Tim Etchells is an artist and a writer based in the UK. He has worked in a wide variety of contexts, notably as leader of the world-renowned performance group Forced Entertainment and in collaboration with a range of visual artists, choreographers, and photographers. His work spans performance, video, photography, text projects, installation and fiction. He is currently Professor of Performance & Writing at Lancaster University.
Across the range of my work I use strong, simple, sometimes comical means to get to serious ideas.
My practice shifts from performance to visual art and fiction and concerns itself with questions of contemporary identity and urban experience, our relation to fiction and the media, as well as with the limits of representation, especially in respect of language. Working across different media and contexts opens up new possibilities and allows me to approach the ideas that interest me by different routes, shifting my perspective on the themes and experiences I want to investigate.
I have created a body of work exploring contradictory aspects of language in playful and poetic ways. I’m drawn both to the speed, clarity and vividness with which language communicates narrative, image and ideas, and at the same time to its amazing propensity to create a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Infiltrating galleries, street corners, shop windows, rooftops and other locations the neon sign and LED works I have made spell out simple-but-intriguing phrases, messages and instructions. Appearing to address the viewer directly through these works, I’m interested to create moments of thoughtfulness and playful encounter in a public setting; the work is public but private at the same time, trying to draw each person that encounters it into a space of intimate reflection.
In recent years Etchells has exhibited widely in the context of visual arts, with solo shows at Ebensperger-Rhomberg (Berlin), VITRINE (London), Bloomberg SPACE (London), Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver) and Kunstverein Braunschweig. His work has appeared in the biennales Manifesta 7 (2008) in Rovereto, Italy, Goteborg Bienale (2009), October Salon Belgrade (2010), Aichi Trienale, Japan 2010, with Vlatka Horvat, Manifesta 9 (Parallel Projects) 2012 and as well as part of Folkestone Triennial 2014 and The Great Exhibition of the North at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (2018). Selected group shows include …of bread, wine, security and peace (Kunsthalle Wien, 2020), Lichtparcours Braunschweig (2020), The Cipher & The Frame (Cubitt Gallery, London, 2015), MirrorCity (Hayward Gallery, London, 2014), The Part in the Story.. (Witte de With, Rotterdam, 2014), Version Control (Arnolofini, 2013), as well as Netherlands Media Art Institute (Amsterdam), MUHKA (Antwerp), Galleria Raffaella Cortese (Milan), Sparwasser HQ (Berlin), MACBA (Barcelona) and Kunsthaus Graz. His work has been commissioned for permanent public installation in several UK and mainland European cities and is held in numerous private collections around the world.
Etchells’ short fiction collection Endland Stories was published in 1999, his Dream Dictionary (for the Modern Dreamer) was published in 2001, whilst his first novel The Broken World was published by Heinemann in 2008. His monograph on contemporary performance and Forced Entertainment, Certain Fragments (Routledge 1999) is widely acclaimed. Recent publications include Vacuum Days (Storythings, 2012), While You Are With Us Here Tonight (LADA, 2013) and a complete updated edition of his short fiction series Endland (2019) was published by And Other Stories.
In 2007 Etchells was awarded an honorary doctorate by Dartington College of Arts, in recognition of his writing for and about contemporary performance. He was Legacy: Thinker in Residence (2009-2010) at Tate Research and the Live Art Development Agency in London, and Visiting Honorary Professor, School of Arts, Roehampton University (2010-2012) and Professor of Performance at Sheffield University 2011-2012. Etchells was Artist of the City of Lisbon (2014) and won the Spalding Gray Award in 2016, awarded by a consortium of U.S. performance institutions including PS122 New York, Walker Arts Centre Minneapolis, Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh and On The Boards, Seattle, recognising him as a ‘fearless innovator of theatrical form’. Under Etchells’ direction Forced Entertainment won the International Ibsen Prize 2016. He won the Manchester Fiction Prize in 2019.
In both performance and in art practice my work is often concerned with liveness and presence, with the unfolding of events in time and place. The place where ‘events’ happen could be an LCD monitor or a computer screen, a stage, the space of a page, a gallery, a found site, a street, or some private space – a room or a car for instance – in which a person might listen to the audio or read a text. In each work or project I seek to make something happen – stage an encounter, unleash a process, set an event in motion – which ultimately explores the dynamic relationship between the work and the viewer.
At the centre of many of my projects there is a fascination with rules and systems in language and in culture, in particular with the way these systems can be both productive and constraining. Many of the projects also stage or imply an event, an idea, or an object that is at the same time constructed and unravelled. The mechanisms and economies of this process – of exposure and concealment, construction and deconstruction, appearance and disappearance – are at the heart of what I do.