Chris Evans was born in East Yorkshire. He took a BA in Graphic Design in Leicester and then an MA in Fine Art in Barcelona.
He lives and works in Berlin.
A transcript of a conversation between Simon Davenport and Chris Evans, May 2007.
Simon Davenport. Is it characteristic of you to involve other artists and writers in your works?
Chris Evans. Yeah in most of the work there are other people that are involved… in The Freedom of Negative Expression I worked with two writers Will Bradley and Tirdad Zolghadr, I fed them the content following a meeting with an artist, who has to remain anonymous, this person was a member of the British Constructivists – our conversation led to her theories on the state’s manipulation of art in the era when she was working.
SD. Conspiracy theories on her part?
CE. On her part yes, about the British art establishment in the era when she was active as an artist, when she thought something was going on in Britain that was similar to the CIA’s involvement in art in the states during the McCarthy era and so forth. So I was interested in that and also in the dispute she had had with the barbican where they tried to remove her work and so forth - that doesn’t actually come out in the content of the script - it seemed just a bit too specific or something but I wanted to use the basis of she was talking about and pitch that against the character of a nihilist. The nihilist‘s is entirely fictional.
SD. So does she believe in a sort of secret canon?
CE. She believed that there was state use of the art in a similar way to the situation in the states – the vouching for Pollock as the individualist (and mid-west cowboy – that was always going to go down well in the states…) – as a counterpoint to what was permissible in Russia.It was if to say to the Russians “look our artists can do what they want, we are a free country, we allow independence of thought and so forth. I couldn’t quite make out why she believed what was going on Britain was similar and how that was affecting things. She spends most of her time now writing letters to people like Nicholas Serota, people in positions of power. Partly I believe it is to create a legacy for herself, the odd thing being that the legacy she’ll have will be through all these letters going out each week, rather than the art she made in the 50s and 60s. I wanted to see what could be made if you took a basic premise of negativity and political paranoia and how that could then be construed into something constructive, what the nihilist and constructivist might make together as a consequence of this conversation.
SD. Tell me something about the dialogue to do with reflection and transparency?
CE. They talk about the difference between the two. The problem being with reflection - that you cant get rid of everything else in the world apart from what you’re trying to look at in the reflection. Its as if the nihilist is not quite getting to grips with what she’s saying, he’s building a sort of physical manifestation of this reflection – a reflected shaft of lightning that appears to be growing out of the ground rather than coming from the sky. You see that in the airbrush painting, in the trailer, that is a sculpture he’s going to make. In the next stage of the trailer you’ll see him making it. He’s ignoring her, he’s not listening. He’s going out on a limb. Some of the content I was giving to the writers was to do with there being a lot of artists, working now, who are using the style of the British constructivists. She was saying that this is style without the original avant garde intent. The nihilist, he’s smart, he’s just graduated from college, he’s trying to position himself, to see where he stands within all of this.
SD. Can you talk a little bit about how ‘Anonymous submission for an exhibition called Tutor With An Idea’ came about?
CE. I was running an artist run space in Liverpool called All Horizons Club with Duncan Hamilton. We wanted to get the students involved. As we were talking about last night, a good art scene in a city needs to have an artist run space a contemporary institution and a good art school. These three things make for an essential scene. What was lacking in Liverpool was a good art school. The tutors were obstructive when we were attempting to get the students involved. So we organised an exhibition called Tutor with an idea to show the tutors work, to first get them involved, asking them to submit work. They didn’t. So then we did the project Free Tutorials where we decided to replace the tutors at the college. So some years on, with this sculpture that’s here, that we are talking about, I’m trying to imagine what a sculpture might have looked like if one of the tutors had submitted something.
SD. What is your core concern as an artist?
CE. My core concern?
SD. Do you have one?
CE. I’m like an institution; first of all I’m interested in self-sustainment, the need to, above all else, continue. And the second thing is coming up with something I’m excited by each time, and hopefully those things are as close together as possible. If they become apart then, like many institutions, I’ve had it.
SD. What do you expect of an audience for this show?
CE. I expect them to be screaming, jumping up and down and whistling. No, with this exhibition, with not having the sculpture as part of the video, that particular work will remain oblique, unless people take time to read the script.
SD. Most people wont read the script.
CE. Well then, for that work, it will just be like watching a trailer of another film before the film you want to watch, I’d hope that they’d want to watch the film if it were ever to come out.
SD. How important is the humour in the trailer?
CE I can never really talk about humour…
SD. There’s one really obvious bit when the records being put on and they’re announcing their coming together to make the freedom of negative expression…
SD. And there’s a very dramatic bit… and then you realise that’s just a mistake and he wanted a different track.
CE. Yeah yeah
SD. That’s funny.
CE. It was hard to know what music to go with the trailer. I obviously wanted something that was characteristically nihilist… whatever that is. And you’ve got Napalm Death, you’ve got Carcass… in the end I went for Wagner because ‘Faust’ is the classic nihilist score - or it’s perceived as such.
SD. Is Mark Beasley a nihilist?
CE. Is Mark Beasley a nihilist? – Because he’s into Napalm Death? Er
SD. Is that a really weak link I just made?
CE. No it was a coincidence that I was originally thinking of Bill who used to play with Napalm Death and then Carcass and then Firebird - who I was going to invite to do a soundtrack. Then I had a chat with Mark Beasley and it turned out they were about to work with another former member of Napalm - so that idea was straight out the window. Coming back to humour, though I’m not sure if that’s what it is, I like there to be an element of pomposity or bombast, hopefully in an over the top way, hopefully that’s humorous rather than being pretentious
SD. There is a vision, a pompous vision in your work… I don’t know, its quite visionary.
CE. Not for this exhibition but for another one there was the Ahmed sculpture where I was making work with a Supreme Court judge and an aristocrat of Dakar in Bangladesh. I was asking about his family’s influence on the country considering that the democracy there is faltering to say the least and the elite have a big impact on decisions that are made. So you have this huge question but the end result is a sculpture that is quite timid looking, an ‘art object’, its only thirty centimetres high. I like to play around with big issues delivered in a self-effacing manner. The ‘self’ reflecting on the person I’m working with.
SD. Would you like to work with Beryl Cook
CE. I don’t think I would, no. I prefer not to work with artists when I'm working with people.
SD. What do you think you and Beryl Cook would have in common?
CE. Er I think what we would have in common at the moment is that we have exhibitions on at the same time. Hers is at the Baltic.