File Note #3: Cerith Wyn Evans - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Jennifer Higgie

Rabbit's Moon Quote Images References Biography Credits

'There’s a ghost that emerges from believing that there are productive and even politically engaged and positive things that can come out of what seem like completely inconsequential and ephemeral acts.’
— From ‘Innocence and experience, Frieze talks to Cerith Wyn Evans’ Frieze, Issue 71 (November/December 2002).

Rabbit's Moon

Convergence: William Blake and Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the Morse Code and a Massachusetts portrait painter, are briefly enrolled at the Royal Academy in London at the same time. Perhaps they never meet. But there are parallels: in their shared, urgent concentration on the permutations of language, and in their exploration of how ideas — belief systems, leaps in faith or desperate calls for help — are best transmitted. In 1832, while on a ship returning from Europe, Morse conceives the idea of an electromagnetic telegraph. His first successfully relayed message is the Blakeian ‘What hath God wrought?’. It is sent from Washington to Baltimore in 1836. Morse Code is hailed as ‘the instantaneous highway of thought.’ (Segue to the internet.)Morse Code is the most compressed of languages. Its final official message, sent on February 1, 1999 concludes ‘Over and Out.’The earliest known chandeliers appear in the 16th century and are dressed with irregular shaped rock crystal. By the 17th century, Baroque artisans design chandeliers that are still in use today. Chandeliers are notoriously difficult to date.For his exhibition Rabbit’s Moon Cerith Wyn Evans chooses a contemporary reproduction of a 17th century black crystal chandelier.The chandelier is a collage (‘a term for the sticking together of disparate elements to make a picture’). So much in the world has been ruined since this object was first designed; so much reconfigured. A reproduction chandelier is more than a light: it is synthesized dislocation, a time traveller, an object which illuminates rooms and, in this case, meanings. Linked to a computer the chandelier relays, in Morse Code, Raymond Williams’ definition of the word ‘image’ (which can be found between ‘ideology’ and ‘imperialism’) in his book Keywords (1974). The writer explores how ‘keywords have been formed, altered, redefined, influenced, modified, confused and reinforced as the historical contexts in which they were applied to give us their current meaning and significance.’ Nothing you see here is old; but surfaces are deceptive — old things linger, invisible beneath freshly painted walls. The chandelier evokes things and people long dead. A room illuminated with a black chandelier is an elegy (a song of lamentation) but one that resists the idea of death at every turn (the dead can dance). In a white space nothing is more animated than black crystal. Such depthless opacity catches light and flings it back at the world. Yet still: despite the familiar excess of the chandelier nothing about its meaning is explicit.

‘…there is a deep tension between ideas of ‘copying’ and ideas of imagination and the imaginary. Each of these has throughout in English referred to mental conceptions, including a quite early sense of seeing what does not exist as well as what is not plainly visible.’
—Keywords, Raymond Williams

Yet what could be more festive than a chandelier? A chandelier is an exuberant object — it demands and offers excess — a fantasy object that Wyn Evans has employed to turn language into light, and make light articulate.A cause for celebration: the opening up of meanings; the opening of a gallery. Time is slippery in this place: a 17th century design is sent hurtling into its future, which is, conversely, our present; candles replaced with electricity, words transformed into flashing dots and dashes and sent stuttering from a nest of black crystal (the anti-chandelier?). Like Latin, Morse is supposedly no longer a living language; it was replaced by a satellite-based ‘Mayday’ system in 1999. But languages do not die easily (consider Virgil). The chandelier transmits the vivacity of dead languages. Raymond Williams’ words travel beyond the room. Passers-by will see the flashing lights bleeding onto the busy street. The chandelier transmits words that can be read from all angles; this a text you can move around, that can illuminate a room or a road. The chandelier is a sculpture; the text becomes part of it; words concrete things that dissolve into light. But most people cannot read Morse Code. Most people will simply see a blinking chandelier. The medium: the in-between, the material, the spiritualist. Here the medium is mixed: the computer invites you to a séance in which ghosts (which, of course, only some people can see) are replaced with codes. (Wyn Evans describes this as ‘a simulacrum of the spiritual … a staging of a stage of a séance … that the ghost, or residue, of the experience is often more resonant than an immediate engagement with it.’) Centrepoint Tower in London is designed in 1964 by R. Seifert & Partners. Almost 40 years later, Wyn Evans and a friend are walking down Oxford Street. They look up. The famous sign on top of the building, which is visible for miles, has a letter missing. It now reads ‘Centre Pint’. Wyn Evans and his friend immediately retire to a pub.  Apparently they aren’t the only ones. Michel de Certeau describes the city as ‘the most immoderate of human texts.’ Wyn Evans decides the Centrepoint sign is the bridge between his recent show at White Cube and his installation at Camden Arts Centre. He employs the accident as camouflage for intention.

The Christmas lights are flashing down Oxford Street. Centrepoint flashes like a giant host organism. The I and the O in its sign functions substitute the dot and dash of Morse Code. 

Facing east it reads:

Centrepo nt. (The bridge.)

Facing west: 

Centrep int. (The drink.)

The text the sign transmits is an excerpt from The Visible and the Invisible (1964) Maurice Merleau Ponty’s last, unfinished book. In the bar at the base of Centrepoint is a screen upon which the text will be projected. It begins: ‘There is a circle of the touched and the touching, the touched takes hold of the touching; there is a circle of the visible and the seeing, the seeing is not without the visible existence; there is even an inscription of the touching …’

The building becomes the medium, letting words loose into the social fabric of London’s glittering West End.

‘There is a probable root relation to the development of imitate but as in many words describing these processes there is a deep tension between ideas of ‘copying’ and ideas of imagination and the imaginary.’ —Keywords

‘It is interesting that the implications of imagination and especially imaginary are kept well away from the 20th century use of image in advertising and politics.’

It is 1950 and Kenneth Anger attempts suicide in Paris. According to some, his film Rabbit’s Moon was his response to this episode in his life. Combining Commedia dell’Arte with a Japanese tale set in a tinsel forest, Anger plays an enchanted Magic Lantern. The title refers to a Japanese myth in which a white rabbit lives in the moon. Anger says ‘It’s interesting that the Japanese do not see a face or Man in the Moon as we Westerners do, but see a mythological animal, the white rabbit.’ Sometimes it obvious: we see what we want to see. A chandelier in a room that was once a library and is now an art gallery; languages haunt this space like helpful disruptions. Architecture and art cause inert objects and rooms to be animated, displaced; transformed into something other than themselves — yet no object or room can extinguish what it once was. No room, no gallery, is neutral.

Rooms might appear empty but never are. Complications lurk, however apparently minimal the design. (Once someone has walked through a space, once a book has been opened in it, a picture hung, or a word murmured, there is no turning back.) Disintegrated books; dismantled exhibitions; discarded desks; the dust of past lives lived; of vanished thoughts, of someone’s breath. (Space must be filled.) The words of Raymond Williams infect the light of the crystal chandelier — yet language remains locked unless you have access to its code. All looking is a form of translation — perception is never literal.

‘I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.’
—John Cage

‘The earliest meaning of ‘image’ in English was from the 13th century, a physical figure or likeness. This was also the earliest meaning of the Latin root word imago, which, however, also developed the sense of phantom and of conception or idea.’ —Keywords

‘Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?’
—John Cage


 The Death of Maria Malibran (Der Tod der Maria Malibran) (film) dir. Werner Schroeter (1971)

Rabbit’s Moon (Part of Volume 1 of 4 in The Magick Lantern Cycle (film) colour, 8 min, dir. Kenneth Anger (1950)

Petrolio (Petrolium) Pier Paulo, (book) Anne Goldstein (translator), published by Random House (1997) ISBN 0679429905

Proust Samuel Beckett, (essay) currently published in Proust and Three Dialogues, published by Calder Publications Ltd. (1969) ISBN 0714500348

The Accursed Share Volume 1: Consumption Georges Bataille (book) Robert Hurley (translator), Zone Books (reprint 1991) ISBN 0942299116

The Accursed Share Volume 2 and 3: The History of Eroticism/Sovereignty Georges Bataille (book) Robert Hurley (translator), Zone Books (1993) ISBN 0942299213

The Visible and the Invisible: Followed by Working Notes (Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (book) published by Northwestern University Press (1969) ISBN 0810104571 

Europeras 3 and 4 John Cage (score 1990), first recording 1993, performance by Long Beach Opera, California, directed by Andrew Culver 

In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni Guy Debord (film/screenplay)

Simar Films (1978) 

The films of Marcel Broodthaers

The Wolfman’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy Abraham, Nicolas and Torok, Maria (essay) Nicholas Rand (translator), Published in Theory and History of Literature 37, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press (1986)

La Monnaie Vivante Pierre Klossowski and Pierre Zucca (book) Terrain Vague (1970) ISBN 2852080419


Cerith Wyn Evans was born in Llanelli, Wales, in 1958. He studied in London, at St Martin’s School of Art, and the Royal College of Art (MA Film and Video). After graduating he worked principally as a filmmaker, making short films and working with Derek Jarman. His current practice includes the use of sculpture and installation, film, photography, neon and firework texts. He lives and works in London.

He has exhibited extensively since the early 80s, with recent solo exhibitions and screenings at White Cube, London (1996, 2003); Deitch Projects, New York (1997); The British School at Rome (1998); Asprey Jacques, London (1999); Daniel Buchholz, Cologne (2001 and 2002); Galerie NEU, Berlin (2001, 2003) and last year at the Berkeley Art Museum, San Francisco.

His work has been included in numerous group shows internationally, notably in Image and Object in Current British Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1990); Material Culture at the Hayward Gallery, London (1997); Sensation at the Royal Academy, London, Brooklyn Museum and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (1997–99); 

The British Art Show 5 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2000); Yokohama Triennale (2001); In the Freud Museum, London (2002); Documenta, Kassel (2002) and The Straight or the Crooked Way, Royal College of Art, London (2003). He represented Wales in the Venice Biennale (2003).


Jennifer Higgie is a writer and Reviews Editor at Frieze magazine.