Every night this February, three minutes before the clock strikes midnight, 15 billboards in Times Square will light up with animated messages of love. These glowing Valentines, scrawled in neon colors over a black surface, are the work of British artist Tracey Emin. “I promise to love you,” writes her invisible hand. And then, “I listen to the ocean and all I hear is you.”
I went to see “I Promise to Love You” on cold, misty Monday night. At 11:57 sharp, the Calvin Klein underwear model disappeared from the Thomson Reuters billboards on 42nd Street and 7th Ave; the screens went dark, and ghostly letters began to appear. I glanced around to see if any other pedestrians had noticed the change, but they hadn’t. They continued to walk, talk and check their cell phones, never looking up. Tracey Emin’s piece is part of the ongoing art initiative, “Midnight Moment.” Each month, the billboards of Times Square feature a different artist’s digital installation, transforming the city’s busiest commercial intersection into a glowing tribute to art and creativity.
Tracey Emin is famous for her controversial 1995 installation, “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With: 1963-1995.” The piece, which was destroyed several years ago in a warehouse fire in London, featured the names of all of the people the artist had quite literally slept with, sewed onto the inside of a camping tent. Emin explained in an interview that not all of the names in the piece belonged to sexual partners: “Some I’d had a shag with in bed or against a wall, some I had just slept with, like my grandma.” The piece, like her current installation in Times Square, was really about love: “I used to lay in [my grandma’s] bed and hold her hand. We used to listen to the radio together and nod off to sleep. You don’t do that with someone you don’t love and don’t care about.”