The Return of the Return of the Durutti Column 1997 is a screenprint on white wove paper that features an image of two men on horseback in starkly contrasting tones of black and green ink. The men are depicted frontally wearing cowboy hats and staring into the distance. Cartoon-like speech bubbles drawn onto the image outline a short conversation between them. The figure on the right asks, ‘What’s your scene, man?’ to which the figure on the left replies: ‘Reification’. The man on the right continues, ‘Yeah? I guess that means pretty hard work with big books and piles of paper on a big table’, and his counterpart responds: ‘Nope. I drift. Mostly I just drift’. While the two figures and their horses are mainly depicted in black, the rest of the image is printed in luminous green ink that can only be seen in the dark.
This print was made by the Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans in London in 1997. The image used in this work was adapted by Wyn Evans from a comic strip entitled The Return of the Durutti Column, which featured French dialogue (translated by Wyn Evans for his print) added to a film poster. The comic was originally produced by the avant-garde group known as the Situationists – members of which often emphasised the value of the ‘drift’ or unplanned journey mentioned by one of the men on horseback in this work – but Wyn Evans found the image in a 1966 reproduction of the comic published by students in Strasbourg, France (see Richard Wolin, The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s, Princeton 2010, p.76).
The Durruti Column was a military unit of around six thousand anarchists led by the Spanish revolutionary José Buenaventura Durrutti that fought against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). The fact that Wyn Evans’s image can only be seen in the dark may be regarded as a reference to the secret planning and clandestine military operations undertaken by the unit.
The Return of the Return of the Durutti Column can also be seen as engaging in various ways with notions of reproduction – from the repetition present in its title to the processes involved in screenprinting, as well as the forms of appropriation, citation and translation associated with the main image. In a 2004 interview Wyn Evans claimed, ‘I am interested in an imaginary séance of intertexts, of conjuring up’ (quoted in Daniel Birnbaum, ‘Late’, in Zaya (ed.) 2008, p.23), a comment that may be related to the multiple political and cultural contexts evoked by this work. In 2008 the curator and critic Daniel Birnbaum discussed the effects of the multiple references commonly involved in Wyn Evans’s work: ‘Wyn Evans cites continuously, and he takes the viewer from one source to the next, then to yet another, and the polyphonic concert produced – flickering, stuttering – creates a sense of puzzlement, even a kind of vertigo’ (Birnbaum 2008, p.25).
Born in Llanelli in 1958, Wyn Evans studied at Dyfed College of Art in Carmarthen (1976–7) and in London at St Martin’s School of Art (1977–80) and the Royal College of Art (1981–4). In the mid-1980s he worked as an assistant to the British artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942–1994) while also creating his own experimental films. In the 1990s he began to make sculptures and installations, often with conceptual underpinnings. Inverse Reverse Perverse 1996 (Tate T07935), a large concave mirror which presents distorted and changing perspectives of the viewer, was included in the seminal group show Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1997. In 2003–7 he made a series of chandelier sculptures, such as Astrophotography... The Traditional Measure of Photographic Speed in Astronomy...’ by Siegfried Marx (1987) 2006 (Tate T13645), that incorporate small screens emitting the contents of significant literary and philosophical texts (which are referred to in the artwork’s title) as Morse code signals.
The Return of the Return of the Durutti Column is part of Screen, a portfolio of eleven prints by London-based artists that was published in 1997 by Charles Booth-Clibborn under his imprint The Paragon Press. The works were all made between February and July 1997, and are presented together with a title page and colophon by the graphic designer Phil Baines in a black buckram-covered wooden case. The title of the portfolio refers to the technique of screenprinting and also alludes to the fact that many of the featured artists work with screen-based media. Each print exists in an edition of seventy-five, with the first forty-five produced in portfolio sets, of which the portfolio owned by Tate is number thirty-three.
Octavio Zaya (ed.), Cerith Wyn Evans: …visibleinvisible, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León 2008.
Cerith Wyn Evans: ‘Everyone’s gone to the movies, now we’re alone at last…’, exhibition catalogue, White Cube, London 2010.
Cerith Wyn Evans, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London 2014, reproduced, unpaginated.
Supported by Christie’s.