An Invitation to ‘Drift’: Cerith Wyn Evans’ ‘Aspen Drift’ at the Aspen Art Museum

Artist Cerith Wyn Evans discusses Aspen installation

Installation view of Cerith Wyn Evans, “Aspen Drift,” Aspen Art Museum, 2021. Carter Seddon/Courtesy photo

What: Cerith Wyn Evans’ ‘Aspen Drift’

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Through Oct. 10

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The artist Cerith Wyn Evans, some 30 years ago, found himself looking down on Tokyo from a skyscraper, taking in the lights atop buildings and the blinking red signals on cranes strewn across construction sites nearly as far as the eye could see.

There was a rhythm to it, he found, and an energy he’s been exploring in his work ever since.

“I was completely captivated by this site of the entire city,” Wyn Evans said in a phone interview this week from London. “Looking down on Tokyo at night and seeing all these lights pulsing and breathing. Somehow the city felt like it was breathing, that there was something alive, that there was a kind of energy to the way in which all these lights went on and off.”

Prone to understatement, the Welshman added: “There was a kind of epiphany at that point.”

Wyn Evans’ installation at the Aspen Art Museum, titled “Aspen Drift,” fills three galleries on two floors and includes several massive works made of neon tubes suspended from the ceiling. Among them are intricate pieces that tangle together lights in scribble-like forms, columns of light and intricate chandeliers that drop nearly to the floor. Lights go on and off, notes of music emerge from self-playing flutes embedded in sculpture and from an unseen piano. You catch a new vantage of a light sculpture reflected in a panel of shattered glass, you see new things and find new ways of moving around the sculptures with each pass through a gallery.

Installation view of Cerith Wyn Evans, “Aspen Drift,” Aspen Art Museum, 2021. Carter Seddon/Courtesy photo

The artist, as he meticulously planned the installation using computer-generated models of the museum galleries and of his works, aimed to create an experience that built on the breathing energy he felt in Tokyo, of the oscillation of lungs being filled and emptied, of lights going on and off, of the rhythms of the individual and of more collective entities (like cities or public spaces like museums).

His idea of a “site-specific” installation is notably more specific than most, taking into account the acoustics of the building, the reflective qualities of the gallery floor, the quality of the natural light pouring into some galleries at every time of day, air conditioning and temperature and smell and “the kind of energy that you feel and can pick up in each room.”

The shapes of rooms and the flow of viewers from the street — the show is tantalizingly visible in a story-high ground floor window on Hyman Avenue – were key factors in how he placed the artwork, of course, but there is no prescribed experience in “Aspen Drift.”

Instead, Wyn Evans has embraced the unpredictability of the viewer experience, thinking through and planning for visitors at all angles and inviting people to see and experience as they choose. Some pieces in the installation, like a series of works on paper, are obstructed and only visible through other works of art.

“I see the sort of the temporal aspects of how people will encounter the works,” he said, “as opposed to a long trajectory of the beginning, the middle and the end.”

There may not be a strict and straightforward narrative path in “Aspen Drift,” but there is a story setting here and there is mise en scène.

“I see it as an experience where, even if you’re not in the same room as another piece of work, which you’ve seen only 10 minutes ago, you carry something of that work with you in appreciating the next thing,” Wyn Evans explained.

Installation view of Cerith Wyn Evans, “Aspen Drift,” Aspen Art Museum, 2021. Carter Seddon/Courtesy photo

The drifting in “Aspen Drift” is ambiguous — a nod to the snow drifts of the mountains, the artists said, as well as a description of the experience of interacting with these works, of allowing your mind and your physical self to wander.

“It’s this notion of somehow cutting loose your preconceptions about what it was that you were setting out to even achieve or find,” Wyn Evans said. “Or that you would abandon yourself to your desires and just drift through a situation without having much of a mission about it.”

Spend some extended time with the “Aspen Drift” works in these galleries — as many locals have in the three months since the installation opened — and it becomes a reliable prompt for reverie and daydreaming.

“It sort of reveals a world less mediated by time and schedules and your clock and your telephone and your contacts and appointments,” Wyn Evans said. “And somehow just allow yourself to drift.”

Wyn Evans himself, due to U.S.-U.K. travel restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, will not be able to see the show in person before it closes on Oct. 10. He and the museum have tried to make a visit work, even conscribing U.S. senators to lobby for his entry, Wyn Evans said, but to no avail.

“We just couldn’t get around it,” he said.

But he is grateful to Aspen Art Museum director Nicola Lees and her curatorial staff, he repeated, who installed the work alongside Wyn Evans’ Vienna-based technical team.

“I’m delighted about the exhibition and deeply sadden that I wasn’t able to really be part of it,” he said.

Installation view of Cerith Wyn Evans, “Aspen Drift,” Aspen Art Museum, 2021. Carter Seddon/Courtesy photo

Nonetheless, the artist was celebrated throughout the summer season in Aspen amid its booming contemporary art scene. Along with the museum show, which became a must-stop for Instagram-conscious visitors and art lovers, Evans also had several works on view at White Cube’s pop-up gallery this summer and a neon sculpture that he donated sold for $100,000 at the museum’s ArtCrush live auction last month.

With the delta variant surging here in the U.S. and overseas, the international exhibition itinerary of a global artist like Wyn Evans is looking uncertain. A planned Tokyo visit for next month now appears unlikely, he said, and an exhibition at a Shanghai museum is likely to be scrapped, but a solo gallery show for early next year at White Cube Hong Kong appears doable, he said, and he is working toward that along with a possible partnership with a contemporary art museum in New England.

“One thing after another is kind of dissipating, evaporating, fading away,” he said. “So you work toward the next thing.”

The next thing on the day we spoke was a gong installation that Wyn Evans has been proto-typing and perfecting — playing with the ways that temperature affects pitch, how different a cold gong sounds from a warm one and how that might make its way into an installation.

So whatever the disappointments or frustrations of the ongoing pandemic may be, the work drifts on.