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

Reviewed,Charles Darwent
Sunday 18 April 2010 00:00
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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

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