Monday, August 29, 2011

Fading Glory, Empty Stages: The Installations of Tim Etchells

Tim Etchells is a poet at heart. It's clear from his body of work that he prefers to articulate himself with words, even when those words appear in the drama of art installation. His phrases have all the pith of a carefully chosen line of poetry. The beauty is in their simplicity, in their vagueness and endless possibilities for application. The future will be confusing, you will live forever, and there is still hope. These are not questions, but certainties.

 The wonderful thing about these works is that they have a direction, and that is where the meaning lies. Read, for example, the artist's statement about the 2010 installation he calls "Red Sky At Night":

Red Sky at Night is an accumulating installation that changes each day over the course of the exhibition through the addition of new material. On day 1 a set of helium-filled balloons, with hand-cut cardboard letters H-O-P-E suspended below them on ribbons are installed in a line against the ceiling. This first set of balloons will stay trapped up against the ceiling through the hours of the gallery openingm, until after 8 hours or so they lose a little helium and start drifting from the ceiling. By next morning the first batch of balloons and letters are all on the floor, most likely immediately below the place where they were installed.

At the start of day 2, a new set of 4 helium-filled balloons and letters H-O-P-E gets installed against the ceiling. These will again drop over an 8 hour period... and again come to rest on the ground. The next morning – day 3 – the same process of installing a new batch of balloons is repeated and so on. The process continues daily through the exhibition, on all days the gallery is open to the public. Over the course of the exhibition, the floor beneath the balloons installed at the ceiling slowly fills with balloons from previous days and the work shifts from being a relatively minimal intervention in the space to being a rather sprawling, colourful and chaotic one.

In this work, then, there is movement on multiple levels. Each morning, "HOPE" is again raised up high, and as the hours pass, sinks slowly to the floor before being raised once more. And each morning, there are HOPE's unlucky companions who are left to lie below, accumulating like bodies.

There's also something interesting in the way Etchells extracts the most interior of your thoughts and wires them to the gallery wall. The sentiments he chooses are those too close to anxiety or longing to be given voice, and yet there they are, distilled from all the things that are easy enough to say and lit up before you. You're standing beside a stranger, uncomfortably staring at your own hopes and fears. But they belong to the stranger too.

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