Interview with Kimberli Meyer – MAK Center director, curator / Los Angeles, USA
Galeria Rusz: What was the idea behind the creation of the How Many Billboards? exhibition?
Kimberli Meyer: How Many Billboards? was a direct response to the mandatory nature of the public viewing of corporate messaging. Conceived while sitting in traffic, the show was designed for the characteristic sprawl, culture, and communication mode of Los Angeles. The proposition of the exhibition was that art should occupy a visible position in the cacophony of mediated images in the city.
GR: What was the main criterion for choosing the artists and works to take part in the exhibition?
KM: First and foremost, the curatorial team looked for artists that would critically address the billboard as site. We wanted them to work strategically, to approach the billboard as a means for artistic and critical intervention. We were not interested in just putting a pretty picture up on a billboard. This led us to focus on the history of conceptually based art in Los Angeles, and we began to think of that history as one that is infused with Pop Art and Identity Politics. We chose artists that represented the various generations of conceptually based art making centered in Southern California, as well as the diversity of departure points within this mode of practice.
GR: Do you think it makes sense to exhibit art in the urban space, working with the means that are normally utilised in advertising?
KM: Yes. How Many Billboards followed nearly a decade of discussion amongst city residents and officials about billboards and their environmental impact on the city of Los Angeles. There is an ongoing intense public dialogue about who has visual rights in the city. Our show attempted to investigate the political and artistic implications of these media surfaces that saturate the city’s landscape, while also offering an alternative vision for public art display in Los Angeles.
GR: The form of a billboard is egalitarian – practically everyone can see it. What, in your opinion, should be a distinguishing feature of the work of art to be presented on a billboard?
KM: Art on a billboard should depart from the usual marketing function of a billboard. The art should prompt passersby to reflect, to think, perhaps even to question what they see on other billboards.
GR: Every exhibition of art on billboards is a form of experiment. The public is used to advertisements on billboards. When they see art instead, they need to face something which is not obvious, some cognitive dissonance. What conclusions can be drawn from your experiment/exhibition? Did you receive any feedback from the citizens, the audience?
KM: The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive – people instantly recognized that they were looking at something different, and though they might not have know exactly what it was, they expressed relief in getting a break from the relentless onslaught of advertisement. In the piece by Brandon Lattu, in which the artist put up a classified-like advertisement for a 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood (which was really for sale), a phone number was included for interested potential buyers. Lattu collected the messages and passed them on to the seller, but also transcribed them and shared them with me. They were amazing to read, because in nearly all of them, the caller knew that something odd was going on, that it seemed kind of crazy to sell a used car on a very fancy billboard, yet they also expressed some interest in the car and were curious about why a billboard was being employed. These messages diagrammed very well the public encounter with art temporarily occupying advertising space.
GR: You were a member of the jury panel for the Billboard Art Competition this year. Do you have any tips for the artists that are to take part in the future editions of this competition? What should they specifically take into consideration when creating their works, so that these works better suit the form of a billboard, the urban space and an accidental audience?
KM: My advice to future entrants is: don’t take on the given theme too literally, consider addressing issues in popular culture and/or socio-politics, consider using the billboard to critique the site of outdoor advertising, and make the message bold and easily read yet holding more layers for further contemplation.
GR: Thank you very much for the talk. We want to encourage our readers to take a look at the billboards we were discussing at www.howmanybillboards.org
Interview with Mark Titchner (artist, London, GB; awarded Art Moves Special Award this year)
Galeria Rusz: Let’s start with a very basic question: why do you create art?
Mark Titchner: To try and understand the world just a little bit better. To reflect on why we are what we are rather than something else, maybe something better. What else is there?
GR: Could you tell us how you work, how you construct your works, what inspires you and what your creative process looks like?
MT: My working method tends to be based on appropriation and collage. This happens quite literally with the digital works and also in a more abstract way in other works where it’s ideologies or philosophies that are the materials rather than images. I would say the process is fairly simple but can take a long time as it can be years before I find the right use for the material that I’ve gathered. I like to collect things, leave them in disorganized piles around my studio and home and hope that eventually they start a conversation with each other!
GR: What are the main topics of your art?
MT: My art tends to focus on text and the supposed relationship between aspirational text and self-improvement and advertising, I suppose, and media, and the way we receive ideas about ourselves from outside sources. The way that we can become the viewers of our own lives and sometimes see ourselves as being slightly lesser versions of what we should be.
GR: Why is text so important in your work and how important is the relationship between texts and images in your works?
MT: Text is important to me because it is the framework within which we place all else, sensations, emotions and ideas all take form in language. It is the fabric our experience of being Human and inseparable from the world. Despite how direct language can seem it is remains mysterious and unknowable. I think, because of this the relationship between language and Media is particularly worthy of investigation.
GR: Your art is very diverse – it ranges from digitally designed pieces to hand carved sculptures. Most of your works, however, can be described as public art, can’t it?
MT: My work takes many forms, but one of the most significant in terms of meaning is working in the public sphere. And this largely takes the form of billboards, posters and the kinds of materials that you would find commonly used in advertising. Of course, the billboards of Art Moves fit perfectly into this, and I’m always very happy to be given the opportunity to work in this size, particularly when it’s in countries other than the UK and particularly when I get the opportunity just to play around with the typography of a different language.
GR: Why is presenting your art in the public space so important for you?
MT: Public Spaces is, of course, not a simple notion. This ‘Public Space’, these places I work in, tend to be filled with images and texts in the form of advertising, which are in fact generated by private, vested interests. So there is a certain irony in thinking about public spaces. Therefore for me it’s really important that art should exist in that space and be able to reflect and comment on these images, which we absorb everywhere we go about in our daily lives. I think it’s important not to have a passive relationship.
GR: In what ways, according to you, can the presentation of your works in the public space affect the viewers? How do people react to your works?
MT: This is largely a mystery me as I never get to meet most of the people who experience the works. One example that I do know a little about was a project a few years ago where twenty thousand posters were given out one morning at the five busiest commuter stations in London. Following that the same poster was spread around underground stations in London, where some of them still remain several years later. The text read ‘If you don’t like your life you can change it’. Over the years I’ve been contacted by quite a few individuals asking about getting a copy of the poster, largely it seems that each had quite a personal interpretation of the work as being specifically about them or having helped them to make a decision. This might seem a little strange given that the works were in such public sites but it seems as people passed the posters several times a day it became part of the daily experience of travel and a suggestive voice. I think there was quite a revealing dissonance between the text and the implicit message in most advertising that suggests a kind of change based on exploiting subconscious fears of personal deficiency, rather than real personal development. Actually as a commuter myself I can say that this work was perhaps the only of my own that I’ve ever experienced as a viewer, which is quite an odd experience. I felt a little like I was being bullied by my own work!
GR: What do contemporary people need art for in your opinion?
MT:: This is a very good question and very timely here in the UK as we are going through a period of fiscal cuts and the Arts are being particularly targeted. Some of our media is quite to point out keen that people really don’t need contemporary art at all! Forget about the art market about for the moment, for me the essential aspect of art is the intangible relationship between viewer, object, institution, skill, language, light, doubt, the whole world…. thoughts that can never be resolved.
GR: Is it easy for you to find opportunities to present art in the public domain?
MT: Of course these spaces are very valuable commercially, so it’s quite difficult to find these opportunities and once again I thank the festival organisers for allowing me the opportunity to make these two large works. So I really hope that the festival is a great success and that the people of the city find something there they do not find in their everyday lives, stumble across something on their way to work or out on their night out, something to think about, something to reflect upon, something to break of the monotony and routine of day-to-day life. So best wishes to you all and congratulations on the festival.
GR: Thanks a lot!