A playlist-driven account of Cecile B. Evans’ “What the Heart wants”. PART II
[Quotes from “What the Heart Wants” are italicised]
A mayonnaise commercial of sublime beauty, efficiently burning its catchy slogans into our cortices: It’s not possible. It’s real… A blurry version of Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, creating elusive déjà-vu effects…
The structural logic of Evans’ video is one of wilful disconnection. Her many-voiced narrative threads remain loose as if modelled in accordance with a mode of reception brought about by years and years of excessive Internet exposure. If we dig a little into Evans’ sources, she reveals herself as a passionate collector of the Internet’s ephemera. Some of her ideas – such as the touching story on Amazonian butterflies drinking the tears of turtles – can be traced back to articles of last year’s online tabloid press.1 And the artist is happy to share her links: whether by means of GoogleDoc-lists on her website or with ‘making-of’ exhibitions such as WORKING ON WHAT THE HEART WANTS2 (which, among other things, disclosed the music playlist Evans’ team of assistants had been listening to while working on the video).
An Internet trouvaille, too, is a letter, which holds a special place within WHAT THE HEART WANTS: A ninety-two-year-old Vietnam veteran’s declaration of love to a beautiful stranger, who unknowingly saved his life on a rainy day back in 1972 when he was on the verge of suicide.3 The letter had initially been posted on Craiglist’s ‘Missed Connections’ bulletin board in 2014 – a sentimental message in a bottle, which Evans quotes almost in full.
While we listen to the veteran’s tender reminiscences, our gaze drifts weightlessly over an idyllic forest landscape – drone’s eye view. You had taken shelter under the balcony of the Old State House. You were wearing a teal ball gown, which appeared to me both regal and ridiculous. Your brown hair was matted to the right side of your face, and a galaxy of freckles dusted your shoulders. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. The veteran’s monologue is simultaneously commented on by text popping up on the screen: The dead girl’s voice – text messages, if you will, as a 21st century Ouija board. Her attitude is distant and gloomy, as she peu à peu dismantles the veteran’s cloying recollections for what they really are: phantasms, the actual object of which will remain not ever yours, not ever mine, as she concludes triumphantly (our eyes still resting on the same arcadian forest landscape). And before you know it, her words turn around their axis, like an inverted line from a Tony Terry karaoke video4 (yet another song to add to our WHAT THE HEART WANTS playlist).
“A Memory from 1972” is followed by the film’s final scene and dramatic climax: a music video of HAKU and HYPER dancing in a submarine server centre (deliberately modelled after Google’s data centers5). And here we are, knowingly falling for the tricks of pop culture – transfixed by the holographs’ siren song, although the means of production lie in plain sight. Yes, it may dawn on us that HAKU is just as much a commodity as the ridiculously over-staged can of mayonnaise we saw earlier: A commodity fetish of the digital era – computer generated, and (in contrast to its pre-digital predecessors) quite literally ‘animated’. “Je sais bien, mais quand même..! (I know, but still)” This is how Octave Mannoni famously phrased the paradoxical logic of the fetish. To put it differently: Theodore knows very well that ‘She’ is just an OS, but does that prevent him from falling in love with her? At the end of the day, reason is powerless against what the heart wants.
Don’t be mistaken – Evans is not the kind of artist to raise an admonitory Marxist finger. Instead of taking a stance against fetishist enchantment, she performs a ‘post-human twist’ and assumes the narrative perspective of the animated commodity fetish itself (“I’m Hyper, a system”). The things Evans’ video art flirts with have always been hopelessly sentimental (think of the ballet dancing scissors in HOW HAPPY A THING CAN BE, 2014). And it is exactly this emotiveness, which makes them feel real.
Time and again, in both her art and her talks, Cecile B. Evans has struck a blow for the R within VR: “There is no such thing as a virtual coin. This isn’t virtual. Shit’s real man.” There you go. Intentionally or not, the film’s central phrase perfectly resonates with an idea Jacques Derrida once elaborated in his book “Giving Time 1”6: Even counterfeit money can yield real chains of effects. A big forged banknote in the hands of a beggar may lay the foundation of a new life – or put him into prison; just as an illusion, if embraced with all our heart, can have very real repercussions (‘real’ as in ‘life-or-death real’). If we were to indulge a little more in the heritage of 20th century French philosophy, we will find the parallelisation of memory and virtual representation in WHAT THE HEART WANTS to be compellingly reminiscent of Gilles Deleuze’s remarks on the virtuality.
However, a reading of a work by Cécile B. Evans never has to be that complicated. As to the central ideas of WHAT THE HEART WANTS, we might just as well sum them up with the lyrics of the 1980s band “Imagination”. Let’s sing along:
“Could it be a picture in my mind. Never sure exactly what I’ll find. […] It’s just an illusion, illusion, illusion.”7
1. Nature’s Wonders – Amazonian Butterflies Drinking Turtle Tears. 29 MAY 2014. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIDMo2kHdXU
2. Cecile B. Evans “Working on what the Heart wants”, Lira Gallery, Rome, 6 May – 2 July, 2016.
3. Paul Harper: Suicidal army veteran seeks beautiful stranger who saved his life – 42 years later. 3 OCT 2015. URL: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/suicidal-army-veteran-seeks-beautiful-6567555
4. Tony Terry “Forever Yours” (1987). URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GM3rn-2xgec
5. The Data Centre or ‘The Farm’ where Hyper grew up […]. Based on Google’s Data Centers.” URL: http://cecilebevans.com/index.php/activities/in-progress/
6. Jacques Derrida: La Fausse Monnaie. Chicago and London 1992. Derrida bases his thoughts on a same-named short story by Charles Baudelaire.
7. Imagination, “Just an Illusion” (1982). URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH6rInAE9rk
Image: Cécile B. Evans, film still from Hyperlinks, 2014