Check Engine: A Neon Installation Considers the Anxiety of Existence, Particularly the LA Kind

  • Image courtesy of The Pit.

The “Check Engine” light: Is there a more loathsome illumination? The dread increases exponentially for a citizen of Los Angeles, someone who, more than many, relies upon the transporting powers of the automobile.

Amanda Ross-Ho knows the struggle. Originally from Chicago, she has been living and working in Los Angeles, renting studio space on Skid Row, since earning her MFA at the University of Southern California. “I hated LA for a long time,” Ross-Ho has said. “[It’s] one of the most fraught, anxious places that I’ve ever spent time in. But that motivates me.”

At The Pit II in Glendale, California, her solo exhibition “Eternal Flame” explores the “Check Engine” light and its unexpected existential parallels. The gallery space—fittingly, a former garage—houses just one piece, the titular Eternal Flame (2016), a neon installation in the shape of the feared dashboard signal.

There’s a sense of anxiety to the installation, but also excitement and complex beauty. Depending on your station in life, the neon glow may evoke glamorous days gone by or perhaps the allure of the seductively sleazy. Is it charmingly retro or alarmingly ablaze?

Accompanying the piece is a stream-of-consciousness rant that captures a car owner’s desperation and helplessness in not knowing what the hell that damn light means. Bubbly, frantic, preoccupied, the writing is rattled off like a tweetstorm.

“f@#K... just had baby just sunk 4000 into this car not mention the 2000 to buy the car and 500 in body work to get on the road,” starts the rant. (“sorry misspellling so upset worried n no answers elsewere!!”)

“now 5 days after purchase engine light is on for good….we do not have really another 1000 for this car engine light constantly constantly FLASHING REPEDEATITIVLY !!...AHHH i cant afford all this we just had kid worsdt possible time for car to go kaputs.”

The light is on; everything else is off. Money problems, family issues, disrupted plans—such is life, in LA and anywhere else the flickering light turns on.

—Bridget Gleeson


Amanda Ross-Ho: Eternal Flame” is on view at The Pit II, Glendale, California, Jun. 12–Jul. 24, 2016.

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