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“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.