‘There is only one resource to avoid the horrors of daily life…never raise your eyes.’
JK Huysman, ‘La Bas’.
Our cities teem with symbols. An incessant, rapid succession of products and ideologies to batter the urban senses. Private interest invades what we call public space; from the back of a bus ticket to high-resolution video screens. Into this space, from without are flung images of desire and aspiration, a commanding pulse, More! More! More! Streets filled with gaping mouths and unblinking eyes, it pours in, this other will, an unheralded fact of the urban experience. The public sphere as Laboratory.
A Hypothesis of sorts; what is there to do in the face of this barrage but to disengage, to become porous, to be neither here nor there, to let go. A number of years ago I began to consider that there could perhaps be a potential analogy between this kind of urban sleepwalking and the labour of consciously ‘letting go’ in the Sigil process. Could this collective act of capitulation be used to activate such a thing as a Public Sigil?
During the 1980’s The Temple of Psychic Youth initiated it’s project to extend the creation of Sigils from the individual to part of a collective Gnosis. My idea was simply that because of the very particular situation that media over saturation creates it could be possible to introduce collectively produced Sigils effectively back into this very site, occupying the spaces where we would expect to find advertising.
Further whilst it is perhaps impossible to produce a truly representative group Sigil the collective wills and desires upon which the Sigil is based are clearly defined. This material is willingly given, courted in Focus Groups and Strategic Planning meetings and often made a matter of public record. This material that is willingly produced to improve the consumer/social experience is the material from which the Sigil is derived. It is this that will be hidden in plain sight amongst the very media that have borne it.
‘The deepest secret is always hidden even though it be openly to the public or cried from the rooftops’, AOS.
(I’ve most recently revisited the Sigil in public works with the works that I contributed to the campaign against the Governments budget cuts to the arts. In these works the sigil aspect of the image have become part of the overall noise and static of the image rather than the main visual component. So much noise to make a silence.)
As part of my contribution to the British Art Show 6 I was commissioned to produce a series of Billboard based works in Newcastle during the exhibitions display at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. At this time the city was involved with a renewal program called ‘The Newcastle Plan’. One key aspect of the strategy for this plan was public consultation; during the first consultation the public identified four points as areas for concern or skepticism. My project took these four demands and presented them in Sigilised form in the city itself.
A video work commissioned by Creative Time in New York that ran on a video screen in Times Square for the 59th Minute of every hour. In response to the incredibly overloaded nature of the setting, which literally crawls with information and advertising, the work combined a set of imperative commands and flashing images to play upon the idea subliminal influence. Ironically to make a work that plays upon this fear, images and text had to operate at speed far slower than a truly subliminal one whilst appearing fast enough to trigger the idea of manipulation in the viewer. The coda for the work was the phrase ‘Just tell me what you want me to do’.
One aspect of the Public based Sigil works is to emphasise the contested nature of ‘Public Space’ given the influence on it by private interest. In order for these works to have the same kind of duration and quality as regular advertising, and thus engage with the fabric of the city, these projects always begin with negotiation and the purchase of space. The interest is to use these sites or even the vernacular of advertising itself in a way that strikes the viewer as dissonant whether it is consciously experienced or not.
‘Thought is a Signal’ was a project I made in collaboration with a group of young people in Bristol. The project focused on strategies by which the individual may express their opinions or feelings in a public setting. This particular work worked as an announcement for the group with later billboard Sigils reflecting attitudes towards Public Art, exclusivity and Consumerism. The final work in the project was an alternative Audio guide for the British Art Show 6 in which the group impersonated the artists in the exhibition and talked about the intentions behind the work.
The first of the Sigil based works and really a simple attempt at Self-Portraiture, with the work as a simple Sigilised form of my name. (The aspect of Self-Portraiture was emphasized by the liberal amount of my blood that was mixed into the paint applied to the carving.) It was also an attempt to formally announce an area of interest within my practice, a degree zero. There is a certain contemporary tradition of the artist announcing their rebirth, for example in Jeff Koons airbrushed Artforum ads for himself or John Baldessari’s artistic purge with his “The Cremation Project” in 1970. This figure has continued to be appear in my work ever since.
My thanks to Abraxas for graciously allowing me to represent this text here.