Safety Curtain 2011/2012

Cerith Wyn Evans, Safety Curtain 2011/2012

In its means of expression the language of art – be it music, literature, visual arts or a mix of these – depends much more on ambiguities than language as such. One could even go so far as to argue that it is precisely the ambiguous which constitutes the actual distinction to the non-artistic. In modernism the means to achieve this are often fragmentation, disassociation or ironic discontinuity. These aspects became particularly apparent in the second half of the last century when conceptual or minimalist art redefined the boundaries between the traditional artistic media and began to conquer the canvas and the image with text and writing. Here, the text is no longer merely text but embedded in a context so complex it opens up a whole range of possible perceptions. While in literary language this is of course nothing new, here the text can be read as image which in relation to its content can take on many different contexts. Precisely because they do not enter any clearly defined relationships, these contexts bring in an aesthetic performance which in its variety seems virtually unlimited. Artists have been moving within this performance scope for more than half a century revealing ever newer perspectives of the world, of our relationship with it and in particular of our perception of it. In terms of the different procedures, however, much has happened since the early days of conceptual art: When in the beginning many artists still aimed at a precise opposition of the image with language and text and thereby so to speak replace the former, the performance varieties became increasingly complex and led to a poetry of sorts based on mere insinuations and hidden layers. As a result, the objects of conceptual art must be seen as instructions, while everything else is in the head of the viewer. 

Cerith Wyn Evans is probably the most important representative of today’s conceptual art. His works often consist of very minimal activities – the little that is visible on the surface can only be accessed through the artist’s ideas. For the Venice Biennale in 2003 he installed a searchlight flashing an early Welsh text in morse code into the city’s night sky. Very few are able to decipher this code but the artist is not concerned with spreading a verbatim message anyway. Instead, this complex arrangement which in turn cannot function in a precise sense enables us to access rooms in our heads where reflections about the many different aspects of experiencing art and the world become possible. For some reason we can guess the content of the Welsh text, the transmission code points to a long gone technology which perhaps a sailor can still decipher but most likely not understand.

His Safety Curtain for the Vienna State Opera seems to be instruction only, possibly even one for decoding the art of Cerith Wyn Evans. But it is of course also linked to the place, the opera, where one is supposed to also experience some sort of rapture, moments of being carried away. Here, just as in the art of Cerith Wyn Evans, all kinds of visual and acoustic means are being employed to convey something which goes beyond the linear content. We go to places we can no longer clearly relate to. The art on the curtain and the art behind the curtain enter a strange relationship. The text – the request – draws on itself because it is perceived, yet it also refers to that which is about to start behind it.

Translation: Jacqueline Csuss