A diverse and inclusive art world in the making
by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Shraddha NairPublished on : Apr 10, 2022
Cécile B Evans is an American-Belgian visual artist who grew up in Florida (USA) and now lives and works in London (UK). Their work is presented primarily in the form of the digital, such as audio and video installations. Although presented in this format, their methods of production are diverse, as is their selection of software. Evans uses animation and live action as well as green screens to tell stories. The stories they construct are far from a linear narrative, and lean more toward explorations of and experiments with thoughts and ideas. Future Adaptations, their recent solo exhibition at Layr gallery in Vienna (Austria), showcased their ongoing body of work, of the same name. Evans has also exhibited their work at a number of venues - Haus Der Kunst (Germany), Museum of Modern Art (USA), Tate Liverpool (UK), Centre Pompidou in Paris and Serpentine Galleries (UK), just to name a few. Evans made some time between studio edits and exhibitions recently to talk to us about their layered and symbolic work.
Evans' most recent work on display at Layr was For a Future Adaptation (Willis’ battle of whatever forever) (2021), presented as a three-channel video installation. The film read as a sort of sequel, or follow up, to Notations for an Adaptation of Giselle (welcome to whatever forever) (2020), a six-channel video installation that was also on display. For A Future Adaptation reads as an ecological thriller-cum-musical fantasy film. With the overarching theme of violence, grief and the overwhelming ecological crisis, the video works used the ballet-pantomime Giselle,originally created in 1841 as an inspiration and reference.
The two installations addressed a slew of issues which combine the past, present and future. They discussed surveillance, environmental collapse, systemic oppression and the deception of capitalist frameworks. The artist’s every work is filled with references, and I found their videos to be more meaningful the more I read about them. As someone with no knowledge of 19th century French theatre and a lack of exposure to Evans’ past practice, the work initially seems confusing. However, after watching the artworks a couple of times and reading the conceptual notes which came along with it, my brain immediately began to make several connections which compounded into a deeper understanding of her message. Evans' installations toe the line between fiction and real-life issues, and while they can be playful in their imagery and composition, the lessons in their work are conveyed definitively. The artist says, “Everything is real. Fiction is just a way to talk about a reality that we feel but aren’t able to touch. It is very much a part of everyday real-life issues, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.”
As previously mentioned, Evans' works are an abstraction which invites viewers to poke, prod and engage with in order to receive its bounty. Although Evans did not grow up with much access to art museums or galleries, their exposure to the culture of music, experimental film and philosophy acted as a guide. Over and above this, their relationship with digital interfaces is what created their comfortable relationship with the media, making it the sharpest knife in her toolkit. The artist shares with us saying, “Like a lot of people, I use the internet every day and have done so for almost 20 years. My concepts are developed from questions like, ‘how do we live through change?’. It becomes clear that society is passing through a moment that connects to other big historical questions and newer, more fringe realisations like ‘what happens with the revolution that many need or anticipate doesn’t happen?’ come into view. From there, characters begin to manifest and a long period of research and gathering around the project begins.”
In Future Adaptation of Giselle, the video work touches briefly upon the fictions of images today versus the reality of them. This is a contemporary tendency which plagues our society, creating wildfires of misinformation and consequently, mistrust. This brought to my mind the 1929 painting by Belgian artist René Magritte, titled This Is Not a Pipe. While bringing up the reference, the artist responded saying, “The corporatisation and/or militarisation of most technologies has crippled certain skill sets in the general population. The collateral is our ability to analyse and distinguish certain information, to make use of it. Simple reminders, like the discussion of the wide-angle lens capture of a London apartment or an open-air theatre aspiring to be mistaken for something ancient, are discussed in the video to unpack the hidden agendas in images. I have definitely been influenced by surrealist artists like Magritte, contemporary artists like Hito Steyerl, and writers like Sylvia Wynter who successfully do this unpacking without erasing the paradoxical nature of representational images. I think each of their works manage to be explicit without removing agency or possibility from the viewer.” Evans manages to tie together a spectrum of conversation with elegance and finish, from media mania to colonial histories.
Evans developed Future Adaptation of Giselle as part of a three-month residency with the Ballet National de Marseille in France.
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