The first solo exhibition of British artist and writer Tim Etchells with the gallery, comprising a large series of new text drawings, a neon installation and performance across VITRINE, London's two spaces (Bermondsey Street & Bermondsey Square). The exhibition displays the truly multifaceted nature of his practice and further expand Etchells' explorations of the possibilities and limitations of language and the conditions of performativity and liveness.
At the gallery's Bermondsey Street space, a new body of work named ‘Personal Statement’ forms a complex installation of acrylics and graphite drawings of varied dimensions, hung in an unruly cluster across the gallery. Pitching diverse fragments of language in dialogue with each other, Etchells creates a space in which banal single words, phrases, instructions, notes and appropriated texts sit next to vivid images summoned in language. Removed from their context, fragments of overheard conversation become compelling and often bizarre recurring textual motifs.
Contrasting the singularity of Etchells’ single-phrase works in neon, LED and print media, ‘Personal Statement’ is as much about the dynamic relation between the materials used in different elements of the installation, as it is about the content of individual texts or phrases. The work creates a field or constellation of relation, in which the value and significance of statements is constantly modified and reinvented in dialogue with their context. Clearly unfinished and temporary in its manifestation as a dense cluster on a wall, ‘Personal Statement’ also functions as a performative map of sorts – a spatial and visual representation of information, referring to a process of organising ideas, thoughts and observations about the world, and attempting to make a loose pattern or temporary cohesion.
At the Private View, Etchells presents a short improvised performance under the title ‘Word File (VITRINE)’, drawing on and developing the strategies for text improvisation that he has pursued in recent years in the full length performance project ‘A Broadcast/Looping Pieces’ (2014), previously performed at David Roberts Foundation and Hayward Gallery, London, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Kunsten Festivaldes Arts, Brussels, Hebbel Theatre, Berlin amongst other places. Addressing the text materials of the installation ‘Personal Statement’, the mesmerising ‘Word File (VITRINE)’ is, at the same time, a playful live remixing of pages from Etchells’ notebook – a computer document in which he has gathered different kinds of texts over many years. Comical, virtuosic and provocative, ‘Word File (VITRINE)’ is concerned with both the semantic aspects of spoken language and the textural and musical qualities it acquires in live performance.
The Bermondsey Square gallery features the neon installation 'Who Knows' (2014), in which Etchells combines and re-combines the simple-but-complicated phrases ‘I Know’, ‘You Know’, ‘They Know’ and ‘We Know’, giving hallucinatory space to the contradictions and connections of their semantic and visual content. Deploying these repeating statements as a series of twelve differently paired neon sculptures, Etchells nods to the formal system of grammatical declension, as well as to the commonplace colloquial double-bind and vice-versa involved in figuring out, and keeping track of, who knows what about whom.
Etchells’ neon pieces draw on his broader fascinations as an artist, writer and performance maker, often teasing out 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.
‘Who Knows’ speaks both to the context of 21st century surveillance (from the Snowden revelations to the ubiquity of CCTV cameras in urban space) as well to the cultures of gossip, scandal seeking, phone hacking and to the playful and flirtatious eye that people keep on each other through social media. By alternating the relations implied in the combinations of these simple statements - ‘who knows what, and about whom’ - and by displaying them in sets of five different neon colours (white, red, blue, green, purple), Etchells adds a further layer of visual pollution and cross-fertilisation, creating a complex play of difference and connection across the work in all directions.
Curator: Alys Williams.
'Who Knows' was commissioned by CAG (Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver) and PuSh Festival, and first shown at CAG in January 2014.