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Los Angeles DowntownNews May 6, 2002
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His Way and the Highway
Guerrilla Artist Installs a Freeway Sign, and Nobody Notices
By Kristin Friedrich

In the last nine months, millions of drivers cruising north on the 110 Harbor Freeway have utilized a multi-colored, badge-shaped sign to help them transition to the northbound Interstate 5 freeway. The sign is unremarkable until you consider one factor: It's not supposed to be there, and it wasn't installed by a Caltrans employee. The freeway sign instead was erected by a Downtown artist, partly because he thought the area needed more signage, partly because he thought it would make a compelling art project. And he did it all in broad daylight, one morning last August. Now, after nine months with not a single public official noticing, Richard Ankrom is coming clean. "I remember getting lost in the '80s on that part of the freeway," Ankrom, 46, says. "And when I moved Downtown 10 years later, I figured out why." Confident that other drivers had the same problem, Ankrom, who also works as a sign maker, decided to address matters in his studio at the Brewery Art Complex. He researched the size and color specs of standard freeway signage, then purchased the appropriate aluminum which he shaped and treated. He brought paint swatches to roadside signs so he could best determine colors, then mixed his reds and blues to match. He even added a patina (a trick gleaned from his occasional work on movie and TV sets) so that his creations wouldn't look glaringly new. Ankrom chose the Third Street bridge for his functional/guerrilla art project because it was accessible from the street, it was close to the 5 freeway, and because that's the point where he usually got confused. His biggest challenge was obtaining the button-shaped reflectors for the route shield. Reflector tape is used these days, but Ankrom wanted his sign to match those already in place on the Third Street sign. It took him three months to track down the reflectors. Then he was ready to go. Move in, Rubber Ducky Ankrom first planned to dress in black and install his sign at night. Then, he reconsidered. "If what I'm doing is truly correct and righteous, I should do it in broad daylight," he surmised. He went to Home Depot instead, and bought a hardhat and reflective vest. On a quiet, gray Sunday morning last August, Ankrom parked his truck -- decorated with an "Aesthetic De Construction" placard -- on Third Street. With a bogus work order on hand in case anyone confronted him, he approached his chosen overpass. A handful of friends (including photographer Gary Leonard) were stationed nearby to chronicle the event with pictures and videotape. They communicated via walkie-talkie.The signal "Move in, Rubber Ducky!" meant the coast was clear. Ankrom climbed a ladder, scampered over the razor wire and was traversing the sign's catwalk in seconds. Only a pull-up handrail separated him from the speeding traffic two stories below. "I was nervous," Ankrom admits, "But I knew I had to seem calm and collected, just Johnny Lunchbucket putting up a sign." Ankrom affixed the word "North" and an "Interstate 5" route shield without a single misstep. He scampered back over the wire and into his truck, then he and his compatriots went to breakfast. The entire installation took 20 minutes. Ankrom has assembled the footage his friends shot into a 10-minute video, which he screens for visitors to his loft during Brewery Art Walks (it can also be viewed online at documentary/documentary.html). He has submitted the short to several film festivals, and is waiting to hear about a Chung King Road gallery show in Chinatown in coming months. Although friends have alerted him to other places with confusing signage, Ankrom isn't interested in a repeat performance. And now that his work has endured for the better part of a year, he's ready for the secret to get out. "I am a little disappointed that the colors are slightly off," he says, noting that the sign has faded a bit. "But all in all, it seemed like everything really came together on this one."
> Link to LA Downtown News Website, article

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LA Weekly, 10-16 May 2002 page 13
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Guerrilla Public Service: The Man Who Would Be Caltrans
By Paul Cullum

PASSING NORTH THROUGH DOWNTOWN ON THE 110 FREEWAY toward Pasadena, between the Third and Fourth Street overpasses, artist Richard Ankrom found himself suddenly confused by the lack of official signage for the 5 North exit. Not clearly labeled overhead like signs for I-5 South, those for the 5 North, which occur two miles later, are haphazardly stuck on a roadside traffic pole, an afterthought at best. Ankrom could have called Caltrans and officially complained, further burdening the beleaguered civic bureaucracy. But being an artist, he did the next best thing: He fixed it. That is to say, following explicit specifications he found on the Internet and verified in the field, he crafted a red-white-and-blue "5 shield" and green "North" sign out of 0.080 mm 5053 aluminum, covered it with zinc chromate primer and Pantene colors, added an "age patina" of gray paint, and even special-ordered button reflectors, which are discontinued and stockpiled in a warehouse in Tacoma, Washington. (He had to tell the pesky warehouse clerk it was for a movie -- not altogether untrue, as it turns out.) After stashing the sign and a ladder in the roadside shrubbery -- and stenciling the side of his truck with the logo "Aesthetic De-Construction" -- he parked on the Third Street bridge just north of the existing sign, set out two orange traffic cones, donned an orange safety vest and hardhat, and physically mounted his homemade handiwork (taking care to sign the back first). He even mocked up a phony invoice, in the event that anyone objected. Yet despite legitimate road crews working the same stretch of freeway, no one seemed to notice. Nor, in all probability, would they ever have, the sign having functioned perfectly fine since August 5, 2001, when he first erected it. Except that, being an artist, Ankrom felt compelled to document and display his actions in the form of a 10-minute installation video, which was shown at small gallery events and his own Brewery loft during the Art Walk two weeks ago, and has been posted on Netbroad since November. Opening on a GPS view of L.A.'s 527 miles of freeway, the video documents the entire artistic process from start to finish, culminating in the installation itself, which was witnessed by 11 observers (including the woman who once rescued the Chicken Boy statue from a downtown diner), three of whom were armed with video cameras. It also lists his accomplices by name, including the guy who gave him the haircut that made him look passably respectable, begging the question whether "criminal barberage" is a crime. And then, against a backdrop of Martin Denny cocktail jazz and Jerry Goldsmith's theme from In Like Flint, there is Ankrom himself, eyes glowing pink in the pre-dawn light, looking like Satan, proclaiming: "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 110 freeway." Like the best art, almost nothing about this action was arbitrary. Interstate 5 links Los Angeles to the Pacific Northwest, where as a child in Washington state, Ankrom used to dream of the pulsing megalopolis which lay Oz-like at the other end of it. Disillusioned with two months of junior college, he hitchhiked to California, where he has been self-employed for the past 20 years -- as a commercial sign painter. (His work can be seen at Ross Dress for Less, in the Moulin Rouge section atop the parking garage at the Universal CityWalk and in several hundred feet of relief-wall lettering at the Santa Anita Racetrack, which he completed while on the end of a 90-foot snorkel lift.) As antecedents, he cites performance artists like Chris Burden, who once had himself nailed to the top of his Volkswagen, as well as De Stijl, a Dutch magazine and group co-founded by Mondrian, which advocated an art which would invisibly blend into its surroundings. "Essentially it's a conceptual piece," says Ankrom today from the imagined safety of his downtown loft. "It's such a broad swath -- it overlaps into performance and installation and public art and all these other things. I think the most interesting things are controversial. And I'm out on a limb too, because I don't know where I'm going to go with this now. But this is my idea of art. Art should be incorporated more into the government's system of design and concept." He christens this new utilitarian commando aesthetic "Guerrilla Public Service." Ankrom's past work generally incorporates the element of social critique. He has fashioned a series of acrylic hatchets, axes and medieval broadswords featuring flower petals suspended in the transparent blades. In response to the L.A. riots, he created a number of neon Taser guns, many with S/M overtones, which used active electric arcs. And long before the recent power crisis, he envisioned an art completely autonomous from the power grid, in the form of a satellite which would collect solar energy and microwave it back to a sculpture installation on Earth. (He plans to discuss the project with an upcoming delegation from the French consulate.) But it's his recent additions to the 110 freeway, once known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway between here and Long Beach, which currently preoccupy him -- in no small part due to the legal ramifications which still remain largely unexplored. "I think the worst thing they could charge me with would be trespassing and defacing property, which I believe are still misdemeanors," he says. "But whatever the consequences are, they are. And that would again be part of the documentation of this thing. Even if I went to court, I'd get a public attorney, get a video-friendly judge, and videotape that. I wouldn't be able to pay the fine, so I'd have to do public service, which is sort of what I'm doing anyway. So it all comes full circle. But I would think if they were smart they wouldn't touch it, because it would only make them look worse. "I really wasn't trying to give Caltrans a black eye," he insists. "It's too easy." > Link to LA Weekly Website, article



Los Angeles Times May 9, 2002
(all rights reserved)

In Artist's Freeway Prank, Form Followed Function
Transit: Unauthorized addition to sign went unnoticed for months. No charges planned.
By Hugo Martin, Times Staff Writer

What more could an artist want? An unusual medium. A chance to take a jab at the establishment. An almost endless audience, speeding to see the work. Richard Ankrom created that enviable milieu above an unlikely canvas- the Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. For two years, the rail-thin artist planned and prepared for his most ambitious project, a piece that would be seen by more than 150,000 motorists per day on the freeway, near 3rd Street. With friends documenting his every move on camera, Ankrom clandestinely installed the finished product on a gray August morning. For nine months, no one noticed. It even failed to catch the eye of California Department of Transportation officials And that is exactly what Ankrom hoped for. The 46-year-old Los Angeles artist designed, built and installed an addition to an overhead freeway sign- to exact state specifications- to help guide motorists on the sometimes confusing transition to the northbound Golden State Freeway a couple miles farther north. He installed his handiwork in broad daylight, dressed in a hard hat and orange reflective vest to avoid raising suspicion. He even chopped off his shoulder-length blond hair to fit the role of a blue-collar freeway worker. The point of the project, said Ankrom, was to show that art has a place in modern society- even on a busy, impersonal freeway. He also wanted to prove that one highly disciplined individual can make a difference. Embarrassed Caltrans officials, who learned of the bogus sign from a local newspaper column, concede that the sign could be a help. They will leave it in place, for now. The transportation agency doesn't plan to press charges, for trespassing or tampering with state property. Why didn't the counterfeit sign get noticed? "The experts are saying that Mr. Ankrom did a fantastic job," conceded Caltrans spokeswoman Jeanne Bonfilio. "They thought it was an internal job." Ankrom's work has also won praise from some in the art world. Mat Gleason, publisher of the Los Angeles art magazine Coagula, learned about the project a few months ago. He calls it "terrific" because it shows that art can "benefit people and at the same time tweak the bureaucracy a little." The idea for the sign came to Ankrom back in 1999, when he found himself repeatedly getting lost trying to find the ramp to the north Golden State after the Harbor becomes the Pasadena Freeway. (The sharp left-lane exit sneaks up on drivers at the end of a series of four tunnels.)
He thought about complaining to Caltrans. But he figured his suggestion would get lost in the huge state bureaucracy. Instead, Ankrom decided to take matters into his own hands by adding a simple "North 5" to an existing sign. "It needed to be done," he said from his downtown loft. "It's not like it was something that was intentionally wrong." It didn't hurt that his work is displayed before 150,000 people daily. On an average day, even the Louvre gets only one-tenth that many visitors. He also didn't mind that his "guerrilla public service" made Caltrans look a bit foolish. "They are left with egg on their faces," he said. Ankrom had planned to wait until August- a year after the installation--to reveal his forgery via video at an art show. But a photographer friend leaked the story. From his tiny Brewery Art Complex loft, Ankrom said he tries to use his work to comment on current trends. The Seattle native fabricates hatchets embedded with roses and produces neon-illuminated laser guns. To pay the bills, he is also a freelance sign maker. The expertise he gained in both fields helped him pull off the perfect counterfeit job. He closely studied existing freeway signs, matching color swatches and downloading specifications from the Federal Highway Administration's Web site. His biggest challenge was finding reflective buttons resembling those on Interstate signs--a dilemma finally resolved when he discovered a replica sold by a company in Tacoma, Wash. The video he made of the entire process shows Ankrom snapping digital photos of existing Golden State Freeway signs and projecting the images onto paper, before tracing them onto a sheet of aluminum. He cut and painted the aluminum sign and even "aged" it with a layer of gray. Ankrom affixed a contractor-style logo on the side of his pickup truck to add authenticity during the project. But closer examination might have raised suspicions. It read: Aesthetic De Construction. He even printed up a bogus work order, just in case he was stopped by police."I tried to make this airtight, because I didn't want anything to go wrong," he said. In early August, Ankrom launched the final phase of his project. After friends were in place with video and still cameras, one gave the all-clear signal via walkie-talkie: "Move in rubber ducky." He made short work of the final installation--climbing up the sign and hanging over speeding traffic to install his addition. The main challenge was avoiding the razor wire on the way up. Ankrom said he's not surprised that Caltrans isn't pressing charges, adding, "It wasn't straight-out vandalism." For now, department officials say they will merely inspect the elements of Ankrom's sign to make sure they are securely fastened. They may be replaced in a few months as part of a program to retrofit all freeway signs with new, highly reflective models. Caltrans officials had discussed adding more directional signs, but the agency spokeswoman said she is not sure why the department never followed through. Ankrom said he would like Caltrans to return the work. "If they want to keep it up there, that is fine too," he said. "Hopefully it will help people out, which was the whole point." > Link to Los Angeles Times Website, article



LA News May 9, 2002 01:03:14 PM
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LAT Dis-Credits Downtown News

From the “If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Rip ‘em Off!” Department: The LA Times today runs a 969-word story about how local artist Richard Ankrom surreptitiously installed a convincing “5 North” indicator on a freeway sign last August along a confusing stretch of the 110 freeway. “For nine months,” reporter Hugo Martin wrote, “no one noticed.” Then what happened? “Caltrans officials … learned of the bogus sign from a local newspaper column.” Which newspaper? The Times refuses to say. Maybe that’s because the Downtown News broke the story on its cover six days earlier. The rip-off job, no credits and all, has been linked by Slate’s Today’s Papers, and reworked into an AP story. "We've been scooping them about once a week for thirty years," Downtown News Editor and Publisher Sue Laris wrote in a letter to Slate. "They ought to be embarrassed."
UPDATE: Laris tells LAX that Times Editor John Carroll called and apologized.

To be fair, the Weekly and the Downtown News both had the story and sat on it for months at the request of the artist. We scooped them only because we publish on Mondays and they publish on Thursdays. Re nuthinburger story, of course you're right. It's not Palestine. The story is there for entertainment value only. It's fun to tweak the big guys at any level. Besides, with only two staff writers against their hundreds, we take particular pleasure in getting whatever we can first. This week staff writer Kathryn Maese covered a CRA story by herself that the Times used six reporters to cover. In addition to that she put together a 6000 word story on Downtown project updates for the Downtown Development issue. The big dailies are killing themselves with fat, and the Times is additionally killing itself because it is not bonded to its community the way the Washington Post and the NYT are. Posted by Sue Laris at May 11, 2002 08:55 AM
> Link to LA Examiner Website, article



San Fransico Chronicle May 10, 2002
(all rights reserved)

Freeway sign becomes canvas for artist in L.A.

Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Artist Richard Ankrom grew frustrated by a confusing freeway sign every time he tried to get onto busy Interstate 5 near downtown Los Angeles. So Ankrom, 46, decided to take matters into his own hands -- and prove that art has a place on a freeway where scribbled graffiti are more likely to appear. Donning a hard hat and a bright orange vest, Ankrom scaled the sign and plastered a "North 5" moniker, complete with reflective buttons, on an existing sign. He even abided by state and federal guidelines, studying freeway signs and downloading specifications from the Federal Highway Administration's Web site. The project took just 20 minutes on Aug. 5. But officials didn't notice it until recently. Now, Caltrans seems to be taking the sign in stride -- and has no plans to pursue charges against the bold artist for the unauthorized work. As for his sign, Ankrom hopes it will stay, at least until the California Department of Transportation reconfigures the freeway signs to add numbered exits and make the directions more clear. "Hopefully, this will open up a dialogue about art, the idea of design elements being more incorporated into bureaucracy," Ankrom told The Chronicle from his Los Angeles studio on Thursday. Ankrom said his project wasn't meant to drag Caltrans through the mud. "Everybody knows there's no use throwing rocks at them," he said. "I'm sure they have plenty of wounds as it is. They're doing some good, but we all need improvement, especially a large bureaucracy like that." Caltrans spokeswoman Deborah Harris said Thursday, "The work of Mr. Ankrom was very well thought out and very well executed. However, we have concerns because we do not feel that the public should go out on the highway system and make changes to signs, due to safety issues." A Bay Area Caltrans official who declined to be named agreed, saying any problems should be reported directly to the agency. "This guy's got a lot of gumption. It's sort of good for him, but it's not something we would encourage the public to do." Besides, he said, "We get calls about potholes or sign problems, and we'll send our crews and respond accordingly. That's our job." Ankrom is more known for making other types of artwork, such as hatchets embedded with roses and neon-illuminating laser guns. But Ankrom said he is also a freelance sign painter who has done work for posh shops on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to "liquor stores and barrios of Santa Ana and everything in between." "In that discipline, you have to match colors and logos," Ankrom said. "It sort of dovetailed into this project. It was a no-brainer for me." The freeway in question is Highway 110 as it leads to the northbound Golden State Freeway, as many Los Angeles locals call Interstate 5. According to Ankrom, many motorists did not know that they had to take a left-lane exit and maneuver four tunnels to reach the ramp that leads to northbound I-5 after Highway 110 morphs from the Harbor to the Pasadena Freeway. The altered sign is about two miles south of the off-ramp, giving motorists plenty of time to maneuver into the correct lane. The artist, who first thought of changing the sign in 1999, at one point considered taking his complaint to Caltrans but feared it would get lost in the bureaucracy. Ankrom completed his work during the day, maneuvering carefully on a catwalk to reach the sign, which is on Highway 110 between Third and Fourth streets. He had friends videotape the project amid a tableau of smoggy air, car exhaust and maybe a honk or two. To avoid suspicion by real road crews and the California Highway Patrol, Ankrom put a contractor-style logo on the side of his dark blue 1985 Toyota pickup truck. Anyone who peered closely would have seen, however, that it read, "Aesthetic De Construction." "I emphasized the word 'Construction' so that when you first glance at it, that's what you see," Ankrom said. He fashioned the letters for the 14-inch tall "North" by taking pictures of existing freeway signs and projecting the images onto paper, then tracing them onto a sheet of aluminum. The "North" is technically called a directional sign and is known by Caltrans as part number G-47, Ankrom said helpfully. The "5" is 3 feet tall and has the familiar blue and red colors. It is known as a cardinal guide sign and is known as part number G-27. Both elements were screwed in- also to Caltrans specifications- and the sign also features reflective buttons that Ankrom bought from a company in Tacoma, Wash. Ankrom said there are plenty of other signs that need work. But he won't be involved because of liability issues."I took a chance of hurting someone else. If I hurt myself it's up to me, but if I were to hurt someone else that would defeat the purpose."
> Link to San Fransico Chronicle Article May 17, 2002
(all rights reserved)

The New Art Anarchists? And their immense canvas
by Tom Adkins

Richard Ankrom is poised at the cutting edge of the nether regions yet explored by the wacky, brooding tortured souls that staff the art world in modern America. From coast to coast, Ankrom is being hailed a genius for thumbing his nose at the status quo. Did he insult the Pope? No. Did he gather the Beautiful People for a rally to save oppressed gay whales? Hardly. Make a ten story mural of agiant phallus and drape it on an office building in Manhattan? Not exactly. In a fit of artistic rage, Ankrom righted a bureaucratic oversight by creating and stealthily installing a functioning freeway sign that actually gave California drivers good directions, thereby creating a new art form: the "Guerilla Public Service Artist." Take that, Establishment!!! Ankron's bold strike was launched against a perfect symbol of the uncaring, slovenly bureaucracy of the modern federalist American empire: the California Department of Transportation, AKA "Caltrans." By secretly installing a much needed direction sign that Caltrans never got around to doing themselves, Ankron singlehandedly dragged the cutting edge of art back from half a century of worthless self-indulgent pop drivel, and dramatically towards function, conformity and common sense. Will the art world ever recover? Over human history, artists were rewarded according to their majesty. Michaelangelo defined sculpting. DaVinci married art and science. Monet, Renoire and Cezanne created the impressionist era. The Dutch Masters mastered portraiture. Great art was…well, it was art. But after a million portraits, a zillion landscapes and countless fruit bowls were painstakingly rendered, the twisted dark side of art burst from the cellar in the twentieth century. Art was hijacked by popular culture and carted off by the anarchist left. Wyeth's subtle Pennsylvania water colors and Rockwell's prolific Americana illustrations did their best to uphold noble artistic progression, but were trumped by Picasso's geometric misunderstandings and van Gogh's post mortem insanity. America suffered a deep slide into the sick cultural toilet. Just follow-the dots. From Buddy Holly to Motley Crue and Slim Shady. From Will Rogers to Lenny Bruce. From Mary Poppins to Linda Lovelace. South Park's greatest art critic, Eric Cartman, succinctly summed up underwhelming contemporary art films as "gay cowboys eating pudding." And pointless "Modern Art" slid into inane Andy Warhol soup cans, which eventually gave us vulgar Piss Christ, HIV blood-tossing and the Cow-dung Virgin Mary. Today, insulting anything good, moral or Christian automatically results in a swishy "Faaaaaa-bulous!!!" exhortation from the self-anointed art divas. There isn't an icon unsoiled, a reason left unreasoned, and a virtue left unraped. Then…where to next? Well, when you've invaded every territory, conquered every acre, laid waste to every building and slain every moving thing, there is only one place left…you go home. And that is precisely where the probably unsuspecting Ankrom has trudged. By intent or by accident, Ankrom has actually brought good purpose back into art. And he's getting overwhelming attention. Instead of another NEA-funded dung-tossing foray in some dank Soho gallery, Ankrom's art gets 150,000 cheering fans every day, drivers who seethe at the government dolts who rarely move
their well-entrenched butts from their chairs to check if their beloved bureaucracies are actually working. Into this void, Ankrom did the All-American thing. He saw a problem, ignored those bureaucratic bunglers and fixed it himself. Just like they did in the old days.And now, Ankrom is a hero. Who knows if Ankrom is aware the artistic irony he's created? Where we once hailed tempermental misfits, Ankrom's Guerilla Public Service Art has blazed a new trail, leaving the annoying performance artists scratching their heads, naked in a pile of
Jell-o. If artists start vying for sharpshooter status in the public-service guerilla army, maybe America will make that long awaited change from a culture of "getting-away-with-it" back to the "do the right thing" mentality that once dominated American life. Today, a road sign. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe Berkeley students will riot for more calculus. It's hard to tell if culture follows art, or vice versa. But if Richard Ankrom and a guerilla public service army continue attacking America's bureaucratic bungles, he may become elevated to American icon,
inspiring a new genre of artists dedicated to circumventing the stupidity of bloated governmental bureaucracies. They certainly have a big audience. And an endless supply of canvas. © Tom Adkins
> Link to Tom Adkins Article © 2002, Liza Sabater May 31, 2002
(This article first appeared in all rights reserved

Net Art and the Practice of Transgression
by sabater

Mythologies, in the form of religions, may not be as affective in our society as they are in other countries, but mythologies, albeit secular ones, rule our lives. As Roland Barthes said, "everything can be a myth, provided it is conveyed by a discourse." In other words, there are myths anywhere there is representation. Or put another way, anywhere there is representation, there is a taboo, a law, a commandment, waiting to be broken and transgressed. Whenever I think about transgressive art, I think about Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa Bernini was commissioned to depict the saint in one of the most sacred moments of Catholic life æ Saint Teresa's transverberation; of one of the early moments in her long journey to being one with God. With the voluptuousness of the statue's lips, the intricacy of the robe, even the Cupid-like qualities of the angel piercing the saint's heart as she swoons, Bernini seems to give more importance to the carnality and sensuality of the mystic experience than to its sacredness. The mystic experience becomes polluted with the language of voluptuousness and sensuality chiseled into the curves and folds of the statue. The statue becomes in itself a rendition of the equivocal representation of rapture. What makes Bernini's work all the more interesting is the fact that the saint's life was as convoluted as the folds he chiseled on the statue's robe. Saint Teresa was always crossing a line --transgressing-- with her writings and her life and that is why she was both feared and revered. It was for her actions that she was recognized not for something innate in her. As far as I remember, she was actually born of Jewish convertos (as well as San Juan de la Cruz --a coincidence that does not escape a lot of scholars who believe their mysticism owes more to Jewish than Catholic traditions). She spent her life trying to prove how little she knew about things, like canon law or philosophy. All the while, she became one of the most powerful Abbesses in Spain and one of the most influential writers of her time. Actually, for one who spoke little of herself, she was and still is one of the most powerful influences in the culture and history of Spain and of all Christendom. This takes me to what seems to escape many when speaking about transgression: Transgressors need to know how to speak the structures that they set to transgress. Saint Teresa was very aware of the danger she was in for her mystic raptures. On the one hand she describes in her poems the kind of personal relationship that goes counter to the mediated God of the Catholic Church. On the other hand, she was an example of what the Reformist movement deemed as heretic, given the eroticism in mystic rapture. Either way, she was viewed as a threat. Nevertheless, she managed to propagate her version of Catholicism through one of the most intense monastic and missionary campaigns of the Counterreformation. That she managed to do this from within the confines of the Spanish Inquisition proves that the most effective transgressions are so profound that, unless there is a discursive or representational crisis, they hardly go noticed. In his book On Erotism, Georges Bataille talks about this element in transgression: Compared to work, transgression is a game. In the world of play, philosophy disintegrates. If transgression became the foundation-stone of philosophy ? silent contemplation would have to be substituted with language. This is the contemplation of being at the pinnacle of being. If myth is representation (an idea-in-form), then transgression is a game of representation (an idea transformed); but not one in which the act is described. A transgression occurs when the myth is usurped and its connection to both its signifier (meaning) and signified (content) is broken. That is why, for art to be transgressive, it has to have a certain degree of openness to allow for actions and interpretations that cross the line, reversing not only the order of things but reversing the order of power as well. And to reverse the order of things and power, the transgressor really has to be in touch with that power structure. One great example is the recent CalTrans road-sign dupe created by artist Richard Ankrom ( Actually, it is not a dupe in the sense of creating confusion, it is a dupe because he set out to correct a confusion on his own accord and not by waiting for Caltrans to take action. This "guerilla public service", as Ankrom calls it, is a way to spread "the benefits of the artistic endeavor in everyday life, what we see, don't see and take for granted". Ankrom could have protested the lack of signage or even defaced or further confused what CalTrans already has there as an act of subversion or even revolt. But what he did was even sneakier: He took matters into his own hands and did what the system would not do at all æcreate a road sign to easily explain the exit at an intersection. What I love about this guerrilla public service project is that Ankrom learned exactly how to make and install his road signs so that the project would be seamless with the official signage. From experimenting with Pantone colors, to measuring the site and even going so far as to dress up like a CalTrans worker in order to walk over the sign expanse; every single step of the way was a necessary learning experience. Ankrom was successful because he learned how to sign and speak fluent "Caltrans-ese" through his road paintings and installations. He found and opening, a gap in the system and proceeded to bring attention to the gap by becoming an agent of the system he wanted to change. His sign was so perfect that neither the motorists, not the agency in charge of signage, really saw the "error" until it was pointed to them. Are there any instances of transgressive works in the NetArt world? What is an artist to use in order to transgress the "order, law and commandments" of the Internet? Marc Anderssen created with Netscape a way to naturalize the Internet by providing a structure, what Barthes would call "a second-order semiological system" that could create the semblance of order out of the chaos of the Internet. Netscape and all the subsequent browsers became the gateway to the myth of the World Wide Web: The text, images and sounds that you can read, see and hear become tangible objects through the browser. It delivers the web as a space, a place, a domain, a community. It creates an articulated representation of the Internet, making it natural, even common place. Almost as if to presage browsers, Barthes wrote: Myth is a pure ideographic system, where the forms are still motivated by the concept which they represent while not yet, by a long way, covering the sum of its possibilities for representation. Some of the NetArt that I find most interesting is the one that can use the system --the data streams, the network, the technology, the language-- to reveal a whole new way of looking and interacting within the structures of the Internet. The early browser art of JODI and Mark Napier are examples of works that sought to destroy the semblance of order that the browsers gave to the Internet. As a space for myth the browser becomes the first place for transgressing all the laws and commandments of the Web and Internet. Still, it does not mean that a web transgression needs a high level of programming. One of the biggest mythical structures of the Internet is the myth of WYSIWYG æwhat you see (truth) is (true) what you get (and therefore truthful). The myth of WYSIWYG has not been better exploited by any other group than ®?ark. They have set out to mimic perfectly the WTOs web site to the point that WTO supporters do not recognize the difference. They've usurped a domain, infringed on copyright and even sent their YesMen "representatives" to events in order to speak about global trading issues. ®?ark is one of the most powerful and successful examples of how conceptual art can transcend the representation of the concept to become the concept itself. In other words, ®?ark biggest transgression is that it does not only comprehend the myth and sets out to trangress it, ®?ark has become a myth. A smaller myth-making project is the Google Adwords Happening. I particularly like this project because it was so obvious, that nobody had tried it before. Adwords have been around for a while in Yahoo! and Amazon but, because they are there all the time, nobody pays attention to them. They are the " what-goes-without-saying" of the Internet. Seemingly less important than a banner ad, they purport to be gateways to information that, in this case, a googler might be seeking æthat is, until Christophe Bruno started meddling with them. He showed how easy it is to turn the Google site into raw material for his poetic pursuits. By playing with these forms of representation with no code, no software, just words and a few bucks he showed how the myth of WYSIWYG can be turned into art. Every system of power has its own mythology æits own way of expressing power. Power is a form of speech, a discourse, a representation. To counter power, own needs to transgress its system of representation by revealing its myth-making structures. In a subversion, or protest a subject pits itself in a duality against the 'offending' power. In other words, it is a defensive mode. In a transgression, the is no defense --only broken laws, commandments, taboos. The subject crosses the boundaries set forth by the myth, and in the process, both become polluted.
In a transgression there are no winners, no losers just maculated myths.


Governing Magazine August 2002
(all rights reserved)

Artistic License
By Ambika Kumar

To prove that art has a place in modern society – or at least on its roads – artist Richard Ankrom recently
added a sign to a Los Angeles highway, warning motorists on the northbound Harbor Freeway that they must be in the left lane to travel north on Interstate 5. Nobody in the highway department had asked for such a sign. But Ankrom did such a good job that officials failed to notice it for nine months; now that they have, they plan to leave it in place. The 46-year-old, who paints signs for a living, calls the project “guerilla public service” and says it makes a statement about art’s function within a bureaucracy. “It wasn’t a vigilante thing,” he explains. “This particular situation was easy to reach and it needed some work.” Ankrom began researching the project two years ago, seeking out the sign’s specifications and colors and traveling as far as Tacoma, Wash., to buy 1950s-style button reflectors. The work culminated in august 2001, when friends video-taped Ankrom installing the interstate shield and accompanying “north” sign as motorists sped along below. Although he had planned to unveil the tape at an art gallery this month, the story broke after a local newspaper found the footage on-line. Subsequent media reports alerted officials at the state Department of Transportation, who had assumed the sign was an internal job. “People usually leave it up to the professionals,” says Caltrans spokesperson Deborah Harris, adding that although ankrom’s actions were illegal, the department did not press charges.
She admits the artist had “a good idea” and says Caltrans will keep the change as it upgrades all of its freeway signs. As hype from this project dies down, Ankrom has plans for another. “It’s not quite as high-profile,” he says. “It works on the same level, although it might be legal and it might not.”
> Link to Governing Magazine Article


ArtScene October 2003
(all rights reserved)

September 24, 2003 - March 21, 2004 at Museum of Neon Art (MONA), Downtown [Los Angeles, Ca.]
by Mat Gleason

An onomatopoeia of neon, Bumfuzzle is a survey show of Richard Ankrom’s work from the mid-90s to the present, including his best known piece, the short film Guerrilla Public Service. Ankrom made his first inroads
in neon sculpture. This show features his dramatic neon Guns from a series he began in 1995, electrically charged marriages of neon light and a seemingly lethal exposed electrical shock. These sculptures merge science fiction fantasy with a visceral thrill when one handles an Ankrom Gun. Pulling the trigger releases a blaze of hot red or cool blue neon along with a dancing spark of electricity emanating around the barrel. The neon in these Guns is interestingly monochromatic, corresponding perhaps with the caliber or style of the submachine gun/sculptural object in question. The Guns are mounted to hanging devices attached to the gallery’s ceiling in order to increase their mobility when being handled, adding another ominous note to the exhibition. If you prefer a safe and clean exhibition, you might better choose a shocking Damien Hirst show. There, the shark or cow are already dead. At an Ankrom show, touching the wrong part of a sculpture at the wrong time could be dangerous. The artist's 1999 Kitsch series features Ankrom's use of plastic to cover up neon light until it is submitted to a powerful backlit effect. Luscious plastic flower petals that would tempt most artists to make decoratively marketable sculpture are here bathed in a light so intense, their gaudiness is made unbearably direct. Their visual heft is not only bracing, but, makes the ugly in the world more obvious to spot. A late-20th century Pop series is perhaps his most conventional work, and yet, here too, his brutal conceptual sarcasm sublimates his masterful engineering. With a pretty pink field interrupted by a neon sign reading simply KILL (also the work’s title), the artist approaches Ed Ruscha territory neither respectfully nor gingerly. It is as if he has shown up to an art history assembly with a sawed-off shotgun and lots of ammo. If there are some omissions it is lamentable, but Bumfuzzle is just a survey and not a full mid-career retrospective. In 1996, for example, Ankrom made a series of dexterous landscape paintings that balanced a pleasant popular impressionism with an American West clarity and touched on his Aberdeen, Washington roots. Painted on beige shopping bags, they had calligraphic obscenities prominently emblazoned stark center in the midst of the middle class beauty. They fit in perfectly at a SITE Gallery group show featuring Ankrom, George Herms and Karen Finley. These pieces would be critical to a complete study of the artist by virtue of their aesthetic assuredness as well being a reliable indicator of his ability to hold his own among a group of art stars. While his blue collar fearlessness of hard work enabled him to construct and install his legendary correct and needed signage to a freeway interchange (Guerrilla Public Service, 2001-02), his disdain for the system allowed him to imagine it in the first place. To believe that the individual must go into society alone and attempt positive social change is perhaps his boldest contribution. In an era of acquiescing to the demands of a shrill two-party system running anti-congeniality contests and demanding our loyalty, Ankrom is out of step with America. His latest piece is a constructed version of the American flag with a vast star field. The expansion he envisions is temptingly referred to in the piece's title, Of Things To Come. Whatever these things are, they better be prepared to withstand the scrutiny of Ankrom's witty analysis. > Link to ArtScene Article


Manifest Destiny III Freeway Signs Sculpture Painting Minimum Wage Poster For the War Effort

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