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Tim Etchells

18.10. - 09.12.19

Curated by
Peter Hess, Dana Schütte, Leonore Spemann and Eike Walkenhorst

Language – its rules and contexts, spoken and written as a fundamental aspect of interpersonal communication and social conventions – is at the heart of Tim Etchells’ artistic practice.

The British artist (born 1962 in Stevenage, UK) sees himself as a collector of language. Fragments of speech and text are taken out of their specific contexts and transferred into his artistic work. The fragments are compiled together from personal and overheard conversations, newspapers and books, and from his own imagination. The potential of his various media – neon works, performances, novels and sound installations – lies in the creation of pictorial, narrative moments. Etchells’ work provokes reflexive moments of confusion and discomfort, both in public space and in a closed exhibition context.  

Conceived especially for fffriedrich as part of the exhibition series Subject:Fwd:Unknown, Tim Etchells’ new sound installation is aimed directly at visitors via several loudspeakers and audio tracks. Focus as in every of his performative acts lies on the spoken word. The audience is entangled in a situation not fully revealed to them. Linguistic constructions play with the possibilities of interpretation, evoking obvious ambiguity.

In constant repetition and variation Tim Etchells works with the phrase nothing to lose sleep over. Through four speakers the sound of his voice fills the exhibition space, repeated in loops and layered upon itself. In Etchells’ work the recited text is spoken in different versions with varying tempo and intonation, becoming malleable artistic material. Tim Etchells reveals the vividness and multifaceted potential of the performative act of speech and expands the implicit naturalness of our everyday use of language.

Through the sound installation Etchells creates a situation into which one cannot help but be drawn. Consciously resisting a linear narrative, the possibility for interpretation and confusion he fosters is part of his artistic concept. On varying levels Etchells creates a narrative detached from classic grammatical rules. He uses language in its literal and metaphorical sense. He plays with language, breaks text into components, and dissects individual words and syllables in order to decipher a new larger symbolic whole. The artist paints an impressive poetic picture with spoken words. Visual imagery is transformed into linguistic imagery that unfurls its physical presence in space.

Tim Etchells’ way of working manifests itself visibly in the letter work also created for the exhibition series. Based on the work that the artist created for Frieze Sculpture 2018, individual letters become visible floating on steel cables. The work resembles conventional advertising slogans playing with the fact that the visible does not convey any message or instructions, while the individual words retain their legibility and meaning. Simultaneously the free-standing, incomplete fragment captures one’s imagination, leaving the readers unsettled as they pass by.

Photography © Eike Walkenhorst