The Urban Billboard as Art
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Romans protest the surge in the number of billboards (upwards 60,000) that have draped the historic city in ads, while São Paulo businesses have thrived since the city purged its streets of the visual pollutants five years ago. Digital billboards with flows of ad feeds have been banned in several American cities and highways because of the dangers they pose to drivers already distracted by text messages, phone calls, and iPods.
The time seems ripe, then, to explore imaginative uses for both the defunct and functional billboard. Architects Aranda/Lasch explored this territory with their 2007 work “Color Shift” which programmed the largest billboard in North America with an algorithmic sequence of RGB lights, whose intensity and scale altered the space it inhabited without using any architecture (in the strictest sense of the term, anyway).
Last month, bio-engineers at UC San Diego developed a “living neon billboard” made up of millions of synchronized units of glowing bacterial cells (biopixels), signage which scientists hope can be applied to a spatial context to detect the presence of environmental toxins present in the area.
In keeping with the “trend,” artists Vojtěch Fröhlich, Ondřej Mladý, Jan Šimánek, and Vladimír Turner hacked a revolving highway billboard and turned it into a makeshift merry-go-round. The troop held the performance–which bears some resemblance to French architect/artist Didier Faustino’s 2009 “Double Happiness” installation – in early November, but has only recently released video documenting the event, which took place in the midst of afternoon traffic. After scaling the massive rotating billboard, located just off the Barandovský Bridge in Prague, the bande à part attached a series of bungee cords to the signage and kicked off the edge towards traffic below. With wooden planks for seats and pink balloons for fun, the three sat suspended above the roadway, gleefully spinning in circles as speeding vehicles passed under them.
This post originally appeared on Architizer, an Atlantic partner site.