20 April – 19 May 2006
White Cube Hoxton Square
The Curves of the Needle is a complex image-sound arrangement that was developed during a visit to Mexico City, where the artist was invited to make a work inspired by the house and museum of the modernist architect Luis Barragán.
Casa Barragán, a curious combination of austere monasticism and romantic theatricality has become an iconic modernist building, reproduced in images that fetishize its open-plan interior and signature use of colour. Still kept in its original state, the interior of the house – full of the material traces of the architect’s life – appealed to Wyn Evans who has long been interested in the idea of parallel forms of communication and, in particular, the notion of invocation.
Employing two slide machines and a dissolve unit, an encyclopaedia of images ranging from motifs of the architecture, elements of the surrounding city, or simply images from elsewhere are syncopated together with an arranged musical score taken from the architect’s enormous music collection, numbering literally thousands of vinyl records. The images slowly dissolve into each other to create a psycho-geography, a fantastical, dreamscape that shifts between the vista and the detail, the past and present.
Wyn Evans was drawn to the sonic possibilities of the architecture after noticing that Barragán installed record players in almost every room of his house. Organising for a selection of tracks to be played on the various turntables (in themselves a kind of technological timeline of the architect’s life dating from primitive early players to a 1970s Danish sound system), Wyn Evans then recorded the results, keeping the ambient sounds in the background so that the resultant soundtrack acts as a field recording within the architecture. For Wyn Evans, the process of selection and playing records became ‘another kind of technological archive mapped onto the house’s, already very specific, architecture’. Parallel to his investigation of the record collection, the artist took thousands of photographs while exploring the house and so, in this way, the project became about reclamation of the ‘un-photographed’ interstitial spaces of the building and of the sound archive of (recently) unplayed records.
Wyn Evans’ work has often been characterised by the clarity of a single conceptual idea that may take many material forms, filtered through a highly refined aesthetic. His firework pieces, for example, are wooden structures that spell out open-ended texts that burn over a designated period of time. His chandelier sculptures are programmed to evoke an otherworldly language from sections of text translated into the flashing light signals of Morse Code. Wyn Evans is also interested in the way that soundtracks form a parallel ‘text’ for a film or photograph and in the slippage created when these sounds are dislodged, changed or removed. The title of the installation was derived from an essay by Theodor Adorno, written in 1927 (subsequently amended in 1965), that examines the notion of music as a psycho-cultural portrait of the listener: ‘What the gramophone listener actually wants to hear is himself…most of the time records are virtual photographs of their owners, flattering photographs – ideologies.’ Wyn Evans is interested in relaying this to the relics of Barragán’s life to create a correspondence or a ‘kind of friction between what is perceived as real life, and what is constructed as memory, phantasy and projection….’
The Curves of the Needle originated from The Air Is Blue, a site-specific exhibition organised by Hans Ulrich Obrist at Casa Barragán, Mexico City (2003), and subsequently developed into 299,792.458 m/s, an exhibition at BAWAG Foundation, Vienna (2005).