Etchells’ work Best of All was created as a temporary commission for the Arne Jacobsen foyer at the Herrenhausen Garten in Hannover as part of KunstFestSpiele Hannover 2018. Like his related sound installation What Can in the same location it respond to the context by drawing specifically on the legacy of the polymath and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 -1716) whose patronage by Sophie Charlotte, Electress of Brandenburg, allowed him to live and work at Herrenhausen.
Etchells’ neon Best of All frames the entrance to the gardens whilst reflecting on one of Leibniz’s key theological articulations. In it the philosopher contended that the world we live in must be the best of all possible worlds, since God himself chose to make this world rather than any other. Arguing that God’s creation contains a balance of good and evil designed to realise the maximum potential goodness in its human inhabitants, Leibniz described it as “the best of all possible worlds”.
Rendering this linguistic fragment as a 39-metre-long red neon in bold outlined letters the length of the Arne Jacobsen foyer, Etchells turns Leibniz’s confident declarative statement into a question of sorts; pointing to the gardens and the house with their formal beauty, controlled staging of the natural world according to mathematical principles and horticultural skill, as well as to the wider contexts – of the city, the country, and beyond, of the contemporary world and we live in – and testing Leibnitz’s assertion in public space. Is this world the best of all possible worlds? Shifting the focus from religious philosophy to the social and political spheres, Etchells’ work asks us to think about perfection, utility and sustainability, the world and our agency in it, as well as inviting us to speculate about the questions of context: best world for what? And for whom?
About Tim Etchells’ neon and LED works
Etchells’ neon and LED pieces often draw on his broader fascinations as an artist, writer and performance maker, exploring contradictory aspects of language – the speed, clarity and vividness with which it communicates narrative, image and ideas, and at the same time its amazing propensity to create a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Through simple phrases spelt out in neon, LED and other media, Etchells strives to create miniature narratives, moments of confusion, awkwardness, reflection and intimacy in public and gallery settings. Encountering the neon sign works, in the streets of a city or in the space of a white cube gallery, the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that’s not fully revealed, or a linguistic formulation that generates confusion or ambiguity. As often in Etchells’ work, in the neons the missing parts of the picture are as important as the elements that are present. Invoking a story, or projecting an idea out-of-context, the work invites us in, but into what exactly we can’t be sure.