In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni 2006 is a text-based sculpture in which the titular Latin phrase is spelled out in white neon and presented in the form of a ring hung above head height from the gallery’s ceiling. The neon strips are mounted onto five curved, transparent glass panels, which are joined together using five Perspex squares and suspended from a large steel ring by ten wire cables. Four of the cables carry electrical wires, which provide the lights with power. The metal ring is attached to either the ceiling or the walls using steel ropes and winches. In order to read the text in full viewers must walk around the sculpture, although the letters on the opposite side of the ring can be read in reverse.
This work was made by the Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans in 2006. It was originally commissioned for the exhibition Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, which was held at Tate Britain between March and May that year. Wyn Evans had previously built several other sculptures that feature the same Latin phrase, but take different forms and dimensions. The text is a palindrome, meaning that its letters are identical when read forwards and backwards. It roughly translates as ‘We Go Round and Round in the Night and are Consumed by Fire’. Wyn Evans has stated that he took the Latin phrase from the title of a 1978 film by the Marxist film-maker and writer Guy Debord. In the context of Debord’s anti-capitalist film, which appropriated fragments of advertisements to develop a critique of the mass media, the sentence conveys a highly pessimistic view of the modern world. Wyn Evans’s use of neon could be seen to connect his sculpture with a similar political context, since the material is commonly used for commercial signage. However, while he has referred to the script for Debord’s film as ‘an extraordinary, brilliant and super passionate text’, Wyn Evans has also called it quite ‘cynical’. In contrast with this cynicism, he has stated that ‘I think there are points at which we should remain optimistic about the moment of communication that can, for instance, communicate compassion’ (Cerith Wyn Evans quoted in Andrew Maerkle, ‘Hic et Nunc; or the Delirium Beyond Translation’, ART iT, 2010, http://www.art-it.asia/u/admin_ed_feature_e/1U8qhE5vRpoKzMmHIgFt/, accessed 5 September 2014).
Unlike Debord’s highly political film, Wyn Evans’s sculpture focuses primarily on the linguistic aspects of its title and on the presentation of the sentence in space. The reference in the text to going ‘round and round’ is complemented by the form the sculpture takes, which literally encourages viewers to walk round it in circles. Because it is arranged in this way, the palindrome also seems to have no fixed start or end point and can easily be read in either direction. Furthermore, the fact that the phrase is in Latin, which is incomprehensible to many viewers, may serve to draw attention to the formal and material properties of the sculpture. The lights are reflected in the glass panels and, as viewers move around the work, the relationship between each letter and its reflection seems to alter. At some points the reflections form neat blue outlines round the letters, while at others they double the characters, making them difficult to read.
Many of Wyn Evans’s other works are concerned with light, language and space. Before producing this piece the artist created a series of chandelier sculptures, such as ‘Astrophotography...The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy...’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) 2006 (Tate T13645), which comprises flickering lights that relay excerpts of philosophical and literary texts in Morse Code. Wyn Evans frequently makes works that focus on the semiotics of individual phrases, a concern that he shares with a number of other artists who have been working within the legacy of conceptual art since the 1970s, such as Bruce Nauman, Jenny Holzer and Ian Hamilton Finlay, who have also made text-based sculptures using neon lights.
In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni, exhibition catalogue, Centre for Contemporary Art Kitakyushu, Kitakyushu 1999.
Cerith Wyn Evans, ‘In Conversation with Jan Verwoert’, in Further: Artists From Wales at the 50th International Art Exhibition, Venice, exhibition catalogue, Wales Art International, Venice Biennale, Venice 2003, pp.70–3.
Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, pp.146–9.
Supported by Christie’s.