as if the artist was piecing together fragments of half-remembered dreams.

Following the text around the space, visitors come across groupings of elaborate chandeliers that flicker on-and-off. (There was little information about the works available onsite, and the docents weren’t particularly helpful either; however, it seems Evans titles the chandeliers after books, such as The Princesse de Cleves by Madame de Lafayette (1678) and, in some instances the flickering is passages from the books translated into Morse Code.) At the back of the gallery, viewers find an arrangement of decorative plants and crystal formations. At first, it seems out of place but, upon reflection, perhaps it serves as a visual link between the flower, leaf and fruit motifs often found in chandelier designs and their origins in nature.

In the Serpentine’s central galleries, a large glass organ with fluted pipes hung from the ceiling, the source of the noise floating throughout the space. A pair of video screens displayed images of human forms that briefly resolve themselves before fading back into visual incoherence.

Given Evans’s background in film, it is obvious that he knows something about creating drama through staging, but the impact I was expecting was lacking here. Maybe the atmosphere that these works could have generated was hampered by the brightness of the gallery. This exhibition had its lyrical moments, and “illumination” seemed to be the underlying concept tying these works together: language and sound, like lamps, are meant to reveal things. Meaning, however, remained elusive.