Neon and coin box operating system
24 × 181 cm9 1/2 × 71 1/4 in
O’Connor’s neon sculpture ‘I’m Afraid There is No Money’ replicates the handwritten words found in what became a scandalous note penned by Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown. Following the Labour party’s landslide defeat to the Conservatives in 2010, Byrne left the provocative note for his successor to discover. ‘I’m Afraid there is no Money’ sees O’Connor satirizing the universal recognisability of Tracey Emin’s neon artworks in his deliberate isolation of the words found in Byrne’s original note. Like Emin’s works, O’Connor juxtaposes Byrne’s simple and intimate handwritten text and an inherently human vulnerability with a medium that traditionally serves a more utilitarian purpose. O’Connor highlights an uncanny similarity between Byrne’s words and Emin’s often deeply personal declarations, insults, thoughts and feelings chosen to be illuminated in neon – with them both, appearing as amplified written confessions. The neon artwork is produced in as close a colour match to the ink used by Byrne’s original note.
In addition, O’Connor has realised the sculpture as an audience participatory artwork. Connected to a coin box operating system, and when supplied with a £1 coin only, the neon is illuminated for a limited amount of time. Those who choose to interact with the work, engage with a range of questions that surround the value of art in today’s society, in particular, asking whether -? without money – does it function?
All coins collected by the sculpture are to be donated to The Groucho Club’s nominated charity.
In 2015, ‘I’m Afraid There is No Money’ featured in a group exhibition which included neon works by Tracey Emin, Gavin Turk and Chris Bracey.