When I entered the City of Graz last year, I immediately noticed the acid-green signs that read “Graz–who would have guessed?” I was a little amused by the question and was reminded of my arrival at Nothing, Arizona, where the sign at the town limits declared “We Are Nothing (pop. 4).” I’m easily attracted to towns that doubt their abilities, as if they would make good friends. However, Nothing wasn’t friendly and, fortunately, Graz wasn’t Nothing. The city was designated the Cultural Capital of Europe for 2003. Before 2003, Graz called itself “Austria’s secret love,” so I was delighted to be in the city to celebrate its coming out. Graz! Who would have guessed?
I stayed at the Hotel Mariahilf, which is a lovely little hotel adjacent to Peter Cook’s Kunsthaus Graz. The Kunsthaus is one of many spectacular facilities, such as Acconci’s Island on the Mur, that were built to present the works of contemporary artists. However the venues that were most captivating were the taxis, not the heroic works of architecture. By dialing 878-ART-TAXI, one could hire a taxi and enjoy video art on a little monitor that was situated in the rear of the cab.
When the Visual Art Week Society launched an international competition for a new pavilion that was to present contemporary art during its 2004 ArtCity festival, their objective was to bring art to the streets of Calgary. Like the Art Taxi project, the Signals pavilion was developed as an innovative approach to disseminating video art to pedestrians. The pavilion consists of a monitor and a DVD player that are both housed within a modified pedestrian crosswalk signal, whereby the art is the signal. Pivoting arms enable the pavilion to be adjusted for optimal viewing and a remote control provides the curator with a means to operate the system.
Although the Signals pavilion operated continuously during the festival, it was always considered temporary, meant to be dismantled after the festivities were over and its messages delivered. Nevertheless, Signals was conceived as a work that would belong to the citizens and would mark their commitment to the arts by becoming part of the very infrastructure that supports life and movement in the city. It was accessible to all. Its electricity was paid for by all. And through its re-installation during future festivals, it represents a civic commitment that will be reaffirmed every year.
Peter Yeadon teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. Calgary coordination for the Signals pavilion was managed by Liza Valentine. Production support was provided by the Rhode Island School of Design and installation assistance was provided by Enmax Corporation. Information on Peter Yeadon, AIA, can be found at www.yeadon.net