Travelling provides a pause, a capsule of specific time in which to live within a continuous moment. When we board a train for example, we enter a constant and unchanging mobile space that allows us to exist in transit, until we reach the desired destination. In contrast to the changing landscapes, people and minutes on the outside, the train seemingly allows the passenger to remain still, as if entering in to this transient space allows an escape from the real world for an allotted timeframe. Here we can lose ourselves, observing passing towns, fields and cities fleetingly whilst lost in individual thoughts and memories. It is this mental concentration that creates an openness to what one sees as one looks out of the window.
In Wakefield, a stationary artwork awaits the gaze of those travellers. Mounted high above the rooftops, a large red neon sign calls out to commuters travelling through Westgate train station. Upon a metal frame spanning six metres, a collection of words form a love lyric, engaging the passenger’s gaze for a fleeting moment before fading from view. As the months go by the sentiments change, and expressions of intimacy, adoration and heartbreak are displayed. The unsuspecting train commuter becomes a momentary witness to this ever-changing spectacle, the spectrum of emotion laid bare. These dramatic communications echo the turbulent sensations associated with love, and viewing the project over time is like watching a love affair unfold. As the travellers’ gaze falls upon this scene, their thoughts are channelled towards the sentiments that the work expresses.
Lyrics allow us to explore the world and ourselves through the sentiments of another. Love in particular is an emotion so complex it is often difficult to define, and love songs provide a way to articulate the emotional intangibility that the feeling evokes. These poetic interpretations of rapture inspire a rare euphoric sensation that is evocative and poignant for those in love, whereas some love songs strive to make sense of the agonies provoked by unrequited love, lost love and abandonment. It is often easy to underestimate the influence that music has upon us as individuals.
12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE relies on the memory of sound for its success. The project presents lyrics that people can emotionally connect to, a collective experience for the unsuspecting audience to enjoy as part of their everyday reality. In this sense the work becomes performative, the work forming a series of moments where lovers stop to kiss under the red glow, or viewers from the train smile to themselves on the way home as they remember the tune. Songs allow us to map the passage of time, and recall memories through their association with personal experiences. They form a framework prompting nostalgia, one song having the ability instantly to evoke a forgotten moment or person through cognitive association. The network of songs that we weave in to the fabric of our lives is unique, each human-being possessing a different compilation that assists in shaping individuality. These individual aural frameworks are also influenced by our cultural and social constructs, resulting in collective responses and memories that shape the atmosphere of an era.
For centuries musicians have been inspired to use their creativity as a way to communicate deep affection, passion and desire. Songs, with their poetic musings on the subject of love, allow us to express, enhance, and survive the complex and indescribable impulses associated with its nature. But underneath all the melodies, croons and ballads, what is love and how can we define something so intangible?
Plato surmised that love is the yearning for perfection through being in constant union with the very essence of beauty. Falling in love with what constitutes beauty itself suggests that love does not directly relate to the object or person upon which the feeling is directed, but is rather ignited by the fundamental qualities present in all aesthetically pleasing things. Individual interpretation of what constitutes beauty is dependent on social, cultural and political influences: and so one person may be satisfied with the superficial aesthetic qualities associated with it, whilst another may search for a hidden beauty within a subject. For example, when neon gas and electricity meet they form a unique relationship, their individual properties uniting to create something beautiful. This superficial surface is often the main focus of neon artwork, and the attraction to its effervescent glow often distracts the viewer from the deeper conceptual concerns of the work. Neon’s arresting aesthetic makes it a challenging material to work with conceptually, unless the emotive response it provokes is encapsulated in its underlying meaning. There are also cultural burdens that neon has to bear, like the greasy fast-food shops that line our streets, or the seedy sex clubs that exist in most European cities. The fact that neon is used here to convey feelings of love instead of advertising sex as a commodity is an interesting parallel.12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE exists as an object of the kind ordinarily produced for commercial gain, yet the feeling of love that it conveys holds no monetary value: it cannot be bought or sold. Thus in a time of financial uncertainty, it offers a respite from the bombardment of consumerist-led advertising that intoxicates us on a daily basis.
Love in itself can be a beautiful and poignant concept, so if Plato was correct with his interpretation of love, it is feasible that we are able to fall in love with the very essence of it. In A Lover’s Discourse, Roland Barthes writes, ‘It is my desire I desire, and the loved being is no more than its tool’. The desire to love is a powerful force, consuming participants and distracting all senses until that desire is satisfied. Desire pulls its users toward one another and initiates those first few beautiful fleeting moments: the unmistakable first glance, the introduction, the touch of the hand; the first kiss. When seemingly unattainable, romantic love can be all-consuming; it can wreak havoc with an individual’s sanity and cause pain and suffering through a desperation to find it. If the desired feeling is not established and maintained, then an addict searches for all-consuming love again and again, until it is eventually found.
Simon May in his book Love A History suggests that in Western society, love has replaced religion as a main belief system. Many are in search of love, and many have faith in it above everything else. As a culture of love replaces a culture of religious faith, the idea of love as a divine eternal force remains, and many mere mortals are unable to live up to its expectations. Followers of love are led to believe that love and the powerful, euphoric sensation it evokes will last forever; and so when love seemingly ends it induces a devastating feeling of loss and abandonment. But strangely, when one is not in the midst of enduring heartache as a result of love, there is something extraordinarily beautiful and compelling about the loss and pain associated with it, as illustrated in art and literature throughout the ages.
The ephemeral nature of 12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE, in relation to its temporal existence, echoes the feeling of love that lives between two human beings. The effusive emails of praise sent by train commuters during the project echoed the sentiments associated with love, and there is certainly a feeling of loss as it is set to disappear from the skyline. As a symbol of faith, the neon glow draws in its believers and reaffirms their belief until the power is turned off and the neon lights go out. The rooftop will eventually revert to its original state, as if the event never took place, and it will only exist in the photographs captured and the fading memory of the people who experienced it.
Having an awareness of the loss associated with love allows one to truly appreciate its value. The death of a loved one for example may bring us closer to others in our lives, as we reevaluate how we appreciate and express love during the finite time that is available to us. The heartache of a failing relationship may ignite a new understanding of how to love for the future, reminding sufferers that every moment spent is important. It may be through the follies of experience that one genuinely learns how to love.
Neon is a noble gas that is lighter than air, existing in small quantities as part of the Earth’s atmosphere. Mixed with the oxygen that we breathe, neon fills our lungs and then dissipates as we breathe out, as we speak, as we sing. As the electrified neon is emblazoned as art, it also silently passes through our bodies. There is something incredibly beautiful about the fact that the neon trapped inside glass tubes spelling out the lyrics is the very same gas that is released as we sing them. Without electricity, the neon gas is colourless, odourless, and seemingly lifeless in comparison.
Like neon or the sound of the lyrics, love is always ‘in the air’ in the sense that it will never completely cease to exist. Lovers come together, they exist for a time, and in an instant they either break up or perish. A love between two people will eventually end, yet another romance takes its place somewhere else. In this sense, love is an eternal part of humanity, and is something that we rely on as a way to achieve a sense of fulfillment as individuals. The pursuit of love as a way to provide a sustained feeling of unchanged permanence and security, even with the knowledge of our eventual demise, is what is so appealing about love. Being alone in the world elicits a deepened awareness of our mortal fragility, and it is through the raptures of love that we find a feeling of eternal wholeness that provides a grounding unlike any other. Love acts as an anchor, and allows us to place ourselves within the world in relation to those who inspire it.
12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE encapsulates the experience of love. It was initiated by two artists who had faith in the love they held for one another, combining their individual creativity in an attempt to describe love in a way that could not have been achieved without the other. In this sense the collaborative process was symbolic – its symbolism reinforced by the failure of the artists’ own relationship during the course of the project. The artists have experienced the complexities involved in collaborating on a project so intimately connected to their own relationship, and as a result only the art collaboration has survived. The creation of art cannot be compared to the unique power of love, but art as collaboration can be attributed to the desire for complete human fulfillment. Like romantic couples, collaborating artists assist and support one another as a creative team, solving problems and committing to their combined aspirations. Whether one is involved in singing, writing, conversing, making or loving, creativity is a central source of meaning.
This book is an archive of 12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE. Capturing moments through the medium of photography, it is a unique document of an era that no longer exists, and a tribute to all those who have experienced love and the spectrum of emotions associated with it.
Publication Essay, 12 MONTHS OF NEON LOVE
Written by Victoria Lucas