Originally published in ArtReview issue 64, Deceber 2012. See the entire magazine online here
Juliètte Jongma, Amsterdam
8 September – 27 October
By Agnieszka Gratza
What have clods got to do with diplomatic letters? Like many of his previous projects, from The Rock & the Judge (2005) to Militant Bourgeois (2006), Chris Evans’s third solo exhibition at Juliètte Jongma is built around an incongruous yet humorous alliance. The relationship between the sculptural components of the show (CLODS) and the framed photographic prints (Diplomatic Letters) is never fully spelled out and, if anything, deliberately obscured. Placed at the start of the show, as if to shed light on it, a commissioned text printed onto blue leaflets obliquely references the disparate elements that make up the exhibition (‘weeds’, ‘exit hole’, ‘flat mineral polished top’, ‘misty-eyed diplomat’, ‘clods’, ‘inverted sympathy’, ‘commission’, ‘axioms set in concrete’, ‘overgrown, like statuary’, ‘the steps, connecting the live and un-live’); but it’s otherwise impossible to extract meaning from a text intended precisely to thwart any such attempts.
There’s a formal, almost solemn, quality to the minimalist display in the main gallery space – where every element has been carefully calibrated, weighed up against all the others and reconfigured according to laws of variation and repetition – that’s redolent of diplomatic language and its codes, in keeping with the overall theme of the show. Displayed counterclockwise around the room, the artworks on view come in three distinct groups, dictated by the number of photographic drawings that have hitherto been produced as a result of the artist’s ongoing collaboration with members of his target profession. Having worked with company directors, policemen and judges in the past, Evans, for this particular series, approached (in writing) and commissioned diplomats to draw an invasive plant species of their choice, which drawings he then photographed and ‘inverted’ by flipping the colour scheme so that the images and the accompanying signatures of their authors (present in two of the three photographic works) appeared in white against a black background. The resulting artworks, made into glossy prints, were offered up as payment for the diplomats’ efforts, further blurring the distinction between artist and patron. (Ultimately, the joke is on them, as the title’s play on ‘clod’ implicitly suggests.)
Each of these prints, which bear the scientific or common denomination of the plant species and the name and office of the diplomat who drew it (as in Lily of the Valley, commissioned drawing by Jasmina Pasalic, Swiss diplomat for Bosnia Herzegovina, inverted, all works 2012), is hung to the left of a white rectangular platform coming up to the wall. Roughly the size and width of a door, these are overlaid with blue and black yoga mats that add a note of institutional colour to the otherwise funereal ensemble as well as suggesting, by their size at least, the human form. For Evans, the platforms function as runways of sorts, designed, in the first instance, to showcase the sculptural works while also leading up to the photographs mounted on the walls, as if to posit a link between them. The seductive, glossy quality of the photographic prints has its counterpart in the fine finish of these sculptures, made of concrete but using marble as an aggregate. Placed on the floor and perforated in places, flat-topped with curving bases, the Clod works meanwhile come in light and dark shades of concrete, faintly echoing the colour scheme of the inverted drawings. They have their origin in the artist’s thirty-year-old memory of riots in Hull, during which signposts, pipes and other metal structures were pulled out of the pavement like so many weeds.