Imagine driving along the freeway and instead of ads for buffets and gentlemen’s clubs, you come across a giant Marty Robbins album cover, a quote from Gertrude Stein, or a very meta picture of the trees and nature you would rather be viewing. The Manifest Destiny Billboard Project has been winding its way along the 10 freeway starting in Florida during the Fall of 2013. The multi-site exhibit features 100 billboards that make up “chapters” in different cities created by 10 different artists. Artists include John Baldessari, Sanford Biggers, Matthew Brannon, Zoe Crosher, Eve Fowler, Shana Lutker, Jeremy Shaw, Daniel R. Small, Bobbi Woods, and Mario Ybarra Jr. Along with the billboards, various events, programs, and social media outlets will provide a forum for dialogue and interaction. This weekend the massive project and its accompanying events come to a close in LA.
Manifest Destiny, if you remember your history lessons, is the concept that American settlers had the destiny and the mission to expand west to remake the continent. Because of their virtue, they had a responsibility to improve the “old world” by example (and a few smallpox-ridden blankets). The billboards travel west along the landscape following the route of settlers, following the path of the oft-destructive American imperialism. The billboards are to serve as a reminder of the history of expansion, and a wake-up call to those still involved and benefitting from Manifest Destiny.
The project was conceived by artist Zoe Crosher and co-curated by the artist and LAND’s Director and Curator, Shamim M. Momin. “LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 committed to curating site-specific public art exhibitions in Los Angeles and beyond. LAND believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to experience innovative contemporary art in their day-to-day lives. In turn, artists deserve the opportunity to realize projects, otherwise unsupported, at unique sites in the public realm.”
The artists were allowed to address the subject in any way they chose. In Florida, Shana Lutker’s “Chapter One: Onward and Upward” combines the “excitement of exploration and expansion in concert with a sense of disappointment associated with the realization that this new world does not always live up to the idealized fantasy.” In El Paso, Texas, for “Chapter 6: Marty Robbins Biggest Hits” the artist, Jeremy Shaw, chose to use the same image on all 10 billboards, searing it into the minds of the viewers, much as advertising does. His pseudo advertising could easily be mistaken for real advertising, referencing Western nostalgia and creating a kind of time warp. To learn about the other chapters, click here.
Here in Los Angeles, keep your eyes peeled for “Chapter 10: Certain Snakes” by Matthew Brannon. The billboards create subversive advertising by using circuitous and ambiguous teasers for non-existent films and television shows. At the same time, the final chapter comments on “on the disillusionment of hopes and dreams associated with heading west…” Here is a map of the Chapter 10 billboards:
As part of The Billboard Project’s final stop, Ace Hotel will be presenting an evening of art and music starting at 8pm his Friday, June 26. The event will feature “DJs from dublab and ongoing artist film screenings featuring video works by artists Zoe Crosher/Jason Underhill, Eve Fowler, Daniel R. Small, and Bobbi Woods.” Check out LAND’s website and their Facebook page for more events.