Tim EtchellsLet’s Pretend08.11.–21.12.2019
Opening and performance: Sunday, 3 November, 7–8 pm
Ebensperger Rhomberg Salzburg
Let's Pretend, 2014/2019, neon sign, 210 × 535 cm
T. L., 2019, wooden board, laser cut, 2 pieces, 244 × 122 cm each
More Noise, 2016, neon sign (floor piece), sound, c. 450 × 400 cm
Potential Threat, from the series “Impossible to Concentrate”, 2019 A4 sheet
“Let’s Pretend” at Ebensperger Rhomberg Salzburg is the first solo gallery presentation in Austria by the UK-based artist, performance maker and writer Tim Etchells.
Etchells has worked in a wide variety of contexts internationally, notably as the leader of the world-renowned Sheffield-based performance group Forced Entertainment as well as in striking collaborations with artists, musicians and choreographers such as Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods, Taus Mahakcheva, Marino Formenti, Tarek Atoui, Vlatka Horvat, Aisha Orazbayeva and Elmgreen & Dragset.
“Let’s Pretend” is a variation of the exhibition “A Beautiful Silence/A Temporary Sadness” at the Berlin gallery held earlier this year and follows Etchells’ participation in the opening of the new Ebensperger Rhomberg gallery in Salzburg where his large scale neon Something Common remains installed on the outside of the gallery's building.
Elaborating the concerns first established in his performance practice Etchells has created a significant body of work in the context of visual art, much of it 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 confusion, uncertainty and tension.
In the new exhibition Etchells fascination with the limits and possibilities of language – manifested in different forms – animates text for the interplay of its semantic and communicative role and its formal, visual and material qualities as drawing, object or sculpture. In related fashion, Etchells’ work constantly seeks to underscore the co-existence of language as statement and language as process, such that acts and systems for collecting and fragmenting existing texts, accumulating and counterpointing materials from different contexts, as well as more sustained processes of writing and rewriting all feature in different registers in the works on display.
Many of Etchells’ projects – including his new text drawings and darkly humourous Fight Posters - make connections to the shifting worlds of popular culture, news headlines and internet memes. City Changes (2007), created for Mainfesta 7 in Rovereto, Italy meanwhile references the discourses and mythologies of urban space, establishing a nonsensical escalation and fecund versionality exploring the discourse around and description of cities. Each of the 20 texts that make up the work describes a city, alternately claiming it as a location that changes constantly or as one that does not ever change at all. Meanwhile each text announces clearly its status as a rewrite of it’s predecessor, via a process in which new words introduced in any text are tracked/made visible by being rendered in a specific new colour. The process of the writing laid bare in this way also renders the works as a highly coded visual algorithm; the first printed in black ink only, the second in black and red, the third in black, red and blue etc so that the final text, bearing traces of all pervious ones, displays in 20 distinct colours, an excess of vivacity which threatens to render the text illegible.
Indeed a frequent point of return for Etchells is the construction, transformation or manipulation of text materials such that they approach a state close to semantic dissolution or self-erasure. His drawings series Ghosts (2015) installed at Ebensperger-Rhomberg comprises numerous iterations of the same short phrase contrasted with identical format pages bearing only residual traces of painting activity in the form of drips and splatters. His Emergency Telephone (2006) meanwhile declares itself a locus for advice in the event of a crisis and yet only offers the sound of recorded birdsong to greet those lifting the receiver.
Etchells’ two large scale neon works create a complex gesture at the heart of the show. Installed at floor level More Noise (2016) comprises 14 scattered, interconnected and overlapping neon phrases which read ‘MORE NOISE’ and ‘THAN SIGNAL’ in four clashing different colours. Presenting initially as a jumble of illuminated neon and tangled cables, Etchells’ recent re-configuration of the piece features adds to the confusion via a series of contact mics attached to the work, capturing the sound of the neon and amplifying it back into the space. This new articulation of More Noise (presented only once before, in Middlesbrough Art Weekender, UK in 2018) extends Etchells’ interest in the relation between sense and nonsense, pattern, order and disorder. Sharing the space with More Noise is Etchells’ Let’s Pretend (Large) (2014), the full text for which reads ‘Let’s Pretend None of this Ever Happened’. Describing works such as this one as in some way ‘porous to context’ Etchells pursues a strategy that is ambiguous to the point of radical incompletion. The work proposes something, but at the same time leaves so many things unsaid, unspecified or unclear, that the viewer is immediately co-opted to the task of imagining what it is that has happened and why, and with what kind or kinds of urgency it might need to be erased.