Simon Evans™: Passing through the gates of irresponsibility at James Cohan
1 March to 14 April, 2019
291 Grand St., New York NY
By SPENCER EVERETT, May 2019
In Passing through the gates of irresponsibility, artist duo Simon Evans™ contemplates the critical actuality of pulp. Pulp as in paper pulp— wet, pulled out of the flood and dried in the sun—and pulp more generally as a verb, subjecting any and all material to advanced forms of degradation. “Advanced” as in irreversibly scattered at the atomic level. But scattering does not necessarily render a thing unrecognizable; it depends where you’re standing and where you stand, what you think and where you are. To render communication legible across various planes of address requires framing and leveling, so that we may spectate, so that we may survey—
Simon Evans and Sarah Lannan compose large-format collages from bits of abstracted material, scores of fragmented language and hallucinatory figurations, and sweeps of melancholy tones that say nothing at all. This minutia produces a colossal breadth of field: Though viewing work on a wall is a lateral activity, we seem to appraise these works from above, in a large sense as from a weather balloon or a satellite. William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud” returns here, as a title. And while this vantage is placid at first, a closer view reveals the warps and torque, the war. We’re deep in the muck as much as we’re deep in the sky. If Jasper Johns’ most emblematic work reveals intellect in the act of formal demonstration, the work here—echoing too the muted color palettes of Dadaist collage—is an act of the intellect perceiving what it has become across geologic time. In this sense, these collages are a gesture of surveyance, of surveying land and determining what you own, and what owns you. The terrain below is conscious and its commentary often fierce. We may be lonely, but we are never alone:
“RICH ARE PRODUCTIVELY AND CULTURALLY
AUTONOMUS LIBERATED INDIVIDUALITIES
DEVIATED WITH RAGE FROM THE IDEOLOGIES OF
SACRIFICE AND WORK ETHIC”
These elements of landscape serve as energetic nodes rebelling against their own physical determinations. They are landscapes we’ve come to frame and understand partially, though never wholly comprehend. We recognize ourselves in the quiet of the picture plane and the shouting discernible beneath, but hardly both at once: we stand too far away, or too close.
In The World Again (2017) we read an atlas. It is an atlas of pulp, recovered from the scene of prior note-taking and world-making. With Simon Evans™ note-taking approaches notating, organic accumulation approaches accrual: earned revenues, incurred expenses, and all of it collapsed to be built again. The works are seemingly comprised of mindscapes rendered across years, now resulting in the material detritus of commerce and its symbols of exchange (see also the golden sheen of All that potential energy (2019)). Is this the private surveillance of private space, internal, the soul? Yes, but there is also no such thing here, because when gazing at an atlas we traverse a globe: The mind is other people, and other people bring yet others to mind, and into view. The collages in this way summon widely: a barcode sticker from an apple or its pear equivalent, a digital clock readout and the adolescent sun illustrated nearby, and then back, next door, into the primal lacerations of the id:
A recent show at James Cohan, by Spencer Finch, was titled The Brain is wider than the sky, after Emily Dickinson, and the current work affirms the gallery’s transcendental interests—here we comprehend the brain’s virtual expansiveness within the literal circuitry of the world. Here we are inside and outside our depths, apprehending the polis in total as well as assuming the role of any part thereof: my friend, my sister, my sister’s employer, her collection of license plates from all 50 states, and what these people and things respectively and irrespectively believe. We move across items as well as deeper into them. Simon Evans™ generates in this sense a dimensionally-various display of existential shopping lists and the fatal invectives of a reckless mind. We are what we think momentarily:
Or nearby, we fall dumbly into place as degenerate morons (men):
You wouldn’t believe women
Today some don’t have to be
worse than mens
So much of these details read like the scrawl above a public bathroom toilet, but the control on display at large renders them far more haunting: Is this a time-traveller reporting home? From the future or the past, or the excruciatingly continuous present? Perhaps it’s strange that through them, our presence exists in this present-perfect, which isn’t perfect at all, of course, but more of a psychic hell that is hilarious and terrifying, explicit and opaque.
While these collages point to openness, a single sculpture captures us inside a shoe box, and this shoe box—“a tomb” (2017)—replicates Evans’ childhood bedroom. Here we fall back to earth into a more introspective dejection, as the borders of a worldly frame become the private walls of memory.
But not everything in this show feels so primordially recovered. Though all forms in relation are subjectively determined as logical (and are therefore “formal”), some carry the aesthetic determinations of the rational more baldly: As its title suggests, the business cards in Archive of Slogans #3 (for Jac Leirner) are arranged as though for retrieval, a kind of splayed rolodex of detourned ad copy and paranoiac insight: FREEDOM IS FAKE; ALL OBJECTS ARE SLUTS; MORBID FEAR OF BEING UNSUPPORTED IS TRUE; PEOPLE PUT YOUR VAPE PODS IN THE TRASH SO THEY CAN GO IN THE OCEAN. But terror lies in not having been paranoid at all, and within this range of shuttered circumstances we are convected, circulating terribly on the face of what contains us. No comfort: only, as in Jenny Holzer’s work, the blunt-force trauma of what you can know and understand. But unlike Holzer’s flashing tickertape and public light projections, this work is not the news. Instead, this duo’s efforts are recovered from the wreckage-to-be that is our communal mind. In their frames, we are at turns glazed-over and torrentially displaced. WM
Spencer Everett is a poet and writer based in New York City. Other recent work of his can be found at Avidly, Fence, and The Brooklyn Rail.view all articles from this author