Monument to the Unelected: In Conversation with Nina Katchadourian and John Spiak


In conversation with artist Nina Katchadourian, John Spiak of Grand Central Art Center, and Shauna McCabe of the Art Gallery of Guelph

Over the past months, plastic signs endorsing Joe Biden or Donald Trump have cropped up in front of residential homes across the United States. At the same time, lawns in California, Arizona, and Wisconsin are promoting candidates that do not appear on the ballot this year. Endorsing the runner-up in every presidential election in American history, the 58 signs in each installation were created by American artist Nina Katchadourian, an installation that speaks to what might have been – to choices not made – as Americans prepare to make another political decision. All the signs are printed on corrugated plastic, using the same commercial production methods as common election signage, from those endorsing John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Herbert Hoover, to Bob Dole, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton.

Monument to the Unelected was first presented by Katchadourian in 2008, and has subsequently been exhibited every four years. Reflecting on what she notes is “a particularly American phenomenon,” she has updated the installation with each election, working with designer Evan Gaffney to give the signs a contemporary look so that they blend into the visual landscape of American elections even as their content stands out. “At the moment when the country is deeply preoccupied with a major national election,” the artist notes, “Monument to the Unelected presents a view and a reminder of the country’s collective political road not taken.”

This year, the installation has even more poignancy. Monument to the Unelected is a symbol of the peaceful transfer of power that has followed every election cycle in US history – a practice of gracefully accommodating political difference now threatened by Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting a loss at the polls. Following the election, the 59th sign will be planted by a local first-time voter at each site.In conversation with artist Nina Katchadourian, John Spiak of Grand Central Art Center, and Shauna McCabe of the Art Gallery of Guelph

Autogenerated Transcript from YouTube (if available)

Use CTRL+F to find key words if it is a longer transcript​.


well perhaps we’ll begin because we’re at three o’clock um


uh my name is shauna mccabe and i’m the director of the art gallery of guelph that’s uh hosting this event this


afternoon um and i’m really thrilled to welcome you all um to this conversation and i’d like to


offer a land acknowledgement to start um this statement is is quite critical for cultural institutions as it


recognizes the history and the ongoing impacts of colonialism as well as the historical complicity of


our institutions through their approaches to the representation of difference producing images and


narratives that take on an authority in the public sphere and typically a land acknowledgement uh


recognizes the traditional ownership of the lands upon which an event is held and i thought because we’re all gathered


virtually here today connected and yet physically dispersed across borders it’s a good moment to


reflect on the significance of place wherever we are and how the different traditional lands that we reside in and move through


inform our lives we respect the significance of the treaties that continue to affirm the inherent


sovereignty of indigenous nations and recognize our responsibility for the stewardship of the lands on


which we live work and create again thank you so much for joining us we are


very pleased to be here today speaking about monument to the unelected a project of being a catchadorian with


the u.s election less than 24 hours away uh we are feeling anticipation even here


in canada and i know um i was very excited to have this conversation and john said the same


thing this morning uh in his email um and and i know this sentiment is


shared around the world and that was why i was interested in having this conversation today


at the very very beginning of this idea and concept the ideas and intentions at the heart of


the project monument to be unelected are incredibly relevant um to us um as they all


speak as i speak to as a project speaks to democracy and democratic process itself um


and for those unfamiliar with the project monument to the unelected it was first installed in 2008 and today


the evolving installation includes 58 signs that endorse the runner-up in every presidential election


in u.s history speaking to what might have been really to choices that are not made as


americans prepare to make another monumental political decision [Music] right now the installation occupies


galleries um and art museum spaces as well as community locations across the united


states including a site in santa ana california presented by john spiak and grand


central arts center so i just note to everyone who’s joined


us that everyone has their video off and has been muted for this conversation to avoid any potential noise and i would


ask if you do have questions to use the q a section of this webinar and we will


address them and bring those into the conversation a little later uh first i’d like to introduce both of


these individuals to you nina katsudorian is joining us from


berlin today nina is an interdisciplinary artist whose work includes video


performance sound sculpture photography and public projects she’s also an associate professor at new


york university and her work is in public and private collections including the met blanching museum of art morgan library


san francisco museum of modern art the margulies collection and sachi gallery


how you might also have come across her work in 2015 her video accent elimination was included in the


venice biennale as part of the armenian pavilion which won the golden lion for best national participation


venues for her exhibitions have also included the serpentine gallery turner contemporary palette tokyo


istanbul museum of modern art turku art museum museum of contemporary art san diego ica


philadelphia brooklyn museum artist space sculpture center moma and mola ps1


also we have with us john spiak who’s joining us from california today john is


the director and chief curator of california state university fullerton’s grand central arts center in


santa ana a position he has held since 2011. his curatorial practice focuses on contemporary art and society


in particular works in socially engaged practices and video through the grand central arts


center’s artist and resident residence initiative he hosts national and international artists as they develop projects


prior to this appointment he was curator of the arizona state university art museum


and in that role he was in charge of the residency series as well as the art museum short film and


video festival he has curated over 100 solo exhibitions solo and group exhibitions sorry


working with artists including pop pipelotti wrist uh shireen nashat pablo helguera


commodity and paul ramirez jonas his projects have received support from such organizations as the british


council metabolic studio the national endowment for the arts and the andy warhol foundation for the visual arts


with that i’m so pleased that you could both participate here today and um i’d like to


um turn it over to nina to tell us more about this project um and then we’ll move on to john who


can speak about his context in california so over to you and then thanks shauna um


thanks shauna and john for for being for the invitation for being here and to all of you who i cannot see


but i trust her out there somewhere um and it’s a yeah it’s a good night to be


talking about this piece it’s also an unbelievably nerve-wracking night generally um to be thinking about this topic so um i


was happy to have this to look forward to to take my mind off of the fretting a little bit actually um and i thought it might be useful to


precede our sort of discussion that might follow with um a little bit of storytelling about the history of this piece because there


really are a lot of stories to be told at this point um i i made this piece in 2008 it was a


commission by the scottsdale museum of contemporary art for a 10-year anniversary show that


was happening there called seriously funny um and the curator who contacted me


cassandra koblenz um brought me out to um scottsdale and i did a site visit in 2008 with the


goal being to have an idea for a show that was supposed to be about humor and


although i work a lot with humor i i very rarely i never really begin a project thinking


i’m going to try to make something funny it’s something that maybe happens um along the way or as a result of the


kinds of things that i’m often attracted to or um as a strategy because i think


there are a lot of useful things you can do with humor as a hook and as a kind of um as a kind of welcome mat to come on


in um and as i sometimes like to say once i have gotten you close it’s possible to sort of close the


door behind you and and actually have a conversation with you so that’s one of the ways i like to think about the way that humor can work


um when i went to scottsdale in 2008 it was for that site visit it was at the


time uh it was it was november um no sorry earlier than that it was it was you know the election was


imminent um but there were signs up like this all over and um


you know the typical kinds of places you see these vacant lots um side of the road people’s front lawns


and some of them in arizona were particularly big um where i grew up in california i feel like i never saw some that


kind of got the scale that some of these did but it was an important moment to to visit um


interestingly also because it was john mccain’s state and he was as i’m sure you remember one of the


presidential um contenders so i kept noticing these as i was trying to have an idea


and as i also went around um looking around scottsdale which is a


place i’d never been i i started thinking about um a lot of the histories of this part of the country


and um i’m happy we began with a land acknowledgement because these histories were very much on my


mind and when i saw signs like this sign on that street lamp that said indian school in reference to these


so-called indian schools um there were sort of these constant reminders of a very bleak violent histories that sort


of hung like a dark very unfunny cloud on the entire visit for me and the harder i


tried to have a funny idea the more tragic and awful everything just seemed to be and the more


awful history american history i seem to see and so i kept sort of finding that um


the task was getting tough and and somewhere in these two things kind of colliding with one another


um i started to i guess um have an idea and um and the idea came


from perhaps observing some of the things about these signs that actually are often kind of funny and one of the things i love is if you look


at that little sign saying parents support parents support miranda um it’s the


places they’re put in these little weed patches to make them stand out and they or the sort of graphic design


that’s involved in these i feel like there’s a very particular kind of design sensibility that comes into these sorts


of signs and um there’s a nice one there in the middle uh tamara thomas for constable that’s very


plain and they they kind of seem to often indicate a sort of


um proud confident voice or an independent voice as eric meyer’s sign


says or or something which is sort of um a bold and assertive statement but but


where um you don’t want it going to be too fancy either the sort of


high brow um language of graphic design has no place in these signs i feel like


it’s a sort of it’s a sort of language that wants to speak to um a wide swath and that is important about


the way they are designed in the way that they they want to work so i came up with this idea that um


would be for this piece monument to the unelected i decided i would call it and the idea is that we would take a look


at the collective um us past of all presidential elections


by having this set of signs that had the names of everybody from a major party candidate who ran


and lost and in doing so there would be a way to think about the collective wrote not taken


it was important to me that the piece in a curious kind of way was politically very non-partisan kind of neutral actually


of course paradoxically election signs are usually used to put out a strong opinion about something and in this case


i was really just showing a statement of of sort of facts along the way to our present moment


so um the signs are designed in a contemporary style i wanted it to


have a kind of current day vernacular design feeling so you could imagine any of these people were running for office


now even for the signs that were very very recent i did not use actual election signs from those


campaigns so that’s important all of these were designed from scratch um in scottsdale the piece was then put


up on three different sites um one of them was the front lawn of a house and here you are seeing the kind


of signage that we used there which bears resemblance to one of these um real estate signs when a house is for


sale there was something significant about that in 2008 because arizona was in the middle of an enormous


worse than in other parts of the country mortgage crisis lending prices and um there were a lot


of house signs for sale so i’m going to show you a few views this is the front of that house


and it really does end up looking like someone is living here who does not know what year it is or


has some sort of quite curious idea about contemporary politics um one thing that


made me happy while we were installing this piece um and i should mention that the first


time around this piece got installed actually after the election had happened so


it was already known that mccain palin you can see the sign there had lost the election and somebody came


up to me and said he kind of was taking it in and he sort of nodded and he said to me i know what you’re trying to say you’re


trying to say that anyone who we could have elected would have been better than the guy we just elected


referring to obama and i thought that’s interesting because the piece doesn’t take that position it doesn’t take any


position but he read this into the piece and i’ve had sort of experiences like this where people take it


um from from different political viewpoints sort of projecting onto the same thing and and it’s important to me


that the piece maintains that kind of you know possibility for that projection


one of the other sites was a vacant lot so i’m just showing you another one of the arizona sites um


and then the third one and i apologize for this terrible slide my master images for this are on a hard


drive in brooklyn and i’m in berlin but the third site has a crazy story attached to it it was off


a freeway um off-ramp and a big road called price road on the corner of price road and


another road i forgot the name of you would sort of come off the freeway where that black car is and then make a right and you would sort


of pass the signs on a corner as you did that and if you look just past um


this is sort of the gravel is where we have installed the signs if you look just past that you see a big parking lot and that


was a commuter parking lot for a light rail system that ran from this lot and you know further into


the city so um this comes this becomes important later because the crazy thing that happened on this


site is that every single sign disappeared all of them were gone all of a sudden one day and


cassandra cleveland’s the curator called me and said i have something really weird to tell you and i’m trying to get


to the bottom of it but this is what happened and we scratched our heads we couldn’t figure out you know like


how all of them could have disappeared at once and i must say this was a tough terrain to install into i remember we


had to pound really hard to get the signs into the ground on this really hard packed dirt with


gravel on it the mystery was somewhat solved when we discovered or she discovered that there


was there were cctv cameras guarding that parking lot and when she got access to that footage


she could see that there was a white city van that had pulled up along these signs and a worker who had gotten out


and just very methodically took all the signs and threw them in the van it turned out that obama


had come to do a visit to scottsdale phoenix at that time to address the the mortgage crisis and a


city worker had been told to please remove the anti-obama signs at


a certain particular intersection because obama’s motorcade was going to sort of pass that location


and the city worker misunderstood my piece to be the anti-obama signs and so


he went and took them all away which was kind of hilarious although slightly tragic but cassandra then went


and sort of was told you know if the signs are still around they will be at this particular depot and she went and


found this depot where you could see all kinds of other election signs that have been torn out from places i guess they were


placed illegally maybe and um was even told which dumpster they would be in and so in this kind of


suspenseful way i got these pictures from her where she goes and looks inside the dumpster and there was nothing there


anymore so they were all gone we lost the whole set but i i kind of love the story i love


the story in part because of this idea that the president would be so sensitive to us to an anti sign that you know they must


be shielded from his from his eyes so um 2012 then rolled around and i showed the


piece in in three different places one was at um an art space in brooklyn called the boiler the pierogi gallery


there has the other was at the aldrich museum in connecticut outside and the other was at the wall street journal so i’ll quickly


show you what these look like these this is the wall street journal’s headquarters in washington and i installed it in


these large large windows that they have facing the street and what was interesting to me about the


site was actually this news ticker because there was a constant stream of present


coming through this news ticker um you know to the moment news in contrast to all these things which


kind of took you back and back and back and back and back in time um in connecticut i


installed in front of this colonial era house that was part of the aldrich museum’s um


exhibition spaces and there was something quite nice about that um temporal matching because in fact the


earliest oldest names on my signs are from roughly around the time of that house


um so this had a very sort of bucolic you know um connecticut setting and um yeah and


everything went quite smoothly that year and then we got to 2016 where um


it was shown again that the scottsdale museum of art in the museum this time they’ve made a commitment to show this


piece now every four years which is something i’m incredibly grateful for um they’re part of the cycle this time


around too and i also showed it at um a historical house called lefferts house


um built in 1793 in prospect park brooklyn um this was a farm and part of a sort of


um yeah a family lived there and it’s a historic house now where you can kind of learn about all these kinds of


things that historic houses teach you so i installed on the front lawn and this time around


the tradition became that i myself came and sort of placed the sign of the most


recent losing candidate as soon as we knew the results so the next day um i came out of that


door and put the hillary clinton sign in the ground as a number of press people watched and


documented this event um in the rain and that was 2016.


and that brings us to the present moment i wanted to show you this sign because


this might be my single favorite real life election sign that i’ve seen and i just want to return


to this point about um the kind of particular design sensibility that these signs often have


sometimes just very very basic and this is maybe the most basic of them that i’ve seen um so i i’ve been getting


the question a lot recently have you prepared two signs already for this election and i say of course i have


you have to be ready with both of them we certainly learned this in many past elections you never really know what


could happen um so i have the biden harris sign and i have the trump sign all of the


institutions hosting this have these two signs ready to go and this time around


um i have been thrilled and quite overwhelmed also by um the the good fortune of having eight


different places this time want to show this piece one thing i’ve really learned through this project


is that the mysterious and interesting um fact i guess that you know an artwork


can mean one thing one year and then sort of take on different meanings as time goes on i mean the piece has been


the same since it was in 2008 but the world around it obviously changes and um


i guess i take this to mean this year that this election has had so many people thinking about it and


it’s been so present on people’s minds and full of so much tension that this piece has sort of somehow gained a kind of traction that i don’t think it’s ever


had um so um i will show you what it looks like now on all the


different sites they’re showing it it’s um it’s a pace gallery in new york shown at a very in a very sort of you


know on a big white wall gallery gallery kind of space um


it is in scottsdale once again in front of a private home very kind person who has


allowed us to use their homes this is always the case i’m deeply grateful for these people sean can maybe address this a little bit


too when he talks um and here you can see we got the old old signpost out of storage it was still


there from 2008 and we’re using it again um to mark what the piece is i i make a


point of never ever having my name on the sign i don’t want people to be sort of immediately identifying this as an


artwork and um it just has the title of the piece and then either a phone number or a qr code or some way you have of


getting more information here it is in madison wisconsin in front of the home of a former um


now retired judge judge abraham’s son who served four she was


elected four times um to to the wisconsin um


uh like i’m losing my words the highest level supreme court of wisconsin um and um


apparently i’ve been told this spot in the neighborhood is a place where election signs often appear because it’s


a little bit sort of between properties and um it’s it’s open and not usually kind of heavily landscaped and so people like


to put election signs here so they’re sort of in a way in a very natural place this time around um this


is the piece at catherine clark gallery in san francisco or it’s across two walls and yesterday the


the show that uh just opened there um has this piece in it


it’s a picture from the opening this is in oakland downtown oakland california in front of the roots community health


center um and this reaches a really different audience in a different neighborhood


than the gallery in san francisco not so far away so i’ve been really happy to get to kind of you know also bring this piece into


communities that um haven’t hosted this artwork before uh here we are in


cleveland in front of the cleveland museum of contemporary art where it’s kind of put into three different um or sorry museum of


contemporary or cleveland is how i should correctly name that institution it’s in three sort of


um plots of uh landscaping in front and um they sent me these pictures the


other day i really like this guy who’s kind of like what is going on um i love that picture and


then it is also in front of an art space there called transformer station and i would ask you to look very


carefully at the front row for a moment because when i received


this picture i sort of i had to sort of stop and go wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute why is the trump sign already


there wait a minute what’s going on and then i realized it’s not my trump sign it is the


trump campaign sign that someone had apparently put there and what remains


mysterious was whether they put it in the spirit of a trump supporter adding a political sign to the


law or if they put it in the spirit of someone who wanted trump to lose and it’s i i will never know the answer to this but


um it’s the first time a sign a real sign has been sort of added guerrilla style to the piece and i


wondered if that would happen this time around and it has now and that brings us to um grand central


arts center um and the installation which they are hosting and chaperoning in santa ana and here we have a very


california setting with palm trees and a nice front lawn and bright sunshine and warm weather and um


it looks completely fantastic in front of this house and this may be a good time to hand it over to john


and i will just mention very briefly um that the the event that we are all


wildly and scramblingly planning around now is the placement of the newest losing candidate


sign which of course this time around is very challenging to know how to schedule um we have eight venues we are in four


different time zones and i’ve also decided that i wanted to have a first-time voter be the person to


place the sign because i’m on the wrong side of the ocean and i think it’s a good chance to actually


start to kind of distribute the talking about the peace to more voices than mine


so um i’m really really happy that everybody is enthusiastic about doing this and um


we are going to plan on having this event happen on the first saturday after we have a firm election


result if you’re interested in watching it it will be publicly broadcast on zoom pace gallery will have all the


information on their home you know on their on their gallery website and um you can sign up and watch it


happen no matter what happens so john i think i’m gonna go back to the slide and


and let you speak about santa ana


thanks nina uh so nina approached us last fall and said the election’s coming


up um you know the piece because i should in full disclosure cassandra copeland


is my lovely partner and so i was fortunate in 2008 to watch that


piece unfold to see it realized to see the panic when


they were all gone that one day uh and to see them rediscovered and reinstalled um


with such success uh and cassandra had noted in the comments too that it was installed


before the election just the election and um in scottsdale the first time and


transitioned over so thanks because history continues here yeah


and so when nina approached us uh we started thinking about best neighborhoods and we were trying to think of a neighborhood that


is kind of a transition neighborhood it’s not a very liberal neighborhood it’s not a very conservative neighborhood


uh it’s a neighborhood that you know both sides are kind of transitioning through


all the time in a high traffic zone so we have this amazing funder


uh supporters of grand central arts center deb and john webb who surprisingly every


halloween they do this crazy halloween party where they transition their entire home into a


thematic so i think the last year it was like dismal land and they had created a fake


front dystopian disneyland in their entire front of their home and


then as you went into the home it was all transition spaces so with this year


being covered um no halloween party is going to take place and so i approached john and said hey


would you be willing to do this piece and i mean it was


five minutes later and john was let’s do it let’s do it so generously


we installed tracy gear grand central’s associate director and i went out and


pounded in these rods and zip tied these signs to to their posts with nina’s guidance and


direction that john adams be front and center kind of in the middle of the installation


overlooking everyone so his sign is there and it as we were installing people were


stopping by constantly and asking questions and having conversations and reflecting on people they had voted for


or people they had not voted for and um kind of finding the humor in some of


the signs or the intensity in some of the signs so it was kind of a nice way without


having to have reception for a piece to have a reception uh over a two-day installation where probably i


would say 125 to 130 people stopped by just as we were installing the piece and


since that point the press has come by and other people keep stopping by and posting pictures online and


sharing images with us and stories with us so uh i don’t know what else to share at


this point but i would love to hear what shawn is thinking and what questions she might have so or the audience as well


um i guess uh you know i just the other night a friend and i were


re-watching the newsroom aaron sorkin’s series and there’s this wonderful line


about every two years we drive to a fire station and overthrow the government and there isn’t a policeman in the street


and um i was you know you know you talked about how um the context and kind of the the


kind of i guess the world around this installation changes and this year it seems like you know the


project takes even more uh takes on even more poignancy as it highlights you know this peaceful transfer of power that that has happened


since the beginning right um but that this year uh seems to be you know potentially at risk as a result


of trump’s unwillingness to commit to accepting a loss of the polls and i’m just wondering if you you know if you


both have thought of this in relationship to the installation


yeah i mean it’s um i’ve definitely thought about it and i


mean it’s it’s sort of come up in just this incredibly concrete way around like i said the planning of


the sign placement event and there have been there’s been a lot of conversation around um how you know playing this game of


like when should we make the date and sort of reading and trying to research and it spins you into this kind of strange loop of


of trying to kind of predict the news which is what so many people i think are just trying to do generally anyway


um so yeah first time this question comes up as you


say shauna and i i don’t know i’ve had a few moments where i’ve thought we may be placing that sign like six


saturdays from now who knows i certainly hope that’s not the case but um i don’t know it’s


i guess i i don’t have anything profound to say here it’s very much been on my mind yeah


the thing i’ve struggled with this time around i will say is that it has been really important for this piece to be as


i was saying sort of non-partisan in some sense and um


and there has been a way in which i think at least four years ago when i placed the sign in the ground i tried to be quite


kind of neutral and factual in my in my carriage and in temperament as i


did that and um it’s difficult for me this year to try


to keep my own political opinions out of this piece it’s really hard and i’ve sort of tried to do that when i


speak about it um in a press context because i want i feel really strongly


about that being important because i don’t want people to sort of um shut out their engagement with the


piece because they perceive it to have a political slant or because the artist does and so you know i did an interview um well i


won’t even say what station i did it with but there have been a few journalists who’ve tried to bait me a little bit by saying what sign do you


think is going to be added and i i just you know i i won’t answer that question and i reiterate that the piece isn’t


really about my views on on this um question but


but i do think about the moment where the sign will get placed this year and um how it will be you know on one


hand perhaps difficult to suppress my relief and happiness and on the other hand perhaps difficult to suppress my um


despair if trump wins i’ll just say forthrightly in this context i think i


can say that so i don’t know um i’d be curious john when you’ve been speaking with people if


you how you deal with that if people sort of have asked you to come forward with your own personal opinion or


um if you’ve ever been put on the spot


at this point i haven’t been put on the spot in terms of


that issue with a patron yeah but in my own mind i’ve really been


thinking out you know we’re going to have a first-time voter install that sign


and we’re going to make it a public event yeah and if there are some people that aren’t happy about that how do we ensure that


person’s safety and how do we prepare for that so we i’ve we’ve really been thinking about that how do we make sure that that person’s


safe and they don’t become uh you know a key figure in that process


um they don’t become villainized or you know it’s there’s amazing people in these signs that have lost


um and it’s the history of the united states it’s fact so yeah this year i think it feels a lot


different i did you know i haven’t been involved with it in the scene in the past but this year


it does feel like there’s an intensity and when you see some of the stuff that’s happened over the last few days you know there’s an intensity of


of campaigning and um and strategies that i’ve never seen before in my life yeah


yeah yeah i suppose i’m even open to the idea that we


we’d uh you know we rethink doing it publicly like i don’t know i i really feel like


there’s sort of a need right now to be open to any possibility including doing the whole thing differently than it’s been done which


made me not doing it i don’t know it’s really hard to predict there is


actually uh you know back to what you were saying you know there is almost an inherent balance to the project so you know it doesn’t it it


it reflects that history right so i think um it’s it’s interesting that we’re looking at now


right now and today um and even that balance becomes more vivid


in a situation with extreme imbalance right um yeah yeah


um i wonder too if you could um talk about you know you talked about


sort of the sign um design and i know that that’s quite a conscious uh you know planning process for you


um and there’s this humorous dimension that you know signs not only for contemporary politicians but


um we’ve got you know those incorporating names from the 18th century who obviously wouldn’t have had a


um but i think it also really points to how media has changed because at some point


these signs would have been you know kind of an informal pull right they would have probably been given a sense


of how communities were leaning and um just you know just given um


you know right now we’re just we’re so bombarded by visual data and other information about


polls and and how people are voting i’m just wondering can you talk about um the project in that format in terms


of you know just this sort of visual culture history sure um i mean i will say that i’ve been


looking at a lot of a friend of mine who’s in texas has been posting a lot of um


images of her neighborhood as she walks around and a lot of people have signs in their lawns and i i still think in many parts of the


country it seems to work like that kind of poll that you were talking about where people you know you kind of know what the


neighborhood is voting by what you see on the lawns and um yeah so i’ve


yeah i i think that part of it is still intact um it’s strange in new york it’s


it’s you know lawns are scarce so these aren’t these things aren’t sort


of signaled in the same places i feel like you see signs put in people’s windows or they’re kind of um


maybe yeah this kind of promoting of a candidate shows up with different forms


but um but i i shawna can you ask me again the kind of the question of the design related question i’m not sure


i um well i know that you talked a bit about how you um you know they’re not based on real


signs but do you want to just i know you were doing research with the designer and just right right so they i should say


they are based on real signs in the sense that we based almost every single sign on a


sign that a candidate somewhere actually used at some point so we have been cribbing


from real signs um that we find online or see out in the world to make all of


these but these aren’t the candidates actual real campaign signs so um


yeah so that i mean you know the one i showed you for this go around the trump um the trump and then biden


harris one somebody pointed out in a recent talk that i gave about the piece that the trump sign is blue


which doesn’t make sense for a candidate from the republican party and i said that’s exactly why i made it blue


because there needs to somewhere be a hint that this isn’t actually kind of the but then you know


that that sort of fell apart when i saw that one that was added to the lawn in um


in um cleveland which was blue so i you know i whoops i guess that that


logic didn’t hold but um but yeah i i


we’ve sort of and when i say we i should mention the fantastic designer that i worked with evan gaffney who


you know working very closely with him we sort of designed this original set of 58 signs and then since 2008 i’ve been


designing the additional ones myself but um yeah looking at ones that seem to


have that sort of you know it when you see it quality of an election sign um


some of them it was particularly sort of fun to sometimes pick some slogans that were not the


campaign slogans but associated with that candidate so sometimes they were sort of like michael dukakis was known as the


massachusetts miracle and we decided to kind of put that on his sign even though that wasn’t his campaign


slogan um so you know there is some there’s some realness into


in some of these signs as well in that sense um we have a question from terry


williams um he says bumper stickers are another classic manifestation of election signage in the u.s have you considered a


roadshow version i love that idea yeah like yeah


that would be really nice you could you could someone this year as a gift sent me um um she had found in a thrift


store somewhere these perfect like unmarred absolutely perfect like they had


never been taken out of the box perfect nixon bumper stickers and she sent me two as a gift and um


it was just such a funny object to kind of have i um yeah yeah so yeah bumper stickers maybe


maybe next um and john i’m just wondering you know i know


you’re you’re very interested in social practice and that’s your sort of primary focus of your


territorial um uh practice but i’m just wondering if you know how


i think um grand central art center is obviously entrusted in kind of civic discourse and


so how do you you know how do you see the installation in relationship to the community and kind of the conversations going on and


and the century’s role in that


well i think at this time when we can’t be open um you know how we could do a project that


the community could engage with still on their terms in a safe way


and you know it is an election year it is time to think about histories and his histories that are


these kind of strange histories i was just thinking about our conversation earlier about these


peaceful transitions of powers and then i think about the aaron burr you know it’s it seemed more civil when


you could just call somebody out to a duel and you know shoot it out um it seems kind of ironic


that you know we’re at this point where it’s where we think it’s you know so


traumatic or but i guess it was just as traumatic back then people just did it in a different way um so for us i


mean this is an opportunity for public to come and to engage and to think about you know our histories and i


think that’s what we do at grand central we think about relevant issues of our time um we think you know we have two


exhibitions up right now one dealing with uh kind of community and marketplace in


terms of uh latino hispanic communities and then we have another one um that’s by alpha dear luna who’s an


artist from mexico city and so we have those as storefront exhibitions and then we have william camargo


who’s thinking about the local histories of santa ana from you know hangings that occurred


back in the turn of the century the first turn of the century right down the block from grand central


to our current police uh rating of eighth most violent police force in the united states


um you know their current history is and then they’re fact and i think that’s what we try to do we try to to have exhibitions that are rooted in


fact that bring up conversations that are relevant today and


try to create relationships and connections and i think that’s the most important thing a lot of our institutions can do especially where


we’re located and these times that we’re living in there was also a question in the chat i just


want to get to it because i because of my wife and i know the answers it says was the original title


seriously funny um was the original title seriously funny and now it’s monument to the


unelected if yes reasons for the title change and i think you can address that


if you would like oh sorry no i i i wasn’t clear when i said that um the exhibition


that i was invited to be in was called seriously funny and the piece i made for the exhibition seriously funny


was monumentally unelected so two different things i keep i don’t think all day all day


i’ve been concerned i was gonna say monument to the unexpected oh yeah that’s a


perfect sporting slip for today yeah yeah um i like this idea of history too


because um you know one of the things we we you know the history that we see in in kind of


visual culture and media today is so much recent history right and i imagine you know the even the list of


presidents historically in the united states would not be you know common knowledge for most people little let alone the


runner-ups runners up i guess and so you know for you nina maybe for you as well john


do you see this in terms of education as well is there an educational component sure and there is certainly a


big fat history quiz here for anybody who arrives at this piece and you know now i have to tell the shameful story of


something that i found out just a few weeks ago i don’t even know if i’ve told you this yet sean but but what is so interesting through the


years of this for me have been the sort of very very um well-informed history buff types who


sometimes end up seeing this and have not just once but twice now


corrected an error in the work and i feel really like it’s really irks


me because i i checked and checked and checked my facts on the list before i had the sign


made i consulted with two ivy league history professors to get them to look over my


you know historical research to make sure all these names were correct um and yet still somehow even 12 years


after making the piece this year someone caught a typo and the typo is in that triangular sign


that says adams bush the blonde john that you stuck right under the palm tree in the image


that we’re looking at now um and it’s got this big glaring face of atoms on it


and this guy wrote to me and said um he said it so politely too so nicely he was like


i i wondered if on the adam’s bush sign you were making a sort of oblique


reference to the later bush you know father and son who became president


because the person who was his running mate adams was actually richard rush not bush


and i thought i cannot believe i have another error and another sign so it was too late to do anything about


it this time around but 2024 i have a correction to make and


a new sign to print because that has to be corrected and um i decided this year to just or once i


found this out to just kind of take the view of it sort of proves how how easily the


facts of the past slide away from us because as i said it took 12 years for one person to


to bother at least pointing this out to me and it slipped by a lot of people so yeah


on that note as well i think the owner of the sum john webb he constantly tells me how much he


likes the way you informally personalize tom jefferson you know it’s not thomas jefferson it’s


not that formal but it’s like it’s it’s tom you know the good old


yeah and tom have to say i love the the herbert hoover because it’s the sign below the herbert hoover says


prohibition and optimism and then it’s got this picture of him that just


i have yeah see if i can i have to see if i can bring you to an image of herbert hoover from one of the


past uh yeah we that’s another one where we kind of made up and he’s there in the lower


right hand corner you can just see it um he’s looking very serious but this this slogan prohibition optimism


we kind of made that up so i mean those were platforms he ran on in a way but yeah it’s a good question


here um it touches on something we mentioned a little while ago nina um how is the meaning of this piece


changed in the current context which is critical of the monument during black lives matters and indigenous first nations movements


i’ve especially i’m especially interested about this in terms of its temporary nature its malleability and


the non-durability of the material yeah that’s a great question and all


really great observations and i think that through different works and if there’s


time maybe i’ll i’ll perhaps breeze you through another one where i’ve tried to sort of think through the monument and how that might


work but i mean when we think if you sort of gave someone a pop quiz and said


monument what comes to mind you know i i would wager a guess a bet that many people


would say you know an old dead guy made of bronze standing on a pedestal like there’s a


sort of permanency to the thing there’s a kind of um you know a validation of certain


histories power structures all of these things the reason why a lot of these things are being torn down right now and or criticized or thought through again


in a different way and and so yes i think it is meaningful to me to make something to call it a monument and to make


something that is really flimsy and which in some ways tries to sort of say that um


there’s also a lot of history that that we for better or worse and you really could feel that way about any of these


signs you could feel that it’s for better or worse that we forget about this person but that um that there’s a lot that kind of


um that kind of um disappears and some of it we probably


you could say also i would argue some of the histories we don’t remember about some of these people we should probably be remembering


more or thinking more about or remembering more so um so yeah i mean i agree with


everything the question asker points out about this and and certainly in certainly through a lot of the recent


black lives matter um you know actions and and the movement it’s it’s


um there has been so much interesting attention on monuments and and what to do about them and a kind of


refusal to keep living with them when they stand for things that are really objectionable um


if there’s a moment i’ll jump to this other should i do that yeah okay all right can i just state one


thing though the last part of that says and the non-durability of this material man nina has some requirements for these


signs they’re on super thick corrugated plastic and they’re all installed on


heavy duty rebar so they are pretty darn durable and that’s kind of yeah i mean i will


say that like it pained me a little bit this year to produce eight sets of 56 signs made of


more plastic put in the world so i’m hoping not too many disappear so i can reuse these in the future


it feels like it’s sort of nice if these sets have have sort of a long a long life so um


yeah i thought it would be interesting to mention this though um because we’re also having a conversation sort of between many places but canada


and the us um among them so i i had this commission in 2013


which was this um commission for the us government they have a program called um percent for art


where you know when the government builds a new building the commission a certain amount of their budget is


allocated for to art for that building or for that site and um usually when these commissions happen


it’s a process of um you know you submit a proposal and they pick one and you end up making the


piece that they’ve picked that you’ve proposed in this instance though they sort of approached me and said


we’d like to work with you would you be interested in making something for the site and i didn’t we didn’t have an idea on the table and


i i said um i would be interested i i am really interested in in many ways


broadly defined sort of border situations and this this site was a border a border crossing


station between um a very small town in northern northern northern maine called van buren


and then on the other side of the river that divided the two towns from one another the town town of st leonard in


new brunswick um and i went up there i saw the site


um and i started thinking again it’s kind of you know gotta have an idea where see i think i


have this marked on the map up there yeah that is where um that’s how you know pretty remote place and um


the border station was being rebuilt because the river had risen one year and washed away part of it in a flood so


skipping ahead in the story replaced it with an absolutely enormous facility which um i have yet to see in


person because i haven’t made it up there yet um i started thinking a lot about what happens when you cross a border and


these moments where a place the new place you’ve arrived in tries to kind of


quickly define itself for you so there’s a sort of welcome moment welcome to maine welcome to wherever but


then also these sort of symbols that begin to appear or sort of mascots or um lots of things that that are trying


to kind of um introduce you quickly and efficiently to the new place where you are


and um so that kind of thing i have a real fondness for awkward


public sculpture i will also say and so i love things like that crazy star which is sort of sinking into


the ground although maybe it’s supposed to be rising out of the ground um so i just began to collect images like this where


there were sort of these welcome welcome to estate moments but also started thinking about roadside


attractions and how often those take animal forms um i love things like this too i’m


always when i’m on some road trip really excited when i encounter one of these kinds of things and um yeah so you know


they they ran the gamut and i made a really big collection of sort of a image scrapbook of lots of


these and this one um i can’t quite read now anymore on the slide but this squid was


made somewhere for somewhere in canada and that’s the artist with the rendering that then became the sculpture i love this thing


um so i i thought and i thought and i thought you know what could i do


at this border crossing moment and there’s also a sort of tension that


exists with these commissions sometimes because the people working in the building um sometimes frankly i think would rather


have this money allocated for the artwork go to something else so you’re not necessarily as as an


artist working on one of these sites the thing you are working on is not necessarily


always really that welcome and and i felt very strongly i didn’t want to make something


which would sort of be in that spirit of you know i’m from somewhere else i don’t know a thing about this place i’m going to pop in and


impose my artwork on you and then kind of leave so it was also important to me to make something that had to do with


with the place but also that i thought people in the place would like and not just the people working at this


border station but the town that was sort of there um van buren that they might like


so i began to research state emblems and discovered that every every u.s state has this crazy long list


of sort of like over determinedly long list of things that are state emblems and in the case


of maine it wasn’t just the moose which is the state mammal but it the list went on and on and it was


things like the state’s soft drink and the state dessert and the state treat which was different from the dessert and


and the state dirt there was even a state dirt there was a state arctic exploration vessel and of course


the state flower the state tree the state you know bird and and all these things and so what the piece became in the end


because i was also of course um um bound to producing something that would


last for 80 years outdoors in northern maine kind of challenging weather conditions and i thought well it really should be


bronze for that reason but it really should also be bronze because monuments are bronze and i’m going to make a monument like


this is going to be some kind of a monument and what it became was a sculpture this is just a digital rendering of


all of these symbols incorporated into one place so this is all of maine’s symbols in a


sculpture it’s a life-size moose with all of the different things kind of piled on if all of these things find a


space somewhere so you’ve got a cat on the back you’ve got chickadees on all the antlers the state bird


the leaping landlocked salmon which is the state fish and so on and so on and so on


this is what it looked like right after it got installed um the landscaping has not grown in yet


so now it’s sort of standing in taller grass and looking a little bit more like a moose might be standing there


um the thing that um made me really happy about this finally it took four


years to get to the point where all of us were ready to move ahead with an idea that i’d proposed is that the town really


likes it and apparently they’ve nicknamed it um marty the moose from martin van buren also one of the people on one of my


signs and um so it’s kind of had this you know it has become kind of a roadside


attraction and it is also kind of a you know bronze proper monument and um it sort of looks this is the sort


of point where you you leave the border um stationary and enter the town so it’s kind of right there


right there on that border as well so that’s the story i thought it would be interesting to to


share with you tonight um yeah well they’re both very much counter monuments in some way


yeah a little bit of critique within them yeah or just maybe i’m


trying to make the case that like there are a lot of things worth commemorating and i think some of those things don’t have to be famous


dead people at all like there you need to be people so um yeah


i wonder too is um you know we’re talking about this generations and a genealogy of graceful


losers basically when you look at this insulation and um our most recent instance when there’s


been sort of significant consideration of a missed opportunity was probably with hillary clinton


um most recently but i wonder if doing your research if any other situations had um


kind of struck you and really caused you to speculate what might have been right in another election i think one


has to think about gore you know that year that was such a another one of those very just sort of


disorienting what is going on moments um gore bush so that’s pretty recent too um but you


know i haven’t done i have not done a deep dive on every one of these people i am the first to admit


that you know for me too like some of these names remain


unexplored histories for me so i mean it’s been sort of like in this nice way as i sort of described earlier


a piece where i have been sort of sometimes educated through it by other people who know much more than me


about some of these people um and that’s been a real pleasure


um question from lexa walsh hey alexa thanks for tuning in how is being in


berlin this year affecting your election anxiety very interesting


question um it feels on one hand


i mean uh you know i’ve had a lot of exchanges with friends the last week saying you just can’t imagine how tense


it is here it’s so intense in the us right now and um i don’t feel that in a sort of i walk


out the door and see it way but on the other hand it feels a little bit to me like i’ve been watching


the country where i come from the way i would watch a house on fire with all my friends stuck inside it it’s been really


hard the last um seven eight months to kind of just constantly be worrying about are people


okay for so many reasons there’s so many ways one could not be okay right now so um


yeah it’s complicated it feels strange to be far away at this moment it feels in some ways it has felt kind


of bad not to be able to participate in some of what’s been going on there politically in ways that i would have done if i’d


been in the us i’ve been trying to do some of those kinds of things here um


so yeah i mean i’m i’m with you all although i’m over here


um and i voted i voted so can i go back to that last question


too because i think those ideas of disappointment or surprise i think of the truman dewey you know


there’s that famous where truman’s holding up the newspaper that says dewey wins


you know so i think it’s it’s not just these recent but it’s probably been going on for a long


time where there’s these upsets and surprises um probably more rapidly dispersed


information because we have these anticipations because of polars we have these there’s just a more of an intensity to


it now because we do have these expectations that are even driven more because of the rapid sharing of information that


the internet provides


well we’re at an hour mark so um if anyone has any final thoughts nina or john


just hang in there everyone i guess that’s my final thought and it would be really lovely um if any


of you are interested in um attending our sign placing event whatever that is going to look like


whatever that will be and whenever that will be but i just want to invite everybody again and and just to reiterate that the info


about it will be on um pace gallery’s website and all eight institutions are


we’re all doing this together which has been a really really nice part of it um i have to say it’s it’s


made me feel really good um to be collaborating in this really huge scale way right now


on this it has been a sort of good bolstering feeling against all of the bad feelings so so yeah


thanks john among many of you who might also be from the other institutions listening


thank you nina for the opportunity and thank you sean for the opportunity to to have a conversation the day before


the election which couldn’t be a better timing to think about these issues in a heavier way well thank you both for


uh joining us today and thank you to all of the attendees who who are here um if you have any further


questions you can always email me at the art gallery golf and i can pass them on so anyway


um i hope everyone uh everything goes well and do vote if you have the opportunity in cans all right


take care everyone

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