I Fell in Love Here by Tracey Emin

Tracey Emin

I Fell in Love Here, 23 Feb 2014, Neon, 22.9 x 160 cm, Location currently unknown, © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved DACS / Artimage, London and ARS, NY 2018. Image courtesy Lehmann Maupin

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Out of the Midst of the Fire

Commentary by

Deuteronomy 5 starts by saying that God spoke to the people of Israel ‘out of the midst of the fire’: an image that is, by design, hard to imagine. Fire represents the glory, the power, and the danger that accompany the presence of God. The people are in awe, and afraid. Their fear keeps them from approaching God.

Tracey Emin’s use of neon helps to unfold this experience. From a distance, neon signs are luminous, attractive, and in this case, the means of transmitting a pleasing message. Those who have fallen in love can often remember the precise place it happened. Those experiences may retain a warm glow in the memory. Sometimes people revisit those places, for they possess a sacred quality that grants the memory an almost tangible presence, that transports one through time to where love began.

But, when one gets close to a neon sign there is usually an incessant buzzing, like an insect zapper. How stable is the contraption, one wonders? Neon signs—the product of trapping neon gas in a glass tube and then stimulating it with electric current—are somehow disconcerting when one is right next to them.

And so it is with the deity that Israel encounters ‘face to face’ (Deuteronomy 5:4). If luminous, warm, and comforting from a distance, this deity produces unease when nearby. Israel deduces the need for a specialist, someone who knows how to deal with this smouldering presence. They plead with Moses to be their mediator. He will speak with God on their behalf, so that they might not die, while also not being cut off from the life-giving voice of God, whose love they crave.

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