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Billboard Oases

"When I see something in the urban landscape that isn’t about advertising, it gives me a sense of relief," says 36-year-old media artist Julia Meltzer, who decided to offer a similar sense of respite to the rest of us with a series of billboards that are about provocation rather than consumption. Last year, the founder of the nonprofit arts organization Clockshop invited proposals from artists for "Public Speaking," a series of billboards that would address notions of politics, but without advocating for a particular candidate. Then, working with Viacom Outdoor (a partner with more to offer than the state, whose arts funding was slashed dramatically in 2003), she mounted the four selected artworks on billboards, mainly in West L.A. and the mid-Wilshire area, starting in June. In one, by Mario Ybarra Jr., a man stands on a roof with one arm raised and the other holding a bullhorn; no text helps explain the enigmatic image, and that’s the way Meltzer likes it. In another, by David Thorne, a single line of text reads, "I will be happy when the endless war is o," a fragment inviting completion but, again, eschewing easy interpretation.

Susan Silton’s Sold juxtaposes the word sold with a house covered by a giant flag, while the newest and final billboard, SuperCitizen by Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber (on view through January 10 at 6150 Wilshire Boulevard, just west of Fairfax), shows images of people on top of an architectural drawing of an urban space; accompanying text quotes Latin American revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar: "¡Nuestra Patria se llama América!" Viewers can ponder who is included in nuestra/our, as well as what patria/country is actually designated by the name América.

"I’m trying to interject a way of seeing and thinking about our current political situation that’s not telling people what to think, but instead just asking people to think about images and the way they’re read," explains Meltzer, who relishes the opportunity to spark contemplation rather than offer easy conclusions. "It’s pretty amazing how difficult it is to get some other voice in that space," she adds in regard to the highly regulated and commercial world of billboards. "It’s really closed off to anything but corporate interest, and this, well, it’s a really small drop in the bucket."

Small, perhaps, but welcome respites in L.A.’s highly commercialized public sphere.

Clockshop hosts a closing event at 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Saturday, January 8, from 6 to 8 p.m., to coincide with the publication of a limited-edition book about the project. For information, call (323) 666-2599.

From top: Supercitizen, Be Happy, Go Tell It, and Sold.

Photos coutesy of Clockshop.


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