Tim Etchells (born Stevenage, 1962, lives and works in Sheffield) works with performance, video, sound, photography, installation, neon and LED technology. He collects words and phrases, using text to address the viewer, convey narrative and to communicate ideas. His work explores the contradictory nature of language with its ability to create uncertainty and ambiguity in playful and poetic ways.

For the Great Exhibition of the North, Etchells has made a large-scale site-specific LED text sculpture, With/Against 2018, which occupies a prominent position above South Shore Road. The work looks out across the River Tyne, and can be viewed from Gateshead Quayside or from the neighbouring Newcastle waterfront, providing a point of connection between the two.

Fabricated from steel and white LED, the work pairs two well-known phrases that seem to read in opposition: GO WITH THE FLOW / SWIM AGAINST THE TIDE. The ambiguous nature of this pairing and the resulting duality of meaning reflects the ebb and flow of the tidal river below. The River Tyne was once the focus of trade and commerce in the North East, providing a major route for the export of coal. The river remains a major symbol of regional identity in the North East and supports a diverse ecosystem. Each year thousands of salmon swim upstream to spawn during spring. Etchells’ sculpture refers to the river and its heritage, but also speaks about human compliance and resistance, the desire to drift, and acts of struggle and defiance.

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