This unique biography has naturally affected Evans’s outlook on life, as well as his artistic imagery, the contents with which he engages, and his means of expression. His videos depict colorful, scenic landscapes while portraying an ominous, apocalyptic future. They may be read as scathing, humorous criticism directed at utopian ideologies that promise humanity a bright future. Evans himself says he does not presume to be a political artist and has no didactic intentions, yet would like to encourage his viewers to take a critical look at the power structures that shape their lives and affect them. The works’ visually rich, rhythmic, dynamic energy is hypnotizing. The viewer is drawn in and, much like Alice, finds himself falling into Wonderland.
Citizen: The Wolf and Nanny was created, like Evans’s other videos, from thousands of images meticulously gleaned from online sources and then joined together in ways that de-contextualize them. Thus they invalidate hierarchic structures familiar from a variety of fields (including the military, economic, social, and leisure spheres) and construct a narrative that follows a new thematic and formal configuration. The result is a kaleidoscopic collage which is both enchanting and menacing, based on quick transitions between utopia and dystopia, conflation and collapse.
Sputniks, natural landscapes, tourists, tracking dogs, a nanny pushing a stroller, laborers, missiles, a pack of wolves, architectural structures, security personnel, huge mosquitoes, corporate logos… All these and more are mixed together in this work, resulting in an experience which is incredibly aesthetic yet also chaotic and alarming.
Evans’s works in general and this one in particular blur the boundaries between personal, familial, supposedly sheltered space and a public realm whose boundaries are breached. This is his way of pursuing the disturbing notion that we are constantly under surveillance, being filmed and photographed – on the street, in shops, in parking lots, and in the virtual spaces we roam with a misguided sense of privacy. Information about us is constantly being accumulated in the databases of authorities and corporations, and used for a variety of military and commercial reasons, both legitimate and illegitimate, in ways that we cannot fathom. Yet we constantly choose, of our own free will, to share private moments of our lives with huge, anonymous crowds through posts, blogs, or tweets.
As Evans recounts, the “environments and situations comprising Citizen are … a pastiche of information and noise gleaned from online news and entertainment sources. This information is subjectively fused with my obsessions, preoccupations, memories and misunderstandings about the social reality that surrounds me. And this fusion is placed within impossible landscapes and architecture – alien places of nostalgia. … The temporal composition is heavily dependent upon cinema and the tracking shot, while the spatial arrangements of multiple stories occurring at once are taken from Renaissance religious painting and comic books.”
Repeated watching of Evans’s video, which is indeed underpinned by its reiterated, looped screening, undermines unconscious elements in one’s psyche and produces vertigo, anxiety, and unease. It raises questions such as what are our fantasies, and what are the tragedies and catastrophes we fear? How would we like to be seen, and what do we see? Are the authorities and economic powers that govern our world, such as the corporations represented by logos in Evans’s collage, to be likened to the wolf or nanny? Do they protect or threaten us? Are we able, as citizens, to tell them apart – and if so, could we resist, or at the very least affect their practices?
Cliff Evans’s work is among Artforum’s Top 10 Artist Films for 2006, picked by MoMA curator Barbara London. He has exhibited extensively in venues throughout the world, including the New Museum, Chelsea Art Museum, and Location One in New York City; The Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston; the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois; the Haggerty Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California; Laboratorio Arte Alameda in Mexico City, Mexico; Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland; and the Today Museum in Beijing, China.