Commissioned for the opening of the Asian Arts Theatre in Gwangju, Korea, Etchells’ neon sign To Be Present… comprises an ambiguous list appearing to itemise contradictory reasons or states; ‘to know and to not know anymore, and to find and to wonder and to doubt and to be present’. Taken together, the terms gathered and mapped in the text draw attention to complex human processes of experiencing, interacting and understanding.
As with Etchells’ earlier work (in Portuguese) Estar Presente… (2014), also installed at a theatre and comprising a longer version of the same text, one possible understanding of the work in context is that it refers to the motives or hopes people might have in attending performance or other artistic events.
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.