Contributing Artists and Biographies
Find a list of artists under each city
Find a list of artists under each city
Approaching a digital billboard as an artistic medium presents a myriad of opportunities to interact with both the surrounding landscape and unsuspecting passersby. In her submissions to the Nashville and Savannah Billboard Art Projects, Michele Guieu started with the fundamental idea that the canvas is also a sign and then created work that addresses how the viewer interacts with the sign.
Born in southern France, Michele is a graduate of the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris, where she studied graphic design and multimedia. She was a graphic designer for years before moving to the U.S., working as a graphic designer for prominent nonprofit organizations, museums and corporate companies. She now spends most of her time in her studio devoted to her art. Michele lives with her family in Sunnyvale, California, and took a moment to talk about her artwork and the Billboard Art Project.
Billboard Art Project: We understand that your background is not exclusively that of an artist. When did you make the transition from graphic design to art, and what prompted it?
Michele Guieu: After a few years of being a graphic designer, I needed to work on something else other than projects for clients. I began a personal series of paintings and drawings in 1991. My graphic design work and my art work were separated in my head and in the facts: I was doing computer work for the graphic design, and I was using traditional media when I was working for myself. In 2005, after moving to the US and taking a break for a few years (I have two children), I finally (f)used all the techniques I’d learned in art school and afterward into my art work. I was no longer torn between being a graphic designer and a fine artist. I was an artist using traditional and nontraditional media.
BAP: What experiences and lessons did you take as a graphic designer that cross over to your work as an artist?
MG: Right after I graduated from art school, I had the unique opportunity to work with the most daring group of French graphic designers, Grapus. With them, I deepened my knowledge of how to work on images and subjects that matter. I endlessly manipulated images, trying and trying again different solutions. There are many possibilities to “frame” an image, to move around each element, to play with the proportions - and therefore to change the meaning. Everything has a meaning; you have to know what you are doing with space, colors, signs, text.
BAP: When you first heard about the Billboard Art Project, what was the initial appeal?
MG: I saw the call for the BAP Nashville on the “San Diego Artists - Resources, Opportunities & Online Community” Facebook page. I thought it was a great opportunity to work in a new medium, and I was interested by the scale. I always have been fascinated by billboards, but they are almost inaccessible - to work on/with - for individual artists. I visited the BAP website, and it looked like an inclusive and generous project, with a broad variety of artists from very different horizons and places.
BAP: Did the project speak to you as both an artist and a graphic designer?
MG: Absolutely. Although the first series I submitted is an adaptation of a series of paintings I had created previously for an installation in a gallery, I almost immediately thought I could create something special for the BAP, a series of images in direct relation to the context of the town, the street, the highway, using the graphic language of the road signs.
BAP: In your submissions, you have approached the signs in a number of different ways. Defragmentation is a series of images you adapted from some of your previous work to be shown on the billboard. Can you tell us a little about how you originally created those images?
MG: “Defragmentation” is an installation (mural, paintings, video) I had shown at Project X Art in Solana Beach last December. It comprises a series of approximately 70 paintings. Each painting is the interpretation of a photo I've taken. I take photos on an everyday basis: landscapes, people, people in landscapes, details of natural elements.
BAP: Some of those images seem to have an almost X-ray-like quality to them where ghostly images of metal objects float in the background. What processes do you employ to get this effect?
MG: Through filters in Photoshop, I strip my photos of most of their details to obtain a black and white image, which I crop. With this image in hand, I then work a background, in relation to the structure of the image, directly on the canvas. It is a layering process of acrylic paint and spray paint with the use of stencils: objects like old brushes, and all sorts of kitchen utensils I find at the thrift store. They come in all sorts of shapes which are quite interesting once stenciled. Once the background is done, I project the image I previously worked on, and then paint it - it becomes the dark layer of the painting. For “Defragmentation,” I worked with shades of silver and a very dark blue.
BAP: How do you feel the images in Defragmentation translated to the billboard format?
MG: I think the adaptation worked very well. The images are mostly an evocation of vast natural spaces which echo the symbol of the American urban and road space the billboards represent. It also worked well because the format of the paintings was almost the same proportion as the billboard: narrow and long. I did not have to crop much. I’ve got a few photos of the “Defragmentation” series on the billboard, in the context of the town. Luckily they were taken at dusk. There is a beautiful effect between the dark blue and silvery painting playing with the color of the darkening sky. Also, the painting's silvery background is enhanced by the billboard LED technology. The silver shimmers beautifully when lit.
BAP: In another series of images, "Signs," you play with a variety of colors and symbols, mostly arrows and some images of clip art. As the title suggests, these images relate more directly to the medium as a sign. When you saw the documentation from the project in Nashville, what were your thoughts?
MG: After adapting the series “Defragmentation,” I developed a series in direct relation to the medium, but with a slight twist: the billboard as a (faux) road sign, not as an advertisement. The billboard was working in direct relation with the space it was displayed in. I saw only a few photos in context. The photos from the images using only the arrows worked very well. I could not go to Nashville to see the display and take photos, so I was thrilled when I received the photos you sent me. It was rather magical - I sent to you a series of jpegs to be displayed on a billboard and I received photos of the images on the billboard in the context of the town! I think part of the interesting aspect of the project is the documentation. In that sense, in Nashville, I got lucky: the series of arrows was displayed right next to a highway with other road signs around, and there was a sense of strangeness and playfulness - it was perfect! The series adds to the confusion already existing with the abundance of signs. A scene from “Brazil” came to my mind: “My complication had a little complication.”
BAP: You submitted a progression of similar images to the Savannah show. Did you feel they had the same contextual impact?
MG: For Savannah, I created a new series of faux road signs with only arrows. I wanted to focus on what worked well, because I had seen the documentation of the Nashville show and I could now adjust my designs in response. Unfortunately, the surroundings of the billboard in Savannah were less interesting - for my images - than in Nashville. I can really measure the impact of the context on the content of the images: depending on the context, the images get stronger or lose their strength. That's when I starting thinking that it would be great to get a photo of the billboard - in its context - before I start working on the images. And this time, for the Duluth show, we do have an image, which is very interesting! The best thing, of course, would be to go see the billboards and their surroundings. I hope to do so for the San Bernardino show, as it’s a 5 hour drive from where I live.
BAP: You also had another submission in the Savannah show that played with the fact that these images were indeed being displayed on a sign. Could you talk a little bit on what you did with this particular series?
MG: I wanted to develop another series of faux road signs. The proportions of the billboard are very close to those of the green signs on roads/highways indicating the mileage. As I was thinking about how to use them, another idea came along and gave me the content I needed: I was listening to the news, as I often do when I am working, and the names of towns in the Middle East and Africa were referenced often in the programs. Also, the Savannah show would take place not long after the beginning of the Arab spring. I decided to make a series of road signs indicating the mileage from Savannah to a series of towns situated in the Middle East and in Africa. The mileage on my faux road signs is the exact one between Savannah and each town I chose. To calculate the distances, I found a helpful website. With this series, like with the series of arrows, the approach is simple and poetry plays an important role. There is, of course, also a political aspect. To see the names of the towns on an American road sign makes the towns feel closer, maybe more real to the viewer. The jpegs in themselves are not very interesting. What is very interesting is to see the images in the context of an American town, such as Savannah. Fortunately, close to where the billboard was standing, there is the name of a street that is undoubtedly American.
BAP: What is your personal take on the United States’ regional involvement in the cities you listed?
MG: I am thinking more in terms of the question, "What is the significance of those names repeated over and over in the media?" The average American citizen does not have much knowledge about what is really going on. All of these towns are far away. When you live in Europe, these towns are much closer, and people travel to Africa or the Middle East. Living now in the US, I really measure the “distance” between here and anywhere else in the world, especially the Middle East and Africa. The series is timely and puts these towns on the “American map.”I also like the idea of surprising the viewer. And that is not easy, given the number of billboards everywhere with thousands of well-thought-out messages (which does not necessarily mean they are interesting – but they are made to catch the viewers attention).
BAP: Have political musings worked their way into your art in the past?
MG: When I started working on my art again in 2005, one of my first paintings was a large portrait of a Muslim woman. I then painted a series of portraits of American soldiers, portraits of women abducted in two different conflicts, and quite a few pieces directly related to the Iraq war. But the core of my work is about personal and daily experiences: places, landscapes, family and friends.
I lived my teenage years in Senegal, Africa, where I was put in front of the reality of the world at a young age. In my art school, I worked closely with a group of politically engaged professors, and later, with the group Grapus, which was also politically engaged. So the political background has always been there, but I find peace and an endless inspiration in nature. I was 11 when I went for the first time to the Sahara, and I still remember it vividly. I always traveled to see beautiful landscapes and I still do. I first came to the US to visit the Southwest and the National Parks of the West. Now that I am an American citizen, I vote and I try to make sense of the complicated world I live in. It’s there in my work. But lots of other things are in there, too!
BAP: Going back to Nashville, there was one other piece entitled "Hello" that spoke to passersby. What was your intent with the messages in "Hello," and how did the background images work with the piece?
MG: “Hello” was part of a series of signs including “Hey,” “You,” and “How Are You?,” all direct messages addressed to the viewer. The few photos I’ve got are interesting because they are taken at night in a deserted parking lot. The effect is strange; it’s as if the billboard is speaking into the void.
BAP: Having participated in two shows, and having the intention of participating in others, do you see the roll of digital billboards as an artistic medium developing past a few random shows?
MG: I am definitely interested in exploring the possibilities of using an LED billboard space, in developing different series in different contexts. The fast pace (a few seconds per image) is a limitation. If nobody takes a picture, there is no documentation and it is gone! For me, documentation is key in this project. That is why I think it would be great to see the same series in a different context. If you show the jpegs, they will look the same. But if you show the images in different contexts, the meaning would be different each time. When a billboard is placed in a different context, it tells a different story, and that is what interests me.
BAP: How do art installations on billboards differ from other public art?
MG: The Billboard Art Project offers one very interesting way to work on billboards. There is a certain format: each event is a projection of several series of images by a group of artists on LED billboards, with a certain pace and time frame, a different town each time. The artists have only to create their images and the rest is taken care of. It would be different to create a single unique image for a billboard - printed or handmade. It would be another approach. I would think about it differently. The Billboard Art Project is a public, incorporeal, ephemeral and nomadic project. Four wonderful qualities I am more and more interested in. Public art is obviously public, but not necessarily incorporeal, ephemeral and nomadic!
To see some of Michele's images, visit her Savannah and Nashville albums in the photo section on facebook.
Kerry Woo’s first interaction with the Billboard Art Project happened as a spectator viewing artwork from a Citgo parking lot in Nashville, Tennessee. By day you might find him working in an office as an internet marketing consultant, but after hours Kerry enjoys tooling around the city with a camera in hand.
As an avid photographer who likes to capture images of Americana ranging from a flock of plastic lawn flamingos to a picked over automobile graveyard saturated with rust and overgrown grass, Kerry Woo answered the next Billboard Art Project call for artists with a series of his own images.
On Friday, May 13th, Kerry packed his bags and headed out on a road trip. After driving a little over five hundred miles and arriving in Savannah, Georgia, he looked up at a billboard flashing images of art. Only this time he did this not as a casual onlooker, but as one of the participating artists. His images were bold, quirky, and colorful, and they jumped off the billboard with a vibrant glow.
Recently, Kerry took some time to answer a few questions and reflect back on his visit down to see the Savannah Billboard Art Project.
Billboard Art Project: Could you tell us how you first found out about the Billboard Art Project?
Kerry Woo: Sure thing. I read an article about the Billboard Art Project in the Nashville newspaper, The Tennessean, and thought, "What a cool idea!" I told my wife about it and said I would be back in a couple of hours, as there was a convenient location about 10 miles away on a busy street - Nolensville Road. So I grabbed a couple of SD cards, my Nikon D60 and a tripod, and waited until dusk to start shooting away for three hours! Then it got too chilly around 10:30 pm.
BAP: What are some of your impressions from the Nashville show?
KW: Overall, I liked it. There were a couple of pieces that got redundant for me as they played off of a variation on a single image with hard to read type. With my advertising background, I was looking for an image that was "non-advertising," yet had a captivating image or message that would be clear, concise and compelling.
BAP: What work really stood out?
KW: I really liked "Impressions of Imagination" by Rick Gustafson; eight visually striking images that rendered well against the night sky and that provoked an emotion. Two people walking on a beach, an empty road ahead, a man walking alone in a forest... these images for me (and maybe for others) evoked some memory or story from the past.
(See Wonderdawg's Flickr photos of the Gustafson billboards)
BAP: Was playing with a space normally used for advertising part of the initial appeal for someone such as yourself who has a background in advertising?
KW: Absolutely! We are bombarded with advertising messages everyday, the bulk of it being safe, cookie cutter or just noise. I believe that advertising should be inspiring, creative, striking... and yet, at times, catch people off guard. Thus, kudos to the Billboard Art Project. How often do you see very creative work on a canvas that thousands of motorists see every day? I once saw a billboard on the side of the road that simply said "I pooted." It was a complete mystery. What was it for? Who was behind it? I later came to find out that it was part of a series of images advertising a show on the Cartoon Network. It really caught my attention.
BAP: What sort of topical ground do you explore in your work?
KW: I guess anything that's quirky, unusual, bizarre, interesting. I tend to go on certain themes. For a while, I was captivated by roadside attractions such as an eight foot chicken wearing a chef's hat ("What's up with that?"), a 10 story minister's treehouse, a giant cow, a Great Dane, a 15 foot country boy, and a large Rubik's Cube. It's my destiny to see those things firsthand and photograph them! I like neon signs, old motels, random parts of the city... just about anything...
BAP: You seem to travel quite a bit to gather some of your photos. Tell us what you like about traveling.
KW: I do a lot of travel on business. After a day of being on the internet or walking through PowerPoint presentations, it's time to change clothes and go out on the town. I love exploring a new city, especially the old parts that have become revitalized or even trendy. I find that traveling affords a lot of opportunities to discover other communities. Each city or town I visit offers a rich tapestry of architecture and local culture. Some people on business trips really go for the per diems; I prefer taking pictures wherever and whenever possible.
BAP: Is there a particular trip that stands out?
KW: I remember my first trip to Los Angeles, where I set out to take two thousand photos. Obviously, the tourist spots were a must, but I also took advantage of the weekend and put over 300 miles on my rental car, grabbing as many shots as I could. The best shots happen by accident, like when I'm waiting at a stop light or stumbling upon a scene at a street corner. I like this shot of a billboard "throwing a look" at the girl crossing the street./p>
BAP: Do you have any ideas for upcoming trips or projects?
KW: One day, I'll own a Honda Element and capture a sunset in every state!
BAP: How was your trip to Savannah?
KW: It was excellent! I was really honored to be a part of the Billboard Art Project and certainly appreciated the process of selecting photos that would tell a story individually and work as a whole. The road trip I took was fun. I started off in Nashville and drove though Chattanooga, where I saw some great abandoned buildings. When I was passing through Atlanta, I got to see the skyscrapers and planes against the backdrop of an incoming storm front. On the last leg of the trip, between Macon and Savannah, there was nothing but green. Once I arrived, I had to see the ocean. While watching the show, there was a real sense of community and fellowship hanging out under the billboard with participating artists and locals who had come to check it out. Afterwards, I visited Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens Art Festival to see a renowned folk artist's work. Then I headed home. I have never set out to travel a thousand miles over a weekend strictly for photography until this trip. It was a blast and I hope to do more photography-themed weekends.
BAP: Was this your first visit? What did you think of the city?
KW: I'd been to Savannah once before on a week-long business trip, but really enjoyed the city this time around, especially down by the river. Savannah has its share of history, roadside attractions, and a wonderful graveyard of rusty, vintage cars.
BAP: As a participant in this show, did you look at the submissions differently after considering and building your own submission?
KW: I was pretty comfortable with my selection of 49 photos; only three didn't render well and one was a bit cluttered. I really liked the submissions that were "snappy" and conveyed a message or emotion in a clear, concise and compelling manner. I personally think text doesn't work well, as consumers see words on billboards everyday. For me, seeing only images on a billboard is as refreshing and unusual as good news on a newscast.
BAP: What are some of the things you took away from the project?
KW: You need to consider how images will render on such a large scale. Reds, blues and oranges really pop. And when approaching the project, an artist should consider how the pixilation of the LEDs might wash out details. However, it's a good thing to be challenged by this medium. What works on a CD cover doesn't necessary translate well to a print ad or even to a billboard. But that's the beauty of art in a new and relatively unexplored medium - by experimenting, testing and never giving up you can come up with some exciting things. This project presents artists with the opportunity to use the billboard as a means of reaching unsuspecting motorists and getting them to wonder, "What is that?" Maybe it will put a smile on someone's face and provide a break from that grayness the world wants to throw upon us. Isn't that the beauty and timeless appeal of art?
BAP: Any last thoughts?
KW: I hope an image I submit will cause some people to say "Did you see that?" "What was that?" "Who is behind that?" Or, as I like to call it, the "I pooted" effect.
In this first discussion, one of the Richmond Billboard Art Project participants, Jesse Robinson, sat down and answered a few questions regarding his submissions.
Jesse’s studio practice primarily involves working with sculpture, photography, and video. He earned a BA in Fine Art from UCLA in 2005 and an MFA in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008. Jesse currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.
For the Richmond Billboard Art Project, Robinson submitted two strikingly different pieces.
In “Resigning,” pictures of landscapes with signs are on display. The contents of the signs are edited out with a type of colored static, leaving only a silhouette of the subject matter.
There is a more playful tone to the sequential “Titles and Idioms (1 – 100).” It contextualizes each number in a phrase, one through one hundred, and invites the viewer to guess what’s next.
Jesse took a moment to answer a few questions about his contributions. Before reading the interview you might find it helpful to look at them on Flickr.
Billboard Art Project: When coming up with your ideas for the Billboard Art Project, how much did the aspect ratio of the billboard come into play with what you decided to do?
Jesse Robinson: The aspect ratio is dramatic, almost like the Cinema Scope aspect ratio used in some films of the 50’s and 60’s. I think of this format as conducive to lateral images like landscape or text.
When thinking about the format of the project, I was more concerned with time and sequence. Some of the viewers would be in speeding cars – for that reason I wanted the images to be somewhat autonomous, not fully dependent on a narrative structure. Though “Titles and Idioms (1-100)” is sequential, once one or two slides are seen, the piece can continue in the mind of a viewer after the looking part is over. In a way, my slides can be seen as prompts or suggestions that kick start a process.
BAP: In “Resigning,” you use a sign to display a series of images dealing with signs. “Titles and Idioms (1- 100)” makes use of the sequential nature of the slide show. How specific to the site parameters are these pieces? Have you shown or would you show them in any context other than a billboard?
JR: I think of these works, in their current incarnation, as specific to the medium but not the site. What I mean is that they could only exist on an LED billboard, but that billboard could be in any location.
BAP: “Resigning” seems to play with the profusion of signs that litter our environment. Was this an idea that you had played with before the Billboard Art Project, or did the venue somehow prompt the meditation? How did the idea come about?
JR: The work came out of my interest in a film industry practice called ‘greeking’. “Greeking” is a process by which a label or product name is obscured from the camera so the resulting film does not infringe on trademarked products. I began thinking that maybe instead of simply subtracting information, I could obscure it by translating it into a different language. The information is there, it's just indecipherable.
BAP: The submission included quite a few pictures with signs. Did you have these on hand or did you have to go seek them out? Do you have a general sort of fascination with signs and advertising?
JR: I’m absolutely drawn to signs and advertising, specifically how information is framed and desire and mythology constructed. Our collective visual acuity is so developed that even when the text is removed, we are still able to glean a substantial amount of information from the context and framing.
BAP: The colored static that covers the signs – is this a sort of reference to the white noise that comes from constant advertising?
JR: The “colored static” sections are actually stereograms (known in pop culture as “magic eye images”). I isolated the sign portion of the image and put it through a program that converts it into a stereogram. The output I then placed back into the larger image. So in a sense, the image is complete; it’s just translated in a way that makes it inaccessible.
I started thinking about the space of a billboard as a space within a larger system of advertising and commerce. With both works, “Resigning” in particular, I was interested in occupying this space and filling it with information that is unusable in the conventional advertising sense.
BAP: Was there any particular order to the images in “Resigning?”
BAP: In “Titles and Idioms (1 – 100)”, you really embraced the sequential nature of the ten second delay between each image. Was it a challenge coming up with a phrase for each number?
JR:Well, I started just listing them, and when I got to “twenty-four,” I began thinking, "Wow, this is easy." But then I got to about "thirty-six" and it started getting harder. After I did a couple run-throughs, I began researching some of the more difficult numbers. I became interested in thinking about numbers in two different classes: the popular numbers and the obscure numbers. It seems arbitrary, and to an extent it is, but some numbers are used more than others.
“Route 66, NGC 67, and Paris ’68” have nothing to do with one another, the logic is found only in the sequencing. It’s totally artificial and totally transparent.
BAP: While viewing “Titles and Idioms” with a group of generationally diverse onlookers, I noticed they started to guess what would come next. Their answers spoke volumes of their backgrounds and inclinations. For example, while “.22 caliber” was up one man guessed the next slide would be “23 skidoo.” As his guess would imply, he was an older gentleman. This happened numerous times throughout the series. Was this sort of viewer participation and interaction, where the billboard almost became a game, your intent?
JR: I love that anecdote. It’s precisely that kind of interaction I was hoping for. I was thinking about counting as a kind of architecture for the piece, one that is quickly understood. Once the system is discovered, another kind of interaction can begin.
BAP: Each slide was a different color, and in certain instances it corresponded with the phrasing. For example, in “31 Flavors,” the backdrop was similar to the pink used in Baskin Robins advertising. Did you attempt to associate a color with each number?
JR - I wanted the association between the color and text to vary, to relate more strongly at some points, and at other points simply elicit a feeling or mood. In a way, I wanted the color to mimic the text, at times familiar, at other times seemingly random or unfamiliar.
In its early stage of conception, the Billboard Art Project started out as the simple idea of me buying time on a digital billboard and putting up images that had nothing to do with advertising. I had not thought about the quality of the idea and never really dreamed that anyone else would be interested in participating. Only when I started talking about the idea with a friend or two did I discover its appeal, and I met all sorts of interesting people by putting out a call for artists. There was a wonderful response for the first show. A few of the participants even came from out of town to see the show in Richmond.
Rachael Gorchov was one of those people, and I have come to discover that she is not only a great artist but also a wonderful new friend. Her interest and ability to speak on almost any topic with openness and candor makes her a wonderful conversationalist and a natural “go to gal” for our next artist interview. - David Morrison
Billboard Art Project: When you were first approached about participating in the Richmond Billboard Art Project, what was the initial appeal?
Rachael Gorchov: Certainly the opportunity to show my work on a grand scale was a huge appeal. The thought I kept having as I developed my piece for the show was, "When else will I be able to make an artwork billboard size?!" Then, it was appealing to me to make work in a digital medium - and artwork that is meant to be viewed specifically on the billboard. I thought about using colors that are only in the gamut of a digital platform, making images that are grand - and even grander on a large scale. In talking with David, he mentioned several times "the two audiences": the passerby in cars and the people viewing the work at the base of the billboard. I was very preoccupied with making a piece that appeals to and speaks to these two audiences. As an artist who doesn't usually work in time-based media, I was particularly concerned with holding the viewers' attention.
BAP: In what sort of artistic mediums do you usually work?
RG: For the past few years, I've been making sculptural paintings. So, I guess you would say I usually work in paint. I tend to be concerned with the painting as an object. My work deals heavily with how the painting and the frame direct the viewers' experience, so I find that my paintings tend to have elaborate frames where the line where the frame ends and the painting begins is quite blurred. Some call my paintings "sculptures," but for me, they are paintings because they deal so much with painterly concerns: color, shape, a particular point of view, the pictorial image. In the past I worked heavily in collage as well.
BAP: What adaptive steps did you take in working within a digital medium, or did you approach the project in a completely different way?
RG: As I mentioned before, when conceptualizing the piece, I was very concerned with the time the viewers would spend watching the piece, so I was concerned with time in a way I have never been in my work. I wanted the work to take the form of an animation, so I spent a lot of time working out how to make this slow moving animation. I've never worked in animation before, so I suppose the most adaptive step I took was technical: learning software to allow me to realize the piece. I suppose I adapted my usual imagery and ways I combine photographic or pictorial images with painterly gestures. It really wasn't a departure aesthetically from how I usually work, just a technical departure.
BAP: What sort of software did you use in executing the images?
RG: I used Flash.
BAP: Do you feel the images could be adapted and used in a different medium other than that of a digital billboard or do you feel they are fundamentally exclusive to this particular format?
RG: Good question. Hmm, I have thought about how this piece would look projected on a wall instead of on a billboard. I think that in its current form, this piece is pretty specific to a digital billboard format. I think that the jumpiness of the transition of frames works on the digital billboard - I mean, that's how we see images transition in this medium, so it feels natural, but it might feel clunky if projected on a wall. That said, I think this piece needs that jumpy transition, I think it wouldn't look right if the transitions were smoother, so... I suppose the billboard as a medium is pretty fundamental to this piece.
BAP: The submission has an interesting title. Where did “Apts. / Picturesque Views. / Fall Colors Are The Best” come from?
RG: Lately, I've been exclusively using imagery from suburban apartment complex advertising pamphlets - the kind you can pick up outside of grocery stores, train stations - that sort of thing. I like how "picturesque" these complexes are in their architecture, names and how they represent themselves in photographs. They look just totally mundane in reality, but when framed by a particular name and when photographed in a particular way, they're beautiful and appeal to a fantasy about where we might wish we were living. There's one near me in South Philadelphia called "Oregon Arms". It's so funny. It has this name of some English Manor house, or armory? I don't know, but it's some ordinary structure from the 80's on a street that's straddling both the city and the suburbs.
So anyway, I was trying to structure the title like an apartment listing: short, descriptive, to the point. The first part of the title is pretty straightforward: "Apts." is an abbreviation for "Apartments" and is often posted on a sign outside of these places letting people know there's room there.
"Picturesque Views" - I forget if I actually read this in a blurb or if I just made it up, but basically, this is a selling point of my ad.
"Fall Colors Are the Best" comes from a photograph that's in this piece - it's from a sign in front of a rental office. It's a true statement in my opinion - fall colors are really great, I love the fall! As I was looking around for images to include in the piece, I came across this one. I like the statement, and since the piece was viewed in the fall, I thought it added an extra layer of specificity and might feel natural for viewers at that particular time.
BAP: There seem to be three main images you worked on evolving. Please take a moment and talk about that evolution and the images you used.
RG: Sure, well there's the "Fall Colors are the Best" image which I described earlier. Then, there's a photograph of a placard demarcating the entrance to an apartment complex. This image was quite small originally, and becomes very painterly when enlarged so drastically because the halftone dots become so prominent. Also, I've removed the text from the sign, so it feels less based in reality and more painterly. The shrubbery hugging the sign and the trees behind it seem very "picturesque" and fluffy to me in a way that Gainsborough or Gilpin (Picturesque theorists and painters from the 18th century) would have painted it.
The final image is a view from a window from the interior of one of these ads. I think the subject of the photo was the room and the window was sort of out of focus in the background, but it delivers the promise of a "picturesque view". That's an awful pretty view to have from your window - all kinds of natural color dappled with light.
BAP: Did you gravitate to the commercial/sales aspect of the subject as a parallel to the role billboards normally play?
RG: I suppose, but not dramatically. In my work, I normally use these sorts of images from advertising. Maybe it's more accurate to say that I was particularly interested in the billboard project because of its role in advertising - it seemed like a natural venue for my work.
BAP: You were one of a handful of artists from out of town to come visit Richmond and actually see your work on the billboard. In seeing your work and the submissions of other artists, what did you learn about the Billboard as a vehicle for displaying art?
RG: First off, I was impressed by how many different approaches there were to using the billboard as a medium. Most of the artists addressed the medium in a very specific and pertinent way, but ways I could not have imagined. I guess it felt more natural than I thought it would. I was so worried about keeping the viewers interested, but seeing time-based art outside is very different than in a darkened room at a gallery. I found myself interacting with others while one eye was on the billboard. Time passed without much notice. It felt like a communal experience and for this reason in future billboard pieces I think I'll feel more comfortable to make slower paced pieces.
Everything just looks great up there! I do think that I was drawn to work that didn't have too many details - I found heavily detailed photographs with lots of muted colors sort of got lost up there.
BAP: What sort of limitations do you see?
RG: The pace of the piece can get very repetitive with the image changing strictly every 10 seconds. This presents a limitation, but I bet one that can be worked around with keeping images up there for longer periods of time. This 10 second thing, though does present a challenge.
BAP: What were some of the unique benefits?
RG: Meeting new people in a new place. The public nature of the billboard and the fact that it was showing in a smaller city brought people who maybe wouldn't ordinarily seek out art to the base of the billboard. Some people read about it in the newspaper, others saw something on TV. Others simply saw as they drove by and wanted to see what was going on. I enjoyed talking to these people. Also, just being able to make a piece of art to be viewed on such a large scale is cool.
BAP: I’d like to thank Rachael for taking the time to participate in this interview. You can find complete documentation of her work of flickr. Also check out Rachael’s web site at www.rachaelgorchov.com.