Cecile B. Evans: Black Swans and Missed Representations, Dialogue & Guest Lecture

by Beauchamp Art

Please read the following paragraphs in whatever order you see fit.

Cecile B. Evans is a Belgium-American artist, and trained, actor who is currently based between Berlin and London, and has exhibited widely in Britain and internationally; in America, Venice, and elsewhere. Having produced a number of socially engaging pieces and a range of video works, covering a range of subject matter, connecting to a theme of the immaterial as material. She takes inspiration for areas outside of art; such as music videos, films, anthropology science and science fiction.

Her current work; ‘Agnes’ is currently entering its second stage as part of its electronic instillation on the Serpentine Gallery website; accessible through clicking the icon of two overlapping hands.


The Cecile B. Evans Black Swans and Missed Representations workshop was an intense 4 hour long expansive conversation with her subsequent lecture covering similar subject matter, ending on one of my points from Monday about the exponential increase in images seen, paraphrased and reprocessed; reworded but retaining the same core meaning, but originally taken from actor Hugh Laurie speaking in an interview on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs; “More photos have been taken in the last twelve months than have ever been taken. […] No interaction is deemed to have happen unless there is a photograph of it,” [Laurie, 2013] which was then quoted back to me by my peer, Henry Driver, in a later crit on Glitch. This is not only an interesting point, but also an example of how a popular culture reference can filter through sources, changing along the way, but still carrying the same sentiment. Much as one’s representations and re-representations through mediated communication platforms subtly alter the content of what is being shown or expressed, however the original body still remains in conjunction with the consequences of its subjective extension – whether digitally (as opposed to ‘virtually’) or through other analog analogues.

Having taken around 7 A5 pages of notes at the workshop, and 2 sides of A4 in the lecture, it is probably clear that I found the discussion surround Evans’ practice particularly relevant and stimulating, however, being selective about what to comment on specifically is rather difficult. The conversation expanded exponentially, becoming like one of the seemingly random conversations of her ‘Agnes’ project on the Serpentine Gallery website.

As a group with Evans, we worked towards constructing one of these conversation narratives for this piece, which was an interesting process, though her concluding words wishing that we found the discourse useful and not just a ‘data-mining exercise’ for her did seem poignant. For me, one of the most useful points I took out of the workshop, besides the experience and in-depth, if sometimes sporadic debate, was that popular culture is a valid reference point in the production of contemporary art. It must response to all aspects of the now; high and low culture; though being selective in what is represented or being responded to is paramount to defining a practice.

Previously, Evans had produced a audio guide for the Freize art fair, in which she asked non art specialists to give their response to images of the works on show without any previous information about the works – giving a layman’s perspective on Contemporary High Art, bringing their own knowledge and expertise into the fray with the liberty to speak free of the constraints of International Art English and respond personally to the works. I found this piece interesting not only as a example of turning the concept of the tour; of explanation; on its head, but also as a sound piece being featured in Frieze in a thoroughly thought through manner – since at this year’s Frieze, the few sound works that were on show were so poorly displayed that they may well not have bothered at all – indeed, why a commercial gallery event would stock any sound art is curious, as one is unlikely to want to have a sound instillation in a bank lobby. Nevertheless, this piece seemed like a palpable example of one of the ways of working within Evans’ practice.

Agnes, her current ‘piece’ is set to be a sort of an online chat-bot that engages the user in a leading conversation, pulling information from a range of crowd-sourced facilities: Google, Wikipedia articles, peers and discussion groups, one of those being us.

Some of the topics we covered included: aging, legacy, and the language of death; Youtube Mashups, critiquing non-art as art, and outsider art; DeviantArt versus E-Flux in the battle for the ‘.art’ domain name, and the power of online crowd sourcing; International Art English, moving image, and cloud storage – digital space as physical space – news-feeds, website streams and infinite scrolling; Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, subjectivity and selectivity; virtuality, duality, and the online as an extension of the physical self; live performances, documentation and traces; live music, deification, and modern ritual; collective experience at home, Tron, mythologies, value, non-secular language, excluding the self, categorising emotions, lies, damned lies, and statistics, 1, 2, 3D, Midi, Meme/Genes, internet as the Great Equaliser, play, fan-fiction, the Reverse Turing Test, Captcha, Orson Wells in ‘F for Fake’, copies, simulants, Blade Runner, HAL, the uncanny valley, the unnatural natural, narrative, autobiography, the Textpresso machine, Agnes’s self-awareness and exhistential crisis, Easter Eggs, layers, the Wilhelm Machine, Monty Python and the Holy Grail; at the Bridge of Death, and infinity; exponential infinity and ever more uncanny juxtapositions. Most memorably; Flash Gordon and Black Mirror, in their portrayal of memory, as something physical that can be severed from the body.

Essentially a collection of loose threads bound together into an awkwardly fitting jumper of a conversation.

The lecture was far more structured; linear (an unlike some of the other guest lectures, well-delivered – that acting training paid off!)

Whilst escorting Evans to give the lecture, we discussed our current practices, the arts scene in Norwich, and the format of the lecture (along side a trifling of small talk). She raised a useful point, that she was not overly concerned with her work in itself – though, of course, wants it to be well executed, interesting, and well received – but she said that her concern lay more with the consequence of her works; the conversations that came out of it and so forth. This felt particularly resonant with my feelings towards my own practice. What is produced, whatever the format, should be the best it can be, a conductive investigation offering interesting perspectives on the issues at hand; whether that be a particular theme, subject, or process, but it is more what comes from it that is valuable. This could be notoriety, the facility to make more art, or further debate. A way of producing in line with Socrates’s philosophy on teaching as mutually beneficial and not a one-way exchange. Great art does not have to be good.

On a side note, Carl Rowe was initially meant to accompany us to the Wysing Arts Centre, however was unable to make it, calling it ‘a dead swan and a missed opportunity’, which was an amusing observation.