In We Need To Speak, Etchells nods to his first neon works (Please Come Back, Let’s Pretend and Wait Here) in which a fragment of what seems to be dialogue is taken out of context and, by implication, addressed directly to the viewer. Drawing us into an implied narrative of practical or emotional complication we’re nonetheless left unsure about potential consequences, solutions and even participants in the ambiguous drama summoned by the phrase that makes up the work.
We Need To Speak also throws the written nature of its language into relief, encouraging the viewer to reflect on the different urgencies and temporalities of speech and its echoes in writing and sculpture. For the viewer, drawn into a troubled narrative at what seems to be a turning point, the work lays a particular charge to the present moment of reading, a moment in which the disaster conjured by the text might be averted.
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.