Set back in a gated hinterhof off Linienstraße, Galerie Neu‘s visitors have to know what they are looking for. The freestanding architecture of the gallery is an in-between space—being both inside and outside—the perfect location for an exhibition of works by the artist Cerith Wyn Evans.
Born in Wales in 1958, Wyn Evans needs no introduction to any follower of conceptual art practice, his career now spanning three decades. Casting a glance over this history reveals the recurrence of light works, text, assemblages and sound presented with a minimalist aesthetic that initially feels cool and hermetic. However, Wyn Evans is perhaps the best example of an artist whose multi-dimensional collages have the potential to generate a veritable riot, albeit in the imagination.
This exhibition, which has neither title nor press release, continues his use of neon text, sound and found imagery, much of which makes direct reference to artists, writers and philosophers whose work has impressed upon his own thinking. Spilling from the main space into the reception, a quote from a poem by James Merrill runs around the gallery at eye-level in white neon. This work, ‘Once more…’ After J.M. (“The Changing Light At Sandover”)’, previously shown at the Serpentine Gallery in London, here frames a constellation of glass panes suspended from the ceiling. Each panel has been hooked up to a system of amplifiers, transforming these floating transparencies into speakers and conducting a 5-channel composition that merges into a soft yet insistent drone.
It sets a peculiar scene, perhaps meditative, definitely ontological in its concerns. The quote brings certain abstractions to the fore, not only in the description of ‘a gassy expansion and succinct collapse’ but also through the reflections, which occur within and between the panes, throwing the text around the room. There is a paradoxical play between mirroring and asymmetry, as well as circularities such as how the words simultaneously describe the very matter of the active gas that illuminates them.
The sound piece, ‘E=L=A=P=S=E’ in Glass with sound’ (2016) is, I discover, made up of recordings that the artist has collected ranging from daily domestic background noise to recording of sounds from deep space. These polarities are not uncommon in the conceptual canon, which often flirts with the Romantic, as the poetry that first greets us does. What is happening here is far more complex: there are many more voices at a gathering where the conversation is both fluid and incomprehensible. Wyn Evans has referred to his works with the term ‘séance’, bringing together elements from disparate vocabularies and disciplines that commune with each other, or create gaps in comprehension. Merrill’s poetry was often channelled through the Ouija board, and this communication with the occult reflects the crossover spaces evoked here.
In the foyer, two smaller white neon pieces hang side by side. They write out the word ‘Heute’, yet backwards, crossed out and paired. Another asymmetrical mirroring, an ontological knot in the handwriting of Hanne Darboven, the German conceptual artist who died in 2009. Above the desk hangs ‘For Roberte, a likeness’ after P.K’, an inkjet print of a photograph taken of a photograph the artist found in a book, itself a printed image of a work by the writer Pierre Klossowski.
Though there is no press release, there is a document, a stream of thoughts and quotations, notes which Wyn Evans indebts to the reading of texts by Hito Steyerl and Éric Alliez among (no doubt many) others. The intellectual thirst behind his work is dizzying. Diving into fields as diverse as cosmology and literature, he freely and enthusiastically engages with other thinkers, creating a polyphonic space that defies location. Reflecting on Steyerl’s text, ‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective’, the notes point to the how the perceptual framework responding to the linearity of the horizon, constructs a ‘calculable, navigable and predictable’ relationship between us and the ‘outside’, a relationship to space that ‘does not correspond to the subjective’. It is the question of space and our perception of it, on every level, which appears to be central to Wyn Evans concerns. Through converging and conflicting languages and ideas, overlaid with abstract twists and paradox, Wyn Evans presents complexity with an unnerving sense of calm collection. He invites us to doubt, questioning linearity (and all its implications) and embracing subjectivity by invoking another space all together.
Whether or not visitors to the gallery engage for long enough to enter this space, which is not immediately welcoming, is a matter of choice. However, a little effort comes with rich rewards. This exhibition unfolds in rich multiplicities, containing a warmth and generosity that belies first appearances.