The three sculptures on show at Mary Mary demonstrate that the Glasgow-based artist Nick Evans has a solid aesthetic understanding and intellectual comprehension of how to make unapologetic sculpture that drops a ‘rational slab’ (the title of the show) on the head of naïve theories about installation, site-specific and environmental art practices. ‘It’s like having a Bentley in the garage and not driving it otherwise,’ as Evans has said about the dead-head fashion for supposedly neo-formalist work that is merely an arch posture with no backbone.
There is something sweetly reactionary about this work; clear art historical references are pulled together and twisted into the three large sculptures that dominate the gallery space, continuing the artist’s abstract investigation into the horizontal and the vertical in a way that the viewer can’t help but anthropomorphise the angle of an erect or supine form through identification, projection. Evans is obviously obsessed with binaries, dialectics and dichotomies. Opposites are turned inside out, and the abject mess of pluralised meaning and decentred signification creeps in. This ‘revolution in poetics’, as Kristeva would have it, is a symptom of the late Modernist vocabulary that Evans utilises.
In the first gallery space the viewer is met with a tall cast aluminium form, you might say, a figure. This sculpture, built from arched planes that decrease towards the apex, presents a hollowed-out yet amour-plated body to the viewer. The ‘head’ sits slightly forward, and perches on broad supporting ‘shoulders’. It is impossible not to throw ‘scare quotes’ around these body parts, as high Modernist theory scoffs at the reduction of the abstract to the figurative. But this is the game that Evans appears to be playing. The most abstract philosophies have grubby human fingerprints all over them, and circles, cones and squares will always be read as mute faces, heavy limbs and immoveable torsos. Beside this seductive ‘King’ is a similar ‘Queen’, facing away from its partner towards an anti-aesthetic form, a ‘Worm’ in the next room.
It is difficult to do anything with expanding filler foam; it always manages to retain its own unattractive characteristics, its shit-like form. In using this idea against itself, Evans has created a large spiralling and fragmented tunnel that exploits both the limitations and potential of this ugly material. Supported on a metal lattice armature, the foam coils around the frame, describing a shape reminiscent of DNA’s double helix, or some other human material microscopically enhanced. The form rises from blood red hues through green to blue, contrasting with the cold metallic finish of the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’. Read as a ‘whole’ statement this triumvirate is unshakeable. The overly seductive forms and finish of the first pairing are countered by this anti-form, and the lightness and ‘mess’ of the ‘worm’ are strengthened by the slab-like qualities of the figures. The almost tangible mental and physical tension created due to this bifurcation of his aesthetic means that, without meaning to, Nick Evans has again created an environment, an installation, a site-specific piece without stooping to irony or self-conscious naïveté.
Alexander Kennedy is art editor of the List