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Art & Architecture Emin’s I Promise to Love You: A hypnotically involving digital display

Toronto’s Richmond-Adelaide Centre is hosting a digital installation by artist Tracey Emin called I Promise to Love You.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

The New Yorker once described the Tracey Emin oeuvre as one of "blunt sexual themes and cheeky provocations." Remember the condoms, soiled panties and booze bottles in her breakthrough installation My Bed?

Well, there's none of that mischief in I Promise to Love You, a hypnotically involving display of six digital neon works by the famous British artist currently playing on 16 large LED screens in the lobby of Toronto's Richmond-Adelaide Centre. It's the first time a digital work by Emin, 51, a finalist for the 1999 Turner Prize, has been exhibited in Canada. (An iteration of I Promise played a couple of years ago in New York's Times Square.)

This isn't to say the tablet-like installation, which covers 15 square metres of wall space, lacks bite. Far from it. Each of the works, which consist of declarations in neon words spelled in real time in high-impact colour cursive, deals with some aspect of love – love wanted, obsessive love, love lost. One reads: "I Can't Believe How Much I Loved You." Another says: "I Listen To The Ocean And All Hear is You." Each of the six messages is repeated twice, the set of 12 taking about eight minutes to complete.

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(Said Emin to an interviewer a couple of years ago: "I wish I could have a lover like art. … Art loves me more than any man has ever loved me." Too bad neither sentence has been immortalized in neon for this exhibition; they'd both be perfect.)

The Richmond-Adelaide Centre has been showcasing digital content in its lobby for almost three years, but the Emin is the biggest deal to date. Meanwhile, if you have $100,000 (U.S.), you can buy one of the physical neon works: P. Diddy reportedly did just that three years ago for one bearing the "I Listen To the Ocean" line. For the more budget-conscious, however, $80 can get you a digital version of each of I Promise's six works to play on your smartphone, iPad and laptop. S[edition], the London-based online "art gallery" platform, has produced each Emin for sale in an electronic limited edition of 2,000. In the meantime, I Promise to Love You runs daily, 7 a.m.-7 p.m., through Feb. 28 at 130 Adelaide St. W., Toronto.

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