The Show


Machine-cut plywood on scaffolding structure in public space

Work dimensions 8m high x 9.40m wide

Structure 20m high x 10m wide

Images: Christian Altorfer, Philip Schaub, Veit Kälin

Installed on the Landiwiese, usually home-base for Zurich’s Spektakel festival, The Show is a large scale installation work, the full text for which announces, in a bold playful imperative, THE SHOW MUST NOT GO ON.

Raised on a scaffolding structure reaching 20m, and formed of wooden letters 2m tall, the work addresses itself across the lake to the city, at once a reference to the postponement of larger-audience theatre events in August 2020 due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and at the same time a striking, open call for social pause, critical reflection and political change. Etchells’ ambiguous provocative détournement of an upbeat English idiom ‘THE SHOW MUST GO ON’ becomes ‘THE SHOW MUST NOT GO ON’ – a simple linguistic reversal which creates complex new possible meanings.

In relation to the work Etchells says “As the 2020 pandemic has devasted lives and economies, our models of human interaction, social structures and priorities have been called into question, albeit to different extents, and with different motivations in different international contexts. Such limited, temporary changes as there have been in these last months though, only serve to underscore the need for deeper, more permanent change. The year 2020 is not only the time in which Corona has amplified global and local injustices and inequalities, it’s also the time in which Black Lives Matter protesters have courageously demanded equality and justice for Black people, and in which the pressure on governments to address the climate crisis has continued with urgency and passion. The hasty return to ‘business as usual’ after periods of Corona lockdown, already effected across many countries, suits vested interests, whilst the possibilities of a pause, with its much needed revaluation of habitual thinking and practice, represents an opportunity we should not be afraid to embrace”.

About Tim Etchells’ text works

Etchells’ text 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 works 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, 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.