Seven Billion Two Hundred and One Million Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four Thousand and Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight
Born in 1967, one of the Young British Artists, Gavin Turk has pioneered many forms of contemporary British sculpture, including painted bronze, waxwork, recycled art-historical icon and use of rubbish in art. Turk’s installations and sculptures deal with issues of authorship, authenticity and identity. Concerned with the ‘myth’ of the artist and the ‘authorship’ of a work, Turk’s engagement with this modernist, avant-garde debate stretches back to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp.
In 1991, the Royal College of Art refused Turk a degree on the basis that his final show, ‘Cave’, consisted of a whitewashed studio space containing only a blue heritage plaque commemorating his presence ‘Gavin Turk worked here 1989-91′. Instantly gaining notoriety through this installation, Turk was spotted by Charles Saatchi and has since been exhibited by many major galleries and museums throughout the world. Turk has recently been commissioned to make several public sculptures including Nail, a 12-metre sculpture at One New Change, next to St Paul’s cathedral, London, England. In 2013, Prestel published Turk’s first major monograph, showcasing more than two decades of his work.
This exhibition brings together for the first time all of Turk’s neon works – signature pieces made between 1995 and 2014 that examine the evolution of Turk’s practice, quite literally, up in lights; their effervescent glow the epiphany aura of consumer fetish, celebrity and glamour. Quintessentially a modernist medium – now rendered obsolete by digital LED – neon is the vaporous stuff of retro-futuristic glory, of Hollywood optimism and capitalist spectacle, and of history’s malleability and forgetfulness: neon light’s inventor, French chemist Georges Claude, envisioned their use for fascist propaganda.
The title of the exhibition, Seven Billion Two Hundred and One Million Nine Hundred and Sixty-Four Thousand and Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight reflects Turk’s fascination with world population and, calculating the number of people alive the moment his first solo show opened at The Bowes Museum, inspired him to create the largest neon work of his career to date. ‘We are One’, is an eight and a half metre wide piece designed to broadcast the world’s population from the Museum’s French façade for the duration of the exhibition. Whilst, inside the exhibition another of Turk’s new works for the show, presents the size of the human race a notional 25 minutes after the larger neon on the Museum exterior.