Location: Redhills, Durham Miners’ Hall
History and the present collide in this simple phrase
Specially commissioned and created for the exterior facade of Redhills, the former headquarters of the Durham Miners and the Pitman’s Parliament, Tim Etchells’ new work invites the viewer to consider both literal and metaphorical meanings of the simple phrase. In the first case, Shifting Ground is the hard and dangerous work of mining itself, the movement of stone and materials under the surface of the earth. In the second, Shifting Ground refers to a treacherous landscape, a situation of danger and instability.
It invokes the labour movement and the historical might of the miners, gone via a century of sustained political strife and class conflict, as well as the present conditions of uncertainty and dilemma: the climate emergency, Brexit and Covid. It reminds us that the stability we need to function as a society is not to be taken for granted. It also points to the flux of the present as a moment of opportunity – as the ground shifts there are new possibilities to find balance and a meaningful place together.
Tim Etchells’ neon and LED works
Etchells’ neon and LED pieces often draw on his broader fascinations as an artist, writer and performance maker, 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 a rich field of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Through simple phrases spelt out in neon, LED and other media, Etchells strives to create miniature narratives, moments of confusion, awkwardness, reflection and intimacy in public and gallery settings. Encountering the neon sign works, in the streets of a city or in the space of a white cube gallery, the viewer becomes implicated in a situation that’s not fully revealed, or a linguistic formulation that generates confusion or ambiguity. As often in Etchells’ work, in the neons the missing parts of the picture are as important as the elements that are present. Invoking a story, or projecting an idea out-of-context, the work invites us in, but into what exactly we can’t be sure.