Two statements ‘The Things You Can’t Remember’ and ‘The Things You Can’t Forget’ are illuminated in blue neon twenty-four hours a day on the façade of the Weston Super Mare pavilion. The Winter Gardens and Pavilion on this site, formerly Roger’s Field, were opened on 14th July, 1927 and continue as a venue for tea dances, competitions and weddings, alongside the more contemporary conference services.
Etchells’ works in neon often take a narrative form or conceptual proposition and operate by placing unresolvable ideas or language propositions into public space. The work seems to make sense at first glance, but there’s often something in its apparent simplicity which creates an undertow. These neon works are concerned with opening space for the viewer, with the emphasis on the addressee, rather than on the speaking subject implied by the work itself.
With an eye to the town of Weston and acting as a sign over the Winter Gardens, Winter Piece points to these locations as places in which momentous and ordinary events collide. There is also an interest in the seaside as a space of contemplation – the strange states of contemplation, reflection and reverie that the sea invites for many people. In the context of daytrips or holidays, there is something about the desire to visit this huge, expansive natural thing, which becomes a cypher for all kinds of mental processes ‒ memory, the ebb and flow of time and the possibilities of the future.
The sign directly addresses the passer-by on the seafront, inviting us to consider the question of what stays with us from the past and what is forgotten over time. The things we can’t remember and the things we can’t forget embody experience. By situating each phrase aside the portico of the pavilion, Etchells emphasises the binary division between these aspects of experience. The work gives a kind of impossible physical dimension or materiality to the complex, entangled processes of memory. Presenting the viewer with a provocative artistic “as if”, the work both raises and questions the idea of a solid division between what is remembered and what is forgotten.
Winter Piece is a permanent installation, commissioned by Situations for Wonders of Weston, Weston Super Mare.
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.