Don’t Look Back is an imposing new sculptural work for public space created from a single sheet of 12mm weathering steel into which stencil-like letter forms have been cut to spell out the words that also give the piece its title. It is being presented for the first time as part of Frieze Sculpture 2022, which runs in Regent’s Park, London between 14th September and 13th November 2022.
As is often the case in Etchells’ practice, the piece takes a simple idiomatic phrase and asks us to think about it afresh in dialogue with context and landscape. Developing Etchells’ ongoing exploration of the relation between the semantic content of texts and their material form as sculptural objects, the piece is installed in such a way that the viewer is led first to a view of its back side, the reverse perspective on the letters creating a direct conflict with the instruction given by the text. The hollow letter forms – negative space in the single steel sheet – lend the work a porousness and offer a complex interaction between the viewer and the environment, which is glimpsed through and framed by the work itself. Don’t Look Back finds a provocative, playful resonance in the shifting economic, and social landscape of post-Brexit, mid-pandemic UK as well as in the context of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, which appears to have plunged the country into a collective nostalgia, hypnotised and in any case fictional. Whilst the work serves in one sense as a warning about the dangers of dwelling too much on the past, the reverse view privileged by its installation already places and effectively traps us behind, looking back from a distant perspective.