Etchells’s new work commissioned for the Great Exhibition of the North (22 June – 28 August 2018), is a large-scale site-specific LED text sculpture, With/Against, occupying a prominent position besides Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and above South Shore Road. The work looks out across the River Tyne, and can be viewed from the Gateshead Quayside or from the neighbouring Newcastle waterfront, providing a point of connection between the two.
Fabricated from steel and white LED, the work pairs two well-known phrases that seem to read in opposition and offer contradictory imperatives.: GO WITH THE FLOW / SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE.
The ambiguous nature of this pairing and the resulting duality of meaning reflects the ebb and flow of the tidal river below. Once the focus of trade and commerce in the North East, the river remains a major symbol of regional identity. Etchells’ sculpture speaks to both the river and its heritage and to processes of human compliance and resistance, the desire to drift, and social acts of struggle and defiance.
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.