Category Archives: Neon

‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’: Tim Etchell’s public neon signs.

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

From the Thames Festival, London, 2010

The British artist Tim Etchells (b.1962) creates huge neon signs with brief phrases, which are placed in public spaces. The phrases are short and simple yet unfinished and somehow mysterious, inviting the viewer into a fragmented story.

The phrases may make sense on first impression but “there is something in their apparent simplicity that carries an undertow,” he says. They may unsettle or confuse, prompt reflection or self-reflection. Something remains incomplete within them: “the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that is never fully revealed.”

The neon signs, almost like giant text messages, are ‘encountered’ in everyday settings, in the streets, on public buildings, on rooftops, at public events. Many have been made for a specific place or event, such as ‘We Wanted to Be the Sky’, for the Thames Festival, London (2010), and ‘The Things You Can’t Forget’, for the Wintergarden Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare (2010). To give an idea of scale, the former is 15 metres long, 1 metre tall and made from stainless steel and programmable LEDs.

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

From The Wintergarden Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

The works are concerned with opening mental space for the viewer, with the emphasis on the person being addressed rather than on the speaking subject implied by the work itself. Maybe they are a formal rendering of the fragments of words we glimpse or overhear daily but don’t really pay attention to, on the train, on the radio, in newspapers, in the street.

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