Nick Evans - Rational Slab

Evans gives the viewer, however educated or ignorant, sufficient breathing space to apprehend the work as they see fit

Feature by Jasper Hamill | 11 Apr 2007
The head curator of Tate Modern was on Richard and Judy last week, decrying the inaccessibility of the institutional gallery system and proposing that her X-Factor-style art competition was the key to involving those scared off by intimidating galleries. Openness and inclusivity, the buzzwords of the twenty-first century, are now key to any gallery venture. Mary Mary, in its new position off St. Enoch's square, clearly has little time for such namby-pamby niceties: to get inside you ring a buzzer, once you do the gallery is empty, no helpful gallery guides to hand out interpretation notes, and the work, whilst uniformly excellent, is not the sort you could base a CCA kids' club around. The reason this came to mind at the Nick Evans show is that this is one of those rare exhibitions that actually makes you question how you should tackle it. Should the big guns of critical theory be brought to bear like a daisycutter on Tora Bora? Is it correct to do as the other two people in the gallery did, and simply wonder how Evans made the sculptures? Perhaps, and I sincerely hope this is the case, it is the done thing to simply immerse yourself in the textures, subtly intellectual humour and quirky narrative allusions in Evans' show, wryly entitled Rational Slab, without recourse to Art in Theory.

The three sculptures, King, Queen and worm, could warrant all three approaches, and that is their victory. The regal pair in one room, made from precariously stacked curves and planes of brushed aluminium, clearly engage with formalist theory, which makes two claims: that a work of art is made in isolation from a social context and that its form, rather than its content, is what drove its creation. Terry Eagleton memorably described Animal Farm as a formalist would, namely that it was written as an opportunity to use an allegorical form, rather than as a comment on a social or political context. A ridiculous example, clearly, but applicable to sculpture, particularly Evans', whose practice is so in love with form and material. Yet the two sculptures also have a plainly 'real-world' reference point. The king is tall and slender, his head a square sheet of aluminium that manages to appear haughty, proud; the queen slightly shorter, with womanly hips and an almost deferential posture. Clearly they have been made out of a desire to exercise form and, in line with Barbara Hepworth's 'Truth to Materials' theory, use the aluminium in its truest state, free of any adornment or veneer. But the imagery used, which shines through despite the abstraction of using seven pieces of brushed aluminium, is recognisable to anyone. The sculptures have an almost fairy-tale quality, yet use the familiar imagery in a wholly innovative way.

Likewise the sinuous 'Worm', coiled up in the other room, invites theoretical target practice as well as a more subjective response. It is a winding organic form, made from a mesh of organically textured polyester resin which changes colour from green to blue over its length. Resembling a piece of brightly coloured intestine, it pulls the formalist's tricks but when examined in parallel with King and Queen, starts up a narrative of decay and mutability, using the worm just as Shakespeare used it as a motif for death. The elegance of Evans' work lies in these rich art-historical and literary references, which are used with such lightness of touch, the interpreting viewer is free to make their own assumptions. Some of his previous work has been a little more proscriptive, such as mimicking the form of an Inuit canoe in black resin. Others have been equally resonant, such as Pieces of the Dialectical Terror Machine, a series of brightly coloured sculptures resembling enormous pieces of a giant mechanism, which seemed to gently mock the whole foundation of philosophy and artistic criticism, but could well also refer to the processes of some totalitarian state. It was funny too, a sort of burlesque of aesthetic theory. In all his work, Evans gives the viewer, however educated or ignorant, sufficient breathing space to apprehend the work as they see fit. Academics are free to take their angle just as a casual visitor is free to take theirs. It is an exciting, rare position to be in, giving the observer full control of interpretation. Richard and Judy probably wouldn't find galleries so bloody intimidating if there was always work like this on show.
Mary Mary, Glasgow until 16 April. Free.