* You can see Something Common in the group show Periodic Tales: The Art of the Elements at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, 3 October – 13 December 2015. *
A neon spelling out an ambiguous descriptive phrase – ‘something common in the universe but rare on earth’ – Etchells’ work invites us into a guessing game about the identity of the ‘something’ indicated in the text. What is it that occupies this position of abundance in one place and scarcity in another? What things, or kinds of things – material or ephemeral and abstract – might we describe as being ‘rare on Earth’?
The phrase, in fact adapted from a science text about Neon itself, describes the status of the element on Earth and in the Universe, drawing attention to its local scarcity.
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.