Everyone's Gone to the Movies...White Cube, London

Both blindingly clever and blinding, Cerith Wyn Evans's show seduces us with its formal beauty but also with its sense of loneliness in a crowd

The work in the upper room of Cerith Wyn Evans's new show at White Cube, Everyone's Gone to the Movies, Now We're Alone at Last, is typically Wyn-Evansesque, which is to say it is both blindingly clever and blinding, its maker being, with the possible exception of James Turrell, the world's foremost arranger of light.

Wyn Evans has, in the past, used chandeliers to dot-dot-dash snippets of text from his favourite authors in Morse code to an awed public. If that sounds silly – and, looking at the words I've just written, it does – then it shouldn't. Bound up in Wyn Evans's project is a truth as old and as sad as man's drive to communicate: the inevitable failure of communication.

Take the work in question, C=O=N=S=T=E=L-=L=A=T=I=O=N (I call your image to mind). Its laboriously spelt-out t-i-t-l-e suggests ease of meaning, and, at first glance, the piece bears this out. Constellation (forgive me, but life is too short for those equals signs) consists of a trio of large mobiles, like the ones you hang over a baby's crib, but with yard-wide mirrored discs in place of teddies. These spin and glint like, well, stars in a constellation, but they do more than that. On the flip side of each disc is a hexagon of silvered dots, each being an "audio spotlight" which emits a highly focussed beam of sound – static, scrambled words and bursts of music, like a radio slightly off-station. So directed is this sound that it can only be heard by one person at a time, leaving the viewer both drawn in by the work's gravitational pull and left, for ever, on his own.

Wyn Evans's interest is clearly in communication, and here, already, are two kinds of it. We are seduced by the formal beauty of Constellation, its silvered poise, but also by its sense of loneliness in a crowd. And there's more. Like Andy Warhol's floating silver-foil pillows, the work seems somehow sentient, even personal. The gentle arcs described by the discs mean that they sometimes brush softly against you; you glimpse a face, and it is your own. Constellation seems to be trying to tell you something. But what?

The title of Wyn Evans's show may (or, of course, may not) offer a clue. "Everyone's gone to the movies, now we're alone at last" is a line from a song by Steely Dan, recorded in 1975 when the artist was 16. Its plot is intentionally opaque, but seems to involve an older man luring a 16-year-old boy to his den to watch films. ("Don't tell your ... daddy or mama/ They'll never know where you been ... /He wants to show you the way ... /Teach you a new game to play.") Constellation's soundtrack is whispered by 16 silvered speakers, the elements of film pixelated down to abstraction. Is there autobiography in this drama?

The answer to that is a sphynx-like smile. Constellation is variously seductive, and its story is one of seduction. If it sets out to tell us the manner of that seducing, then it fails, quite intentionally, to do so: leave it at that. Rien comprendre, c'est tout pardonner. The brilliance of the piece lies in its distillation of all kinds of things, but primarily of light and sound. Downstairs, in a work called S=U=P=E=R=S=T=R=U=C=T=U=R=E (Trace me back to some loud, shallow, chill, underlying motive's overspill ...), Wyn Evans carries on this synæsthetic blend by mixing light and heat.

The subtitle to Superstructure is taken from a poem by James Merrill, a famously cryptic American writer who died of Aids in the 1990s. The piece itself consists of seven huge, floor-to-ceiling pillars made of clear strip lightbulbs. Although apparently set sporadically around the room, these have the air of spelling out something in Wyn Evans's personal code; likewise their slow, sequential lighting up and dying down. The pillars' reflection on a polished concrete floor is glamorous – think Fred and Ginger – but also haunting. The room in which Superstructure stands was once an electricity substation, and the feel is of energetic ghosts, of a life beyond visible life.

This may strike you as positive, even redemptive, a past resurrected and made beautiful. On the other hand, the heat emitted by Substructure's bulbs becomes pretty unbearable after a while. A hot place underground where the dead linger may not necessarily be somewhere you want to be, although Wyn Evans is well worth the trip to hell and back.

To 22 May (020-7930 5373)

Next Week:

Charles Darwent tours the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, a grittier answer to Edinburgh

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks