July 14, 2010

Putting Billboards to (another) Use

Billboard by Kerry Tribe. Photograph from the MAK Center website, by Gerard Smulevich.

Jim Johnson has yet another interesting post about the social uses of imagery. This one is about billboards, and how some artists are using them in some completely different ways. Here is the basic idea behind the project:

"The philosophical proposition of the exhibition is simple: art should occupy a visible position in the cacophony of mediated images in the city, and it should do so without merely adding to the visual noise. How Many Billboards? Art In Stead proposes that art periodically displace advertisement in the urban environment."

And Jim writes:

"I think it is important to displace commercial uses for aesthetic and political ones in public spaces and so find this project appealing."

This project IS appealing. Especially when I think about all of the billboards in the LA area. If you drive along the 5 or the 101 there are tons of billboards advertising everything from morning talk shows to strip clubs to the latest Coca-Cola products. I have driven through LA for years wondering why public space isn't (or can't be) used for other reasons as well--why is it that we are always looking at commercial imagery, day after day? Don't we have something else to think about? Isn't there something else to consider? What about politics? What about local histories? What about art? Are we only concerned with losing weight and going to Disneyland? What about just putting something up in those spaces that isn't trying to sell something? I think billboards are good places to get some messages or ideas across...messages that might contribute to something more than just blatant consumerism.

The exhibition is called How Many Billboards. The MAK Center for Art and Architecture in LA is the sponsor. If you're in the area, check it out. I know that many of the billboards have already come down, but I think some might still be up.

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