Guerrilla Public Art
LA Artist Creates & Installs a Public Roadsign that Eases "Confusion and Traffic Congestion"
The line between art, design, and public utility has been a murky demarcation for millennia. Cave markings and visual storytelling throughout human history evince our ancient need for a shared narrative and an artist to guide that narrative. The noble pursuit of art brings us together around shared experiences and effectively communicates information we need to act in support of our civilization.
From literature to roadsigns, it is the artist and the craftsman that shows us how to find ourselves.
Designers, Artists & Signmakers
As we’ve evolved, our culture has grown saturated with a cacophony of visual communications. Visual storytelling is intended to guide you effectively and communicate necessary information about your surroundings (street signs, wayfinding, monument markers, etc..). In the art world, mark-making has transcended the utility of communicating directions and concrete information and has become a device of higher communication, addressing the human condition in more abstract terms.
Art in Public Places
The role of art in communication gets even more complicated when the government is responsible for communicating to the public. How does the public respond when the government has put in place an ineffective mark? Who do you call?
In LA, we recommend you call Richard Ankrom.
In this murky terrain between artist and signmaker, Los Angeles artist Richard Ankrom performed a guerrilla public service in an almost performance artist tactic that actually improved public communications. After getting lost on LA highways, he realized that the municipality had made (and for years overlooked) a simple mistake on their highway signage that was causing commuters to lose their way. So he took it upon himself to solve the problem.
The Video: Guerrilla Public Service
In this bizarre video, Richard Ankrom narrates (as a ghostly apparition with laser-red eyes) the story of his guerrilla public service in Los Angeles. Start watching the video 1 minute in to cut straight to the story.
Nobody will be surprised if you didn’t make it to the 2-minute mark, but the real delight of the video occurs at about 2:15 when the droll narrator turns out to be Ankrom’s levitating head.
If you have 10 minutes, you can watch the story through Ankrom’s meandering, low-tech “art” film. If you’d rather get the whole narrative at your own pace, the story is expertly told on 99percentinvisible.org.
A Vigilante’s Commitment to Design
Richard Ankrom observed a flawed design on the street signage in Los Angeles and took it upon himself to correct it. But he had to approach this particular art project with a delicate touch. He had to make it look real. Fortunately, he is a consummate craftsman.
The Renegade Signmaker Learns the Rules & Regulations
Ankrom performed extensive research, taught himself the regulatory standards that governed the municipal signage design, and then created the sign by hand.
Once he added his signature to the back of the piece and brought the work out of his studio, it was time to install it in his highly trafficked gallery: The LA Freeway.
Ankrom got an orange vest and an extension ladder and went to work. He extended the ladder precariously from the woodsy embankment over the razor wire to the sign trusses, and climbed out onto the tiny platform to place his counterfeit road markers where they would help countless passengers navigate the frenzied LA freeway without losing their way.
The Counterfeit Sign Has Real Value
According to the 99% Invisible story, his sign passed the California Transportation Authority’s inspections and remained there helping the people of California for 8 years. Richard Ankrom broke the law, endangering himself and others, because of his commitment to clarity in signage.
“The ‘5’ shield belongs on the overhead sign. I have taken it upon myself to manufacture and install these missing guide signs to ease the confusion and traffic congestion at this section of the 1-10 freeway,”Richard Ankrom in the Video
Good Design Is a Public Service of Immeasurable Value
Good design is necessary and helps us in ways we often don’t know or appreciate. The ideal scenario would have been to have good insight before the signage was even fabricated. Failing that, testing should have brought this flaw to the surface. But in the end, it took a rogue artist and designer that refused to compromise on clarity taking the law into his own hands. And then making a really strange film about this guerrilla public work to be noticed for his service to his community.