Cécile B. Evans doesn’t have a studio. Over the past few years, the artist has been so busy with projects, residencies, and award commissions that her computer has become her place of production. That relationship to information, the internet, and technology is something at the heart of her practice. Her work often takes the form of interventions—such as the audio guide at Frieze Art Fair for the Emdash Award in 2012 or her best-known project “AGNES” (2014–ongoing), an online “spambot” intervention commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery for the launch of their updated website. She also makes film pieces, print, and sculptural objects. At the crux of her diverse work is an awareness of the human expression of emotion and sincerity.
Evans comes from a performance background; she trained as an actress in New York and Paris before moving to Berlin, where she focused on making work in an art context. Her contemporaries in the German capital, like Juliette Bonneviot, Aleksandra Domanovic, and Anne de Vries, have all explored the intersection of technology, the physical body, and the distribution of imagery. For Evans, that has manifested as something highly emotional. “You could say the ’90s were all about cynicism,” Evans tells me. “In the last few years, the value of emotion has skyrocketed, as that exchange becomes completely traceable, uploadable across not just the internet but other means of technology and digital engagement—and becomes collectable in a much more obvious way.” Her work reflects the recording of one’s interests and engagement through technology, like the “Like” button on Facebook or the number of pageviews on Google.
Evans’ digital identities draw an interesting line between the artist and her creations. “I think it’s important at some point to say that AGNES is not an alter ego,” she points out. Nonetheless, she has invited journalists to write about the time they spent with AGNES. Curator and co-director of Serpentine Gallery, Hans Ulrich Obrist, interviewed the avatar for Art Papers instead of Evans. The distancing of the artist from her own identity was attractive. “There was a relief that came with that,” admits Evans. Yet her involvement in her work has been accidental. “Working as an artist, even in the digital, you work with what is around you and what you have in your toolbox. With things like [the film pieces] Straight Up and The Brightness, the only reason I was in those videos is because a performer cancelled. The brilliance of AGNES is I get to really separate myself.”
Art Papers editor Victoria Camblin is fascinated by how Evans has explored the emotional, such as in her latest 3D film How happy a thing can be. “What do we do with these various things that contain our emotions? Things that we trust to carry them? Where does the love go when we put it into a thing?” Camblin queries. “Evans’ videos raise those questions in such a way that makes it OK to ask them in the first place. Then, they make it OK to be devastated by them.”
Evans conducts a huge amount of research from her apartment-cum-studio, which is located in a brutalist building in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood. “I think the research becomes a database for the work. [At] the beginning there’s an articulation of something that I just don’t understand or that is interesting; then collecting and collating. I’m really indiscriminatory in terms of context, to the point that it just becomes overwhelming,” says Evans of her process.
It’s surprising that after solo presentations at the Palais de Tokyo and online at the Serpentine, as well as inclusions in group exhibitions at Wilkinson, Supplement, and Pilar Corrias Gallery, Evans’ has her first solo exhibition at a private space this month. “Hyperlinks” at Seventeen Gallery will include the work she is exhibiting at the PinchukArtCentre for the Future Generation Art Prize. The centerpiece of the Seventeen show is a film with related sculptural, collage, and object works. Expect a tsunami of references from the North Korean Wangjaesan Dance Troupe, the song What a Feeling by Irene Cara, and a CGI model of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Evans doesn’t take a stance toward how information and emotion is registered and used. Her work sits somewhere between Isa Genzken and Woody Allen, humourous and melancholic. The results are always hypnotic.